Jeremy Gates looks at what is causing the boom in coaching holidays
More than seven million coaching holidays are booked each year, about four times the number of Britons who choose to go cruising.
The attractions of going abroad by coach are rising as the wobbly pound leaves travellers worried about what the final cost might be, but the prices for coaching holidays remain relatively unaffected.
Four-night half-board hotel breaks in Britain lead in below £200, seven-night stays in Europe cost about £600, and glamourous destinations by luxury coach such as the Arctic Circle or Russia can cost nearly £2,000.
Shearings’ five-day tour of the Scottish Highlands by luxury Grand Tourer coach, via elegant Pitlochry, includes a Land Rover safari across a Perthshire estate to see majestic red deer, elusive mountain hares and golden eagles – an experience nominated in 2012 as Best Visitor Attraction in Scotland.
Available from June to September, prices start from £379.
The Coach Tourism Council, representing more than 150 UK coach tour operators, claims that those in the 60-69 age bracket – the core market for coach tours – are the biggest spenders on holiday.
Plus they take the longest holidays (average 11.15 days) and the most expensive (£794 for travel and accommodation, plus £454 spending money).
Dennis Wormwell, chief executive of Shearings, says: “We carried one million passengers for the first time in 2012, and we’re shaping up to beat that in 2013.
“Coaching holidays are in the sector where the money is.
“Two-thirds of the country’s personal wealth is held by over-50s, the age group taking more holidays than any other.
“There’s also great loyalty in the sector; if people like the product, they come back for more, and we fix incentives to encourage bookings.”
Shearings also owns around 50 hotels in historic centres such as Bath, Scarborough, Harrogate and Stratford-upon-Avon which are partly filled by the coach operation.
UK short breaks account for around 85% of all Shearings coach holidays. Wormwell adds: “When travel programmes with TV celebrities such as Martin Clunes and Caroline Quentin take a new look at areas of Britain, there is a massive interest from people to see areas they might have known many years ago.
“Staycation breaks are partly in big demand because people like to rediscover places important in their childhood.”
Although coach holidays appear to be mainly for older folk, Wormwell says standard packages have been reshaped as the sector has grown.
“As baby boomers, born directly after the Second World War, are reaching 65, many think they are 15 years younger than they are,” he says.
“Forget bingo and ballroom dancing on holiday, they want walking, opera, big sporting events, great gardens and the bulb fields of Holland.
“Coaching holidays are a hit with people travelling alone.
“There’s no hassle and coach travel is environmentally friendly.
“The best coaches, costing around £240,000, are superbly comfortable for long distances.”
One popular Shearings package takes travellers beyond the Arctic Circle: the 17-day Scandinavia & Land Of The Midnight Sun by a Grand Tourer vehicle includes city breaks in Oslo and Copenhagen.
Available between May and July, prices lead in at £1,899.
A nine-day trip from £979 in the Swiss Alps between May and September includes famous train journeys – the Bernina Express, the Glacier Express and the GoldenPass Line – en route to Lucerne and an excursion to St Moritz.
At rival operator Leger Holidays, Grand Explorer packages include Silver Service coaches – added comfort, extra legroom and porterage – on adventures such as the 16-day Grand Russian Spectacular. From £1,699, the package includes stops in Belgium, Berlin, Warsaw, Moscow, St Petersburg, Helsinki, Stockholm and Copenhagen.
Leger Holidays’ 12-day Picturebook Italy trip takes in Lake Garda, Venice, Siena, Rome, Sorrento/Capri, Florence, Pisa and Lake Maggiore, with an overnight stay outside Paris on the way home.
That starts at £799, with Silver Service from £869.
John Hays, founder and chief executive of Hays Travel, said: “People want to know what they are going to pay,” he says, “with no late surprises before they go.”
Wormwell says: “We pick people up close to home, take care of the luggage throughout the holiday, carry them wherever they want, with brochure prices covering food, entertainment and excursions. What else is there to worry about?”