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Time for a break. So where?

Was there a time when people didn't go on holiday? Caroline Dunlop examines what drives the decision-making process

Holidays have now become such an inherent part of our modern Western lifestyle that even those on lower incomes will ensure that they can go away each year.

So, where is it going to be for you this summer? Will you wait for the ultimate Internet or teletext bargain a few days before you are due to go ­ as many singletons or empty-nesters choose to these days ­ or will your children and their school holidays dictate a year in advance just where, when and how you will seek to find some rest?

Holidays make a wonderful subject to research and the personal, inter-personal and social circumstances underpinning our holiday decision-making process never cease to fascinate.

This is how it might work for you:

  • Will it be warm?
  • Is it going to be radically different or comfortably familiar?
  • Is it a fantastic bargain or a luxury and a self-indulgent treat?
  • Is it safe?
  • Will it be fun for me/the kids?
  • Will I be able to unwind and switch off?
  • Will it be a source of amazing photographs to show off to everyone else, once back?

Individually, we seek to satisfy very functional and emotional needs. Rest and relaxation are the obvious starting points for most. Familiarity and language barriers drive the choice for a holiday in the UK or in an English speaking country overseas ­ although this seems to matter less and less. British visitors are, for the most part, spoilt by being increasingly well catered for in their own language while holidaying abroad.

But it is the need for escapism that drives people's holiday choices to remote shores. The famous three 'S's are top of mind here. People complain increasingly about the growing and unbearably high pressures ­ plus the consequent stress ­ that they experience at work. So do their offspring ­ amazingly, children of all ages ­ at school!

So holidays can be occasions for parents, especially fathers, to get properly reacquainted with their kids and for families to learn, for example, to share a meal together again.

At the interpersonal level, the nature of our relationships with our usual holiday companions often dictates our final choice. The experience is thus quite dramatically different if you are a man or a woman, and if you have children or not.

It's bad news for you guys ­ but you probably knew that already anyway. It's as if they repeat a mantra when you talk about holidays with them: 'If it'd been me - But if she's happy (and the kids are happy), then I'm happy. So beware gentlemen, you may hold the purse strings but your lady is more likely to help you decide how to exhaust your holiday funds!

Parenthood also makes you choose holidays differently. With children under the age of five, Cornwall would seem the ideal compromise. With children above that age, the 'all-inclusive' options are more likely to be top of mind. The need to entertain these children is the main motivator, so that, as parents, you have some kind of holiday too.

And when it comes to social influences in the way we choose holidays, things are becoming increasingly complicated. Looking at the demise and difficulties of many international airlines and at the rise and success of their budget counterparts, one cannot help wondering how our individual decisions today may shape the world of holiday travel tomorrow. Will our current purchasing habits diminish choice?

But it is the rise of terrorism ­ with the tragic advent and worldwide impact of the events of 9/11 ­ that is likely to influence individual and parental holiday choices. We face a new problem: trying to identify those locations worldwide that are unlikely to be touched by local or international terrorism.

So, what else? The search for the sun and warmth is still an important priority for many of us, stuck on the British Isles for most of the year. Women, and especially mothers, will look at medical requirements and local facilities when considering a break in a more exotic or less developed country. No-one yet knows, however, what effect the current SARS epidemic will have on certain holiday destinations long-term.

Still, wishing you a good one this summer, wherever it is that you end up!

 

Caroline Fraley
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2003