Well-off Britons splash out on trips of a lifetime as Covid restrictions ease | Travel & leisure

Wealthy people are “blowing the bloody doors off” on extravagant holidays costing as much as £100,000 to celebrate the easing of coronavirus travel restrictions with extended families.

Sally Donaldson, a store manager of high-end travel agent Kuoni, said she was recently left trembling when a couple with two children spent more than £50,000 on a trip to the Caribbean island of Antigua.

“It’s an awful lot of money. Astonishing really,” Donaldson said. “We’re delighted to help the customers, but when you see that sort of money spent on a holiday you do start to shake a little … It’s more than how many years salary for most people? It makes you wonder what these people do, but everyone works hard and we all deserve a holiday.”

Donaldson, who manages Kuoni’s branch inside the John Lewis department store on London’s Oxford Street, said that after being forced to curtail their travel plans during Covid, customers had spare cash and were now ready to spend big. She and her colleagues have sold some other bespoke trips for more than £100,000.

“People haven’t travelled for two years because of the pandemic, and are really keen to get going again and are not questioning the price,” she said. “I’d say more than 80% mention the pandemic as their reason for wanting to get away, spend time with family they hadn’t been able to over the lockdowns.

“These aren’t your ordinary European breaks,” she said. “These are special trip-of-a-lifetime adventures.”

The trend for booking very expensive holidays as the pandemic eases – dubbed “gratifications” by industry leaders – has been noted in research by the travel agency body ABTA.

“After over two years of severely restricted travel people are desperate to head off overseas and many are booking the holiday of a lifetime,” Sean Tipton of ABTA said. “Many of these trips will be funded by savings made throughout the pandemic when opportunities to go out to restaurants, bars, cinema, the theatre and other leisure activities were massively curtailed and consequently many saw their savings increase.”

It comes as most Britons face the biggest squeeze on their incomes since at least 1990, with the Bank of England warning that people face a ­triple whammy of inflation surging to 10%, energy bills hitting nearly £3,000 a year, and rising interest rates.

It may seem a bit cold, but bucket list trips to Antarctica are booming. Photograph: WorldFoto/Alamy

Tom Barber, the founder of the London-based travel agency Original Travel, said many customers have “spent the lockdowns flipping through coffee table travel books and making lists of places they want to go to. Now they can finally put the lists into action.

“After years of taking travel for granted and then losing our right to roam, guilt-free ‘gratifications’ are all about casting off the shackles of lockdowns and quarantines to embrace travel and all its pleasures once more,” he said.

“No more waiting for ‘one day’ – now is the time to treat yourself and visit that place you’ve always wanted to visit, enjoy the experiences you’ve always wanted to try and generally take the holiday you’ve always wanted to take.

“People are telling us that they are absolutely going to blow the bloody doors off [on the spending on holidays] this year.”

Barber said the average spend per booking has increased to about £21,000 up from £14,000 in 2018-19. He said about 8% to 10% of all trips cost more than £50,000 compared with 2% before the pandemic.

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As well as costing more, holidays are also increasing in length. Barber said a quarter of all trips booked through his agency are now for 15 days or more, compared with about a tenth of trips before the pandemic. “Many people are going on months-long sabbaticals,” he said. “They’re realising that taking the kids out of school for one academic term isn’t that bad a thing as long as they do something educational.

“Two years ago the government told us all that going on holiday was illegal, now people are never going to take travel for granted again.”

Barber said popular “bucket list” trips customers had booked recently included a seven-week diving holiday to Indonesia and the Pacific island of Palau, a five -week family sabbatical road trip across the US, and a tour of Michelin-starred restaurants in Spain.

Other top destinations have included viewing the northern lights in Norway, the mountain gorillas in Rwanda and Uganda, and voyages to Antarctica.

A silverback mountain gorilla in the Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
A silverback mountain gorilla in the Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda. Such trips are now on people’s bucket lists, says Tom Barber, founder of the London-based Original Travel. Photograph: Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images

“We have all been dreaming, planning and anticipating 2022’s holidays for nearly two years, so it’s no surprise that the types of holidays we’re booking now are more ‘decadent’ in one way or other, with people wanting to treat themselves after such a long period of abstinence.

“Decadence means different things to different people; for some, it’s about luxury, for others it’s about hedonism, richness of experiences or being completely off the grid.”

Barber said three-generation trips – which he dubs 3G – are also proving popular as families make the most of time together. “Now we really know how important family is, and if the grandparents have made it through the pandemic being together is all the more important.”

Barber said finding a location that works for all three generations can be difficult, and trips need to take place in the school holidays so it can be very expensive.

“Often it will be large private hire properties, like a safari lodge in Kenya or a beachside villa,” he said. “More often than not its the grandparents who are paying – dangling the trip as way to get everyone together.”