In praise of package holidays
Unlike us, the British are ditching the 'staycation' this summer and digging out their passports. Bookings are up almost 30pc on this time last year, and, thanks to the weakened pound, non-euro hotspots such as Egypt, Morocco and Turkey are firm favourites.
But another winner in this vacation boom is the package holiday, which is dusting itself down and making a comeback as book-it-yourself travel loses its gloss.
We're experts in the art of independent travel now. Who needs a tour operator to organise a trip when you book it yourself with a click of the mouse? Cutting out the middle man has helped our holiday budgets no end but, in this age of global uncertainty, it could well end up costing us more.
What if your hard-earned holiday suddenly goes pear-shaped? The threatened strike by British Airways staff and financial meltdown in Greece are just two of the simmering problems that could pull the plug on that trip of a lifetime.
This year has brought more than its fair share of natural disasters in holiday spots, too. Recent floods in Madeira and earthquakes in Chile and Turkey have shattered thousands of travellers' plans. But when you've created your own itinerary and used a rake of different websites to pay for the various components of your holiday, you've very little comeback, if any, when things go wrong.
How do you go about retrieving all the cash you've spent building the individual parts of your trip -- the guided tours, the concert tickets, those precious timed museum entries, not to mention flights, car hire and hotel expenses?
This week, the European Commission pledged to give greater protection to DIY tourists. But if you book a package through a bonded tour operator, that's one headache you won't have to worry about. You might have to reschedule your holiday, but you won't have to fight to get a refund or waste time in the process.
Hundreds of independent holidaymakers were left stranded in Peru last month after flooding led to mudslides on the Inca trails to Machu Picchu. Those who had booked through a tour operator found themselves in a much stronger position.
With someone to represent them on the ground, they were able to reorganise their travel arrangements at no extra cost and, in some cases, get a refund for missing out on South America's most dramatic spectacle.
Peace of mind and protection are the key factors in the rebirth of all-inclusive travel. But they're not the only ones. Package holidays have come a long way since the days when tourists were herded on to planes like cattle by clipboard-wielding reps for a fortnight of sunburn, sand and sangria.
We no longer have to take their word that everything we see in their glossy brochures is exactly how it is. We can go on holiday review websites such as Tripadvisor to find out if the swimming pool is still a building site or the food is dire.
That's all good news for the consumer because it means tour operators have to work much harder to please and it raises standards for everyone.
As the recession bites deeper, we might be holding back on those shopping trips to New York and last-minute ski breaks, but drop into your local travel agent before you rule out a week on the Costas.
You might be pleasantly surprised at how things have changed.