Two thirds of Irish people don’t take their full annual leave.
Sounds crazy, right? And yet that was the headline result of a recent survey by Hotels.com. Respondents consistently failed to take the holidays to which they are entitled, it found, “because they are too busy” or “they just don’t get around to taking them”.
I’m stumped. Given how much we complain about being stressed-out and in need of a break, you’d think we’d pounce at every opportunity. It can’t be entirely about the money, either. Not everyone can jet off to Marbella at a moment’s notice, but surely most of us can afford to take a day or two off to explore our own backyard?
Then it struck me. Travel has changed in fundamental ways over the recession. The fact that so many of us have been financially pinched, however, means we haven’t necessarily kept up with those changes. We still think in terms of traditional package holidays.
Well, as Thomas Cook’s decision to cease operating Irish charters from April 30th demonstrates, traditional holidays (and traditional thinking) are in complete flux.
Holidays no longer need to be in blocks of seven of 14 days. ‘Dynamic packaging’ is one of the travel buzzwords du jour, with licensed and bonded online companies like budgetair.ie, clickandgo.com and lowcostholidays.ie allowing consumers to package scheduled flights with available accommodation into holidays that suit.
That means more midweek departures, a wider selection of readily accessible short breaks and real savings – provided you have the flexibility to travel off-peak (as ever, those who save most are those who book early or travel outside of school holidays).
Faced with increasing competition online, not to mention the fact that Aer Lingus and Ryanair now fly directly to destinations like Malaga, Corfu and the Canary Islands – previously the preserve of charter flights – tour operators have had to get creative.
That’s good news for holidaymakers, as anyone flicking through the special offers, package deals and holiday suggestions in today’s Weekend travel special will see.
Thomas Cook is on the way out, but 2014 sees Falcon fly to Rhodes, direct Aer Lingus flights to San Francisco and Toronto from April, double-daily services from Dublin to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and a host of new Ryanair routes from Shannon and other airports.
Dynamic packaging is nothing new, of course. Irish travel agents have been matching flights, accommodation and flexibility for years – and for all of the apps and online tools available to us nowadays, I still advise talking to a travel expert before booking a holiday.
That applies particularly to families and big splashes like honeymoons. You wouldn’t spend thousands on a car or wedding dress without taking to a human being. Why do it with an expensive holiday? Transfers, reps and free hold baggage are incentives too.
Get it right, and you’ll not only take that annual leave – you’ll be asking for more.
This column originally appeared in The Irish Examiner.