The end for turkey and tinsel?

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Stuart Render investigates whether the well-known ‘Turkey and Tinsel’ tour format still does enough to attract bookings

It might only be February, but coach tour operators are already promoting this year’s ‘Turkey and Tinsel’ (T&T) short breaks.
T&T is a title given to a short break tour product that usually operates from early November through to the middle of December. It’s a slightly eccentric concept, giving holidaymakers the opportunity to enjoy traditional ‘Christmas’ and ‘New Year’ celebrations over four or five days in advance of the real thing! Eccentric it may well be, but it remains extremely popular. Much like Christmas market day trips, T&T tours also bring in valuable additional revenue at what, for some operators, can be a quieter time of the year. [wlm_nonmember][…]

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The traditional itinerary will mean that day one – possibly a Monday in November – is likely to be ‘Christmas Eve.’ Day two will be ‘Christmas Day,’ while day three, with the holidaymaker clearly engaging in a spot of time travel, is ‘New Year’s Eve.’ On day four, after the ubiquitous ‘hearty breakfast,’ it’s usually time to “say goodbye to our hotel and return home.” Some operators have weekly T&T departures, resulting in drivers facing a weekly diet of turkey and, er, tinsel. But it’s not only drivers who have to stay enthusiastically festive for several weeks in a row – hotel staff also find themselves in this variation on Groundhog Day.

A few years ago, as part of research for a magazine article, I enjoyed a classic T&T break. It was mid-November. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were spent at Warner Leisure Hotels’ Sinah Warren Coastal Hotel on Hayling Island. The following morning I travelled the few miles to Away Resorts’ Mill Rythe Holiday Village. Presenting myself at reception, and needing reassurance on where I was in the festive timetable, I asked what day it was. “It’s New Year’s Eve sir,” came the reply, without hesitation, but with a knowing smile.

But with research clearly indicating that today’s more discerning holidaymaker is looking for more experiential travel, has the traditional ‘Turkey and Tinsel’ short break had its day? Well, it seems not. Many respected and long-established coach operators, including David Ogden Holidays, Majestic Holidays and Daish’s Holidays, are already offering dates for the end of this year. Others look set to announce their dates soon. In the absence of a replacement for the alliterative ‘Turkey and Tinsel’ branding, most operators are sticking with it. Interestingly, one or two, including Mid-Glamorgan-based Gibbons Holidays, and David Urquhart Travel, prefer ‘Tinsel & Turkey.’ Well, there’s nothing like going out on a limb!

Many T&T four-day short breaks stick to the well-tried Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day format. Some five-day breaks include Boxing Day. Well, I suppose it makes sense! Most itineraries combine visits to local towns, Christmas markets and other attractions with what might be described as ‘date-specific festivity.’ It’s a winning combination.

But as holidaymakers of all ages, and especially the new ‘younger oldies’, go in search of new and exciting ‘memorable experiences’, is the opportunity to groan at an awful cracker joke and sing Auld Lang Syne in November likely to tick all the boxes? Maybe not, but let’s not get carried away. For the majority of operators it’s likely that it will be evolution, not revolution, that will deliver continued business success. South Wales operator Edwards Coaches has coined ‘Holly and Mistletoe’ for a three-night break to Tenby in November, albeit under the wider ‘Turkey & Tinsel’ title.

Group tour wholesalers are also delivering creative alternatives. Greatdays Travel Group offers ‘Mistletoe and Mills,’ a four-night break in Lancashire that includes the real Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day, but could easily be a November or early December tour. City & Village Tours offers a ‘Kent and Cockney Christmas Sleepover’, a four-night package in November combining visits to Rye, Romney Marsh and Canterbury with what is described as a “right old knees up.”

Whether it’s a traditional ‘festive’ itinerary, or something to appeal to holidaymakers wanting different experiences, the pre-Christmas short break package is alive and well. Which leaves us with one question. Will 2019 bring a new phrase to replace ‘Turkey and Tinsel’? A ‘Holly and Jolly’ anyone?