Despite the serious economic crisis, people in the United Kingdom do not seem to be changing their holiday plans.
My newspaper at this time of the year has many advertisements for holidays. Quite a lot are exotic, involving travel to “far away places”.
If one compares the kinds of holiday that people take now with those that were the norm not so long ago, the most striking thing is how much wider the possibilities of travel are – and how, relatively, much cheaper.
There is of course nothing surprising about that. Air travel is widely available at a price which, compared to what it cost in the 1960s, is pretty low. One of the results of this change, clearly, is that it is not just cheaper to travel than it used to be, but also very much easier.
I can certainly vouch for that from my own experience. I have written before (in August 2011) about my own first visit abroad in 1949. It was to Northern France. I travelled by cross-channel ferry (with virtually no modern facilities) and train. The complications of that journey were far greater than they are now for going to the other side of the world.
Holidays abroad are not a rarity, and travel abroad is certainly not limited to the wealthiest people in the community. Hence the advertisements, which are very clearly aimed at a wide readership.
Unsurprising though it is that people holiday abroad as a matter of course, unlike their parents and grandparents, who were much more likely to spend an inexpensive, and unglamorous, week at the seaside, I do nevertheless feel some surprise to find that it is still happening this year. It is surprising because the United Kingdom is currently going through a serious economic crisis. Almost every day, we learn of another firm going into administration, with the loss of many jobs.
The evidence of the economic problems is easy to find; a walk through the town centre provides graphic proof that businesses are closing. Of course one has to put this in perspective. Not all businesses are being affected. There are also some examples of growth, leading to new jobs.
Nevertheless, I do find it surprising that, faced with real economic problems, many people do not seem to be changing their holiday plans. I have to conclude that this is a reflection of a major change in people’s habits and expectations. In the “old days”, when the cost of travel, as a proportion of annual income, was much higher than it is now, it was a luxury rather than part of normal behaviour. When money was scarce, or income threatened, travel for pleasure was something which you did not do, or consider.
Now, by contrast, travel abroad is simply an element of normal life. Furthermore, paying for travel is much easier in an era of credit cards than it was when it had to be paid for in advance, with money already in your possession.
The change can easily be seen as encouraging irresponsibility, and a lack of caution. From one point of view – and certainly from the point of view of people of my generation – that is a fair description. It has to be recognised, however, that that is not the only way it can be viewed. Attitudes to expenditure, like methods of paying, have undoubtedly changed. Is it, therefore, completely unreasonable to approach paying for travel in the same way as one now approaches paying for everything else?
That may be a hypothetical question, but it is a question to which, for many people, there is only one answer: no, it is not completely unreasonable.
There are other implications of the changed attitude. One is the effect, of abandoning all foreign travel for pleasure, on the national economy. It would presumably bring about even more commercial failures, as the travel firms were forced into liquidation. From that point of view, avoiding holiday travel can be seen as damaging the economy. That does not, of course, mean that someone faced with financial difficulty, or the loss of a job, can or should ignore the cost when making a decision about a holiday overseas. It does, perhaps, mean that things are not quite as simple as they seem.
I probably ought to view the masses of leaflets and newspaper advertisements offering holidays abroad at “favourable rates” as not wholly inappropriate at a time of economic stringency. I can see the logic of that, but it certainly does not come naturally to me.