By Humphrey Carter
THE Balearics can look forward to a happy New Year as the latest market reports indicate that the region will be Britain's single most popular holiday destination. The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) has just published its Holiday Trends 2004 report and Spain, which this year attracted more UK visitors than France for the first time since 2002, is tipped to be Britain's favourite destination, with the Balearics the most popular Spanish resort. However, the Balearics has some stiff competition: two of the four 2004 hot spots are Bulgaria and Croatia.
Both destinations have posted significant increases in tourism over the past two years and for 2004, a large number of UK tour operators are either moving into the markets or expanding their existing programmes. Both countries are set to double their investment in cultural and eco-tourism.
Long haul, New Zealand and Tasmania can expect to see a boom in British tourism.
Seventy-one percent of package holidaymakers this year took a summer sun or beach holiday and a similar number are expected to head for the sun again next year, however holiday habits are changing. The relative cost of going abroad has come down and, as a result, the British are becoming more demanding and adventurous.
Activity holidays, including cycling, skiing and water sports, are growing in popularity and now make up eight percent of package holidays.
However, Spain is managing to meet the needs of most British tourists, whether they want sun or snow and next year, for the first time ever, the smaller Canary Island, La Palma, is being included in the winter sun brochures. The Costa de la Luz, west coast of Spain, and the sherry region of Jerez are also becoming increasingly popular in Britain.
Here in the Balearics, Minorca rules the waves when it comes to family holidays.
San Antonio in Ibiza has become the number one name in club chic, appealing to the younger audience.
The Costas, which kicked off mass market holidays over 30 years ago, still retain their beach appeal, but “culture vultures” also love the mainland.
While holidaymakers on beach holidays to the south often visit the Moorish cities of Granada, Seville and Cordoba in the south, for short-breaks Barcelona, Madrid and Bilbao have rocketed in popularity since increased competition has reduced the price of flights. So Spain, as reported this week, is number one in Britain.
France is, however, still the number one destination for British day-trippers and Britain's favourite ski destination.
Greece is expected to be the third most popular destination next year. Hosting the Olympics is of course going to help just as staging the 2004 European Championship is going to boost tourism numbers in Portugal, in eighth position on the 2004 holiday trend list. The United States is fourth. The weak dollar is going to be the big attraction next year and the USA will remain as Britain's most popular long-haul destination. Italy, serving both culture vultures and skiers in large numbers, is tipped to be the fifth most popular destination followed by the Irish Republic.
Ireland is becoming popular for its “quiet and relaxed pace of life amongst friendly, hospitable people.” The Netherlands is set to prove slightly more popular than Portugal with Turkey, struggling to shake off the shadow cast by recent terrorist activity, still making the top ten. Its neighbour Cyprus, a popular winter and summer destination occupies the tenth spot.
ABTA believes that 2004 should be the year the travel industry sees a return to strong growth after two years blighted by terrorist attacks, war and health scares. The package holiday is still the most popular kind of holiday but travel agents and tour operators are increasingly offering more flexible options to their customers as tastes and options increase.

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