It’s easy to see why staycations continue to grow in popularity among Brits, with 66% of us planning a break the UK in 2018, according to ABTA research. Weak sterling, guilty feelings over long-haul flights and carbon footprints, Foreign Office warnings about dangerous destinations, jet lag, the expense, the reality falling short of expectations – an exotic holiday can be as tiring as it is relaxing.
As Alain de Botton puts it in The New Art of Travel: "The definition of a holiday has remained static – two weeks in the sun, an ‘escape’ from everyday life, and a chance to rest… But it’s striking that our definition of travel remains so very limited."
There’s an opportunity in convincing people that there is an alternative to this fixed notion of the summer holiday, and VisitBritain is encouraging UK holidaymakers to stay home with its ‘Join the World – Discover the UK’ campaign, urging travellers to "Find amazing experiences and share your own using #lovegreatbritain and #loveuk." The website’s covered in images of beaches, rolling green hills, rivers, and the ultimate in Instagram indulgence – snaps of fancy restaurant food.
It’s not hard to see why, in a world where we only view holidays through the lens of the perfect beach body, the perfect view and the perfect selfie, that VisitBritain has focused on the Instagramability of holidays at home – especially as it wants to target social-obsessed Gen Z’ers.
Missing a trick
This is a very smart, positive campaign, avoiding any moralising or calls for patriotism. But I wonder if VisitBritain is missing a trick in trying to fight back against Instagram feeds full of beachside hot dog legs and exotic cocktails.
After all, we’re the original caravanning nation. Hi-de-Hi! is in our national bloodstream, we have a tradition of hops picking holidays and the Victorian resort rituals of post-second world war Britain, and yet, we are so keen to swap bingo halls for fag butt-littered beaches.
Travelling abroad for a traditional beach holiday might be less attractive to a new generation of travellers but it’s important to inspire them in a modern way that doesn’t simply default to images of old seaside towns and rolling hills.
There’s another approach to communicate the appeal of British holidays, focused more on the experience and value economies. We’ve already seen Butlins tap into this with its series of weekend music and party breaks for adults during the off season, which provide the opportunity for a longer narrative told by those who have the valuable experience of the events. This moves the holiday away from the material economy towards something that’s both more personalised and social.
We’ve fostered in our minds a false sense of what the holiday is all about and overlooked what’s at our fingertips in Britain. There’s an opportunity to unlock the aspirational codes that surround our notion of what constitutes a holiday, and make them more experience-led, shifting our idea of the break away from selfish moments of relaxation towards shared, valuable time spent building connections with friends and family in a meaningful way through experiences that we enjoy.
It’s about creating the modern version of those hops farming summer holidays, when thousands of people from London and across the South East would decamp to Kent to pick the crop and escape conditions in the city. These days families won’t fancy such backbreaking work but the growing popularity of experience holidays indicates that a sizeable minority agree with de Botton and have started to look beyond the confining horizons of the beach holiday.
With that in mind, instead of trying to compete we should acknowledge that we’ve been brainwashed by images of the exotic that are simply untrue in reality, and celebrate the Great British Holiday traditions that we’ve enjoyed for so long by creating new experiences that last in the mind.
Zaid Al-Zaidy is the chief executive of Above + Beyond