Holiday hotspots for 2023: tomorrow is sunshine Saturday so where should you book as a new year of travel beckons?
Chalkmarks: Credit Stephen McLaren

Good morning. This is what happened in the world of travel this week: Friday 6th January 2023

MUTE the Willy and Harold saga for now because what everyone is really talking about in this first week of January 2023 is where and when to go on holiday. We’re just the same, we’re looking at flights and creating a travel diary. We can’t wait! The latest polling by Chalkmarks reveals that 99.99 per cent of us are Googling away, falling down Insta-holiday holes, searching for inspiration to getaway. The Chalkmarks archive is a fantastic travel department filled with excellent ideas. Btw, no one was questioned for our research! But Abta did do a survey and found 61 per cent (we were close) of 2,000 people said they were planning a holiday this year. So, suitcases at the ready because tomorrow is known as Sunshine Saturday, the most popular day of the year to book a trip! This week the papers were packed with travel news, which we round up here so you don’t miss a thing. 

On holiday? Nope

What to expect from the world? The experts are saying the travel industry is back in business and booming. Holiday companies have thrown off the pandemic and are ready for a new year with predictions that bookings will exceed those pre-pandemic. The package holiday will be in high demand with the guarantees it offers when things go wrong. Beady-eyed readers will know that Spain was tipped as the numero uno destination last year and it is again for 2023. Hot on its heels are Greece, Turkey and Italy. Abta boss Mark Tanzer said “people’s appetite for holiday taking has remained remarkably resilient” but they want “great value”. He recommends travellers use an Abta member travel agent or operator when booking. The Guardian has the story.

Money memo: If you get a good flight deal, remember that the pound against the US dollar has slumped. Ten years ago £1 bought $1.65. This time last year it was $1.37 and today is hovers at $1.20. Urgh! This will make taking a trip to America particularly expensive.

Speaking of Which? The travel magazine listed Bulgaria number one for where the pound will stretch furthest this year. We recommend staying in the capital Sofia. We were there in 2017 watching history in the making as the 1,300 Years Bulgaria Monument came down. We also explored city of Plovdiv, a European Capital of Culture 2019, and one of the oldest cities in Europe, and then we hiked up to the stunning Rila Lakes where we took a photo that won a competition. Bulgaria is a winner!

Sunbathers paradise: If you think summer holidays are best on the Med think again. Varna is the bluest and most beautiful beach resort on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast. It’s everything you’d find on the Côte d’Azur or on the Costa del Sol but it’s also packed with history and culture. They even use merci as thank you and chau as goodbye. Very handy! Varna is an extremely pretty and leafy seaside port with a huge landscaped park on the waterfront with a mile-long stretch of glamorous bars, restaurants and clubs to go with it. There are sofas, beanbags, and brightly painted wooden arm chairs down on the sand. As well as being a sunbathers paradise, further along the coast are the popular resorts of Sunny Beach, Golden Sands and Sunny Day – popular with Britons on two-week packaged holidays. Hear more here.

Come to sales: You’ve seen the ads on the telly. On The Beach plays the Andy William’s Christmas song “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year” but they mean January is the best time to book a summer holiday. The beach holiday firm is throwing in airport lounge access with fast track security as a perk when you book a trip to Crete. Elsewhere, easyJet says using the code ORANGESALE will bag you up to £300 off on a hotel package at a Turkish holiday beach resort Antalya.

For the travel pack(agers): Some holiday companies make you think “ahh, they’re amazing, I’ll book with them again”. And those were named this week as Jet2holidays and Kuoni by consumer group Which? In brief, these two firms scored the highest for customer service, being honest and offering value for money. At the other end of the scale were eDreams, Best At Travel and and Balkan Holidays. Tui, Lastminute.com, Expedia, easyJet Holidays and On The Beach stood in the middle. Deputy editor of Which? Travel, Jo Rhodes, said: “Jet2holidays and Kuoni distinguished themselves by offering travellers support every step of the way.” Many of those that didn’t rank well say the survey of 8,361 travellers wasn’t big enough and wasn’t comparing like for like. It’s a very long survey with lots of detail so see for yourself here.

For the flyers: The best airlines and airports in the world are not in Britain – or anywhere close. Aviation analytics firm Cirium revealed 25 per cent of flights from the UK were delayed last year. Azul Brazilian Airlines though won the award for having the best arrivals time. It was followed by All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines. Haneda Airport, in Japan, was ranked the most reliable airport with 90 per cent of departures taking off on time with Kempegowda International Airport in India coming in second and Salt Lake City International Airport taking third. Heathrow or Gatwick are no where to be seen.

Strikeland: First things first this year, let’s have a rail strike. Yes, new year, new walkout. We don’t get to leave everything behind in 2022. One reason to be happy in 2023? We are on the last strike run, for now. By Sunday it’s all back on board and back to work on the trains. In no mood for these walkouts to go on, Transport Secretary Mark Harper told the unions to “get off the picket line and back round the table”. While more strikes could take place well into the summer, there’s hope the industrial action could soon come to an end. On Tuesday the Daily Express splashed “Hope at last train strike misery will end” with a deal within “touching distance”. But the two big union bosses seem divided. Mick Lynch of the RMT said they “wanted an agreement” while on Thursday Mick Whelan of the train drivers union Aslef vowed to “do our own thing”. Network Rail warns us to “only travel [by train] if absolutely necessary” today (Friday) and tomorrow (Saturday) during the RMT’s 48-hour walkout. 

Have you seen our pictures: Our fantastic travel photos, which capture some of our favourite destinations around the world, are now available for sale on Alamy. Woohoo!

New money: Did you know that Croatia switched over to the euro this week? And it joined Schengen, which means there will be no border checks once you’re inside the zone. On Sunday EU chief Ursula von der Leyen tweeted getting a coffee with Croatian PM Andrej Plenkovic to celebrate, paid for in euros! It was back on 15 January 1992, Croatia was recognised as an independent state by the EU. Since then the country has become a hugely successful tourism destination. We were lucky enough to spend a month there but it wasn’t enough. There is so much to explore with Plitvice National ParkZagreb and its coffee Spica culture, Dubrovnik, Split and its islands – especially Hvar which records 115 sunny days each year. Get the lowdown.

Snow go: On Tuesday the front page of the The Times read: “Ski holiday hope going downhill as Alpine snow melts away”. With the busy ski season coming up in February there are fears resorts will close with many at low-altitude already snow-less and experiencing high temperatures this week. The Swiss weather office reported its hottest ever January tweeting: “20°C for the first time in January on the north side of the Alps!”. It’s believed temperatures will fall across the region but helpfully inews followed up with a list of resorts which are closed and what to do if you are booked. France it reports has 19 resorts closed, Austria 37, Switzerland 16 and in Italy 11.

Where’s Thor this week? The newest attraction along the north east coast this year has been a wandering Walrus called Thor. Crowds gathered when he popped up in Scarborough, N Yorkshire, on New Year’s Eve, which meant the fireworks were cancelled. The next day, on Bank Holiday Monday, he splashed about in Blyth, Northumberland. No one quite knows where the cheerful creature’s going to turn up next but it’s thought he’s on his way home to the Arctic having been down in Southampton over Christmas. He’s been all over the socials. Have you seen the video? Sky News has it.

Queuing for summer: Do you remember last summer? Perhaps pining for the heatwave, a small group of people put on all their clothes and covered themselves in blankets to camp out in the rain to secure one of 15 beach cabins on Avon Beach, Dorset, on New Year’s Day. The cost to rent a 7ft by 4ft wooden hut is £3,000 and allows them to use it for five months, from April to September. The Bournemouth Echo had the pictures.

Lost and found: It’s around that time of year when Travelodge puts out its audit of weird items that have been left in its hotel rooms. Among the most unusual were a life-size cut-out of Liverpool’s football manager Jurgen Klopp, a suitcase filled with Queen Elizabeth Jubilee memorabilia and two Segways. How do you forget those? The Mirror has the full bonkers list.

In case you don’t follow us on social media you really should. Here we are, here too and over here. Say hola muchacha! 

Let’s get ready!

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