Britain back in favour with Aussie travellers
PERHAPS it’s a legacy of last year’s London Olympics or of the year-long celebrations for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, but Britain is back on the itineraries of Australian travellers, with tour operators reporting a 30 per cent increase in bookings in the past year.
Whether it’s English stately homes and castles or leisurely canal-barging holidays, Britain is once again a hot destination. And when the Olympics precinct in London’s East End reopens as Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park this year, it will be a revitalised centre for events and entertainment, home to Europe’s largest urban shopping centre and expected to attract more than 9.3 million visitors a year.
‘‘With the [current] strength of the Australian dollar being the ‘new normal’, we continue to see an evergrowing appetite for overseas travel and consequently everywhere in Europe is now accepted as affordable and accessible for many Australians,’’ says Trafalgar managing director Matthew Cameron-Smith.
His company is tapping into the popular phenomenon of ‘‘set-jetting’’ or ‘‘location vacations’’ — that is, visiting settings familiar from film or television hits, such as Highclere Castle, west of London, where most of the scenes in Downton Abbey are filmed.
Lonely Planet co-founder Tony Wheeler, who divides his time between Melbourne and London, is not surprised at the resurgence of interest in travelling to Britain. ‘‘A lot of it is because of the London 2012 Olympics . . . I was there and it was magic . . . the same as it was at the Sydney 2000 Olympics. London has always had a buzz, [but] the Olympics gave it a boost,’’ he says.
For Australians taking advantage of the good exchange rate against the British pound and planning a sojourn this year, Wheeler recommends Southampton and the New Forest. ‘‘England has really interesting coastlines, [but] it’s a shame the water is so cold,’’ he adds.
Additional good news is that there are bargain deals to be had on flights to Europe. At Wotif.com, Cathay Pacific return economy fares via Hong Kong to Rome or Milan are $1640 from east coast capitals for flights until May 31. Flight Centre has return flights to Paris from Melbourne and six nights in a three-star hotel near the St Germain des Pres area for $2155 a person twin-share. The deal includes daily breakfasts, but travel dates are restricted from October 1 to 31. Also in Paris, and valid for selected dates, Tempo Holidays has four nights for the price of three at Hotel La Demeure on the Left Bank from $389 a person twin-share; flights are extra.
Trafalgar’s Cameron-Smith says Croatia and Turkey are also good value and Italy and France ‘‘remain standout aspirational destinations for Australians’’.