Winter 2023/2024 Travel Trends Report
A disappointing summer in the UK is leading more to seek-sun during the winter months.
While the UK has some stunning places to visit, there’s no denying that living here can mean drizzly days, grey skies, and dark mornings – especially between October and March. It’s no wonder, then, that so many of us look to escape to somewhere with a different climate during the winter months.
Whether it’s a cosy break under a blanket of beautiful snow, or a tropical retreat that warms you to your core, demand for winter holidays is up this year, according to our latest Winter Travel Trends Index.
Our survey with 2,000 UK adults revealed that nearly half (47%) plan on taking a break between November and February.
The main reason given was “to get some winter sun” (also 47%), while Google searches for “winter sun holidays” have also increased by 14% in the last year.
So, where are the places to head to this year? Luckily, our travel specialists have done the hard work for you, analysing both online search data and our own bookings data to name the top destinations.
When are the best times to jet off?
Sneaking in a winter getaway before Christmas seems to be the most common choice. In our survey, November and the first half of December came out as the most popular weeks to travel at this time of year.
However, when works best for you may differ depending on who you are travelling with. According to our booking data, families are most likely to travel during December and February, which of course correlates with school holidays. These types of travellers are predominantly seeking winter snow too. Our Val d’Isere and Courchevel resorts are both in high demand amongst family groups, home to our Scott Dunn Explorers alpine kids clubs.
When it comes to holiday duration, it seems the time we want to spend away varies. By far the most common option is between five and seven nights (51%), while weekend breaks seem to be less popular – 16% say they will take just a long weekend away this winter.
While longer holidays are certainly not unpopular, they appear to be the least common choice with around one in ten (11%) taking a holiday for a fortnight before spring begins.
Where are the most popular winter holiday destinations for 2023/2024?
Our data reveals that guests are looking for sunshine and adventure this year, with almost three-quarters (74%) of winter season bookings being for warm, long-haul destinations. While France took the number one spot in the list of top locations, eight of the ten most popular destination offer warmer climates and lots of sunshine hours.
Top ten destinations for winter holiday abroad (based on our bookings):
- Costa Rica
- South Africa
- Sri Lanka
- United Arab Emirates
With cosy cabin getaways and snow sports in the Alps being a mainstay during winter for some, it’s perhaps no surprise why France is popular. And of course, Finland, is the ultimate winter wonderland with Lapland offering its quintessential Christmas village (home to Santa himself) and of the chance to spot the Northern Lights too.
Aside from France and Finland, however, we can see most people are seeking sunshine in the coming months. The Maldives, Costa Rica and South Africa all make up the rest of the top five destinations for winter holidays.
Sri Lanka, a paradise island in the Indian Ocean has seen the most significant growth in bookings, increasing by 46% compared to last year with a 10% increase in online searches for holidays here too. This comes as no surprise to our travel specialists though, who have long praised Sri Lanka’s winding rivers and natural beauty.
Costa Rica is another growth destination, where bookings have soared by 33% since last year and online searches have increased by 8% too. Cambodia has seen the same growth in bookings, while its neighbour Vietnam isn’t too far behind at 28%.
While not unpopular, short haul jaunts to Europe don’t seem to be the top choice for most this year. Instead, many are looking for an adventure somewhere far from home – swapping Christmas shopping and cold nights for tropical climates and sand between their toes.
Where should you go to soak up some winter sun?
The list of the most popular winter sun destinations in 2023/2024 really does read like a list of the most idyllic places in the world.
Dreamy destinations like the Maldives and Costa Rica top the rankings, while adventurous locations like South Africa and India also feature high up on the list.
See our top ten winter sun destinations this year (based on bookings) below.
Surrounded by crystal clear waters, stunning white sand beaches and plenty of sunshine hours, the Maldives is a true bucket list destination.
Our travel specialist, Tristan Williams, said: “Don’t underestimate how much there is to do in the Maldives – you never need to get bored! For example, while staying at Anantara Kihavah, you can indulge in a unique underwater wine tasting at lunchtime, before an evening spent sipping sunset cocktails and gazing at the stars from the overwater observatory.”
2. Costa Rica
With its awe-inspiring natural parks and abundance of wildlife, Costa Rica is known as the hummingbird capital of the world. No wonder then that it features so highly in this list, with online searches seeing huge growth this year alongside bookings.
Our travel specialist, Scarlett Bell, said: “For me, the Osa Peninsula is a must when visiting Costa Rica. Home to 2.5% of the world's biodiversity it is one of the best places to experience pristine rainforest and see a large variety of wildlife. The area is remote and takes a little bit of extra effort to get to, but it is very much worth it. Lapa Rios is an incredible eco-lodge hidden in the jungles of the Osa Peninsula, designed to make the most of the nature and wildlife that surrounds it. Wake to the sound of monkeys playing in the trees, watch Scarlett Macaws glide past your room and spend your time hiking the jungle trails, kayaking through mangroves, or swimming in waterfalls.”
3. South Africa
Famed for its wine, wildlife and world heritage sites, the food in South Africa is also a must. There’s so much to do here, it can be easy to get a little overwhelmed.
Our travel specialist, Matt Shock, advises: “Be sure to get stuck into the local food while you’re on safari in South Africa. The country’s remote lodges showcase some of the most authentic South African cuisine, with locally sourced ingredients and things you may never have tried before, such as grilled kudu and other game.”
A cultural hub and the birthplace of Yoga, India really is a must-visit destination. From bustling Mumbai to idyllic southern Goan beaches, there’s something here for everyone.
Here’s what our travel specialist, Charlotte Dent recommends: “If you’re planning a trip to South India, Gopi Parayil is the person you need to meet. A pioneering responsible tourism entrepreneur, since 2004 he has been connecting travellers to the local communities of Kerala through transformative and immersive experiences. Whether it’s a journey through the culinary trails of Malabar or a guided walk in Periyar Tiger Reserve, Gopi’s passion is creating better places for people to both live and visit.”
Mauritius truly has it all. From breathtaking white sand beaches with crystal waters, to world class diving, golf and watersports. Whether you want to embrace full relaxation, or keep it more active, you’re sure to find something here for you.
Here’s what our travel specialist, Tara Hanna, said: “Be sure to head inland where you’ll be treated to the most luscious rainforests, gardens and breathtaking waterfalls. Mauritius lends itself incredibly well to parasailing, kayaking and windsurfing too – so if you’re craving something a little more adventurous, head out to the coast. From here, it’s easy to hop on a catamaran and sail past dolphins and whales, or even give deep sea fishing a go.”
6. Sri Lanka
It’s hard to overstate the natural tropical beauty of this stunning island. A hotspot for keen surfers and those seeking total relaxation alike, here’s what our specialist recommends:
“If you’re on the South Coast of Sri Lanka, I would highly recommend exploring the Kapu Ela River by boat and cycling through rural Galle, it’s the best way to get a real sense of the beauty of this tropical land,” said Scott Dunn travel specialist, Rikki Poynton.
Thailand has rightfully earned its reputation as one of the most incredible places to visit in the world. Its legendary city life contrasted with peaceful beaches bathed in sunshine, means that this gem needs to be on everyone’s travel bucket list.
From the bustle of Bangkok to the crystal waters of Koh Phi Phi, here’s what our travel specialist, Ellen Fraser, recommends: “Bangkok is usually where anyone’s Thailand journey begins. It’s well worth spending a few days here while you acclimatise and there’s no shortage of things to do. From there the world is your oyster! There’s an abundance of incredible national parks to visit; we’d recommend Khao Sok National Park, which is arguably among the most beautiful there is.”
8. United Arab Emirates
When you think luxury getaway, often the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is among the first places to spring to mind. Known for its extravagance and decadence, there’s more to this country than you might think. Looking for something unique to do?
Our travel specialist, Sarah Holloway, recommends escaping the city: “Once you step out of the city, you begin to appreciate the amazing surroundings on offer from UAE. For a breathtaking look at the night sky, head out to Liwa desert – you’ll find it hard to find anywhere else in the world that offers stargazing like you’ll find it here."
Home to one of the Wonders of the World, Egypt attracts millions of visitors to its Pyramids every year.
After a day of touring and taking in what Egypt has to offer, our travel specialist, Matt Shock, recommends a river cruise: “The Oberoi Zahra Luxury Nile Cruise is a special experience; sailing the southern Nile and visiting ancient Egyptian sites along the way is truly unforgettable. Oberoi boats are renowned for having the best cuisine and their own private docks which ensures a totally exclusive experience.”
Antigua is simply a must for keen sailors. Home to the annual regatta each spring, this jewel in the Caribbean Sea offers rich history alongside stunning secluded beaches.
Our travel specialist, Alice Sampson, said: “Antigua is a prime location for those who like to explore history. Great Fort George, built in the 18th Century, remains an eye-catching part of the island’s identity, while Nelson’s Dockyard showcases and brilliantly restored British naval base. If history isn’t your thing, head into the rainforest for The Antigua Rainforest Canopy Tour. This is a one-of-a-kind eco tour through endless lush rainforest, with unique aerial walkways and even a zipline for the thrill seekers.”
Dreaming of a white Christmas? These are the top spots for winter snow
Although winter sun is proving especially popular this year, many are still heading out in search of snow. Whether it’s for snow sports, an arctic adventure or a cosy log cabin, snow-filled getaways remain a hit with our guests.
More than a quarter of our winter 2023/2024 bookings (26%) have seen guests embracing the colder climates of Southern Europe and Scandinavia, as well as once-in-a-lifetime locations like Japan and Antarctica.
What’s more, our survey data showed 21% of UK travellers are planning a winter break this year specifically to enjoy snow sports like skiing or snowboarding.
See our top ten winter snow destinations (based on bookings) below
A mainstay on the winter holiday scene, millions head to France every year to enjoy its picturesque mountain ranges and ski slopes. Looking for a personal recommendation? Here’s what our travel specialist, Miranda Bird, said: “Gigi's Restaurant at Le Refuge de Solaise is a must-do in Val d’Isere. At an altitude of 2500m, the views are spectacular and there is no better place to enjoy a traditional French tartiflette and a glass of rose in the sun!”
Whether it’s a trip to see Santa, or you want to bathe under the captivating Northern Lights, Finland is a dream destination for adventurers. Countless lakes (187,988 to be precise) and islands alongside wild terrain to the north make Finland a must-visit for those who love to explore.
With 35 national parks, you won’t be short of places to visit, but here’s what our travel specialist, Milly Darnell, recommends: “You can’t visit Finland and not experience a husky sled ride. This is a totally unique and thrilling Finnish adventure, where you’ll get the chance to get up close and personal with these naturally playful and loving dogs. Feeling festive? Take a trip to a reindeer farm with a reindeer safari to check out Santa’s helpers before they jet off around the globe with their sleigh.”
Think winter snow and you immediately think of Italian ski resorts. There are so many to choose from, all of which are incredible, but our travel specialist, Grace Holton, recommends one that’s a little lesser known to British skiers: “With access to the expansive Sella Ronda network of varied pistes and amidst spectacular Dolomite scenery, San Cassiano is a small gem of a resort that’s ideal for intermediate skiers, families and food lovers. This small, smart village links onto the Sella Ronda circuit, a huge network of connecting slopes amid the spectacular scenery of the Dolomites. San Cassiano offers easy slopes that are immediately accessible, a quiet ambience, a traditional Italian flavour and a good sun record. It’s particularly good for mixed ability groups of skiers and for families with younger children. There’s a rich array of gastronomic delights on offer, too – so for those for whom fabulous food is a priority on holiday.”
All 6,852 islands that make up Japan are a marvel to explore. A place where futuristic technology meets stunning beauty and ancient tradition. Japan is truly a wonder.
For avid foodies, the markets are the place to be according to our travel specialist, Rikki Poynton: “Take a guided tour of Nishiki Market, Kyoto’s Kitchen, to embrace all that Japanese cuisine has to offer. You’ll enjoy a unique Sake tasting experience, explore traditional Japanese ingredients, and even take part in a cooking class in a traditional machiya, townhouse. Staying in Kyoto into the evening, head to Pontocho for a food tour. This spot is iconic for good reason. Set in the heart of the Geisha district, there’s plenty of entertainment on offer, met with romantic canal walks and traditional wooden teahouses.”
By far the largest of the Scandinavian countries, Sweden is also the fifth largest country in Europe. Despite its size, this destination still offers cosy and quaint winter hideaways if you know where to look – and thankfully our travel specialist, Hannah Ingle, does: ““If you plan to stay in the city of Stockholm, why not marvel at the sunken 17th century warrior ship at the Vasa Museum or sample some Swedish delicacies at the Christmas markets. Stockholm, really is a charming and historical city with colourful cobbled streets, and patchwork buildings interspersed with Gothic cathedrals and a spectacular Royal Palace."
"For a bit of heritage, catch a private guided driving tour to Drottingham Palace, an exceptionally well-preserved 17th Century royal palace and UNESCO World Heritage Site. For something more remote, head out to Swedish Lapland for a stopover in Fjellborg Arctic Lodge on Lake Väkkärä.”
It doesn’t get more wintery than Antarctica. Embrace your inner adventurer and set out on an extraordinary trip filled with glaciers, ice deserts and incredible wildlife.
Our travel specialist, Grand Greenham, says: “A trip to Antarctica is truly a once in a lifetime experience for the avid explorer. A highlight of any Antarctic cruise must be venturing out into the water on a small Zodiac boat. This is an ideal way to get up close with the icebergs and perhaps the local wildlife, too. The Drake Passage will be a memory that lasts a lifetime. This is the stretch of sea between the southern tip of South America and Antarctica. Drake’s Passage is often turbulent but offers unrivalled views of the midnight sunset.”
Another location famed for its ski resorts; the Austrian Alps offer an incredible winter experience. Our travel specialist, Grace Holton, said:: “Heli skiing has to be a personal favourite here, which you can find in the world-famous region of Arlberg. The sheer adrenaline and wonder you get from heli skiing can’t be beaten. If you’re looking for something a little calmer with your feet more firmly on the ground, head to Restaurant Älpele. Here you’ll find a one-of-a-kind dining experience set in a 300-year-old hiking hut in the Zug valley. For fondue fans this restaurant really can’t be beaten, as it’s one of the most famous in the area.”
Home to vast National Parks, the bluest lakes, rugged mountains, incredible skiing, the Northern Lights, and lots of wildlife, Canada is the ideal setting for an epic trip this winter.
Scott Dunn travel specialist, Rob Shepherd, recommends Whistler in particular: “Located 120 km from Vancouver, the Canadian town of Whistler is the perfect place for the ultimate winter getaway. With up to 3m of snowfall in December, Whistler has made a name for itself as one of the best ski resorts in North America. If you’re not into snow sports then there is still plenty to do here, including several luxury spas – like The Westin Resort & Spa - for the perfect relaxing pre-Christmas break.”
A trip to Iceland is unlike any other. The country is a mysterious blend of ice and fire, with a magnetism that simply draws you in.
Perhaps most famous for its lagoons and Northern Lights, our travel specialist, Rob Shepherd, shares some of their insider tips: “Head to the west coast of Iceland for some of the most magnificent scenery and amazing waterfalls. Here you’ll also find the amazing Langjokull glacier, where you can venture into the glacier itself to uncover truly unique ice caves. In southern Iceland, the Blue Dragon Ice Cave is one of the region’s most remote. Take a helicopter ride and fly over Vatnajokull National Park for a bird’s eye view of the awe-inspiring vistas."
Iconic mountain ranges, toboggan run and, of course, Swiss chocolate. Switzerland truly is a winter wonderland!
Zermatt is a must-visit according to our travel specialist, Charlie Taylor: “While you stay in Zermatt, I’d highly recommend taking a visit to the world’s highest glacier palace. This glacial world complete with its own ice slide is like something straight out of a fantasy film. Visit the ‘Iglu-Dorf’ igloo village at the top of the Gornergrat railway for something to eat, or even to sleepover in your very own igloo. If you’re visiting in February, head to St. Moritz to catch the White Turf Polo. This event has been a tradition since 1986 and takes place on a stunning frozen lake – there’s nothing quite like it.”
Christmas on the beach anyone?
Lots of us will have seen friends and family celebrating Christmas on far away beaches down under, or on tropical islands around the world. It’s an appealing option for many, as more than one in ten (11%) plan to do just this for this year’s winter escape.
It may surprise you to know as well that those aged over 65 are most likely to book a Christmas getaway, while younger generations (18-24-year-olds) we found to be the least likely.
If you’re looking for a festive break, the home of Santa himself in Finnish Lapland is a must-visit. Finland features highly on the list of popular winter holiday destinations, and for good reason. For Christmas lovers, you simply can’t beat festive Finland.
Craving the complete opposite of that? How about heading to the Gold Coast or Byron Bay in Australia to welcome in Christmas on the beach, followed by a spot of surfing.
Are you an adventure-seeker too?
If there is one thing that is clear from our Winter Travel Trends Index this year, it’s that holidaymakers are increasingly craving a sense of adventure beyond short haul trips. Looking at our bookings data, we can see 59% of all guests travelling over the winter period in 2023/2024 are heading on tailormade adventures to destinations across Asia, the Middle East, Central and South America.
We know that many head out to experience some winter sun, so typically that means jetting off a little further afield. And there are certainly worse places for it than the likes of Sri Lanka, Costa Rica and the Maldives, which are increasingly popular with guests.
Whatever your style this winter, trust our specialists to put together the most perfect, tailormade adventure just for you.
Our report sources and methodology
- Scott Dunn booking data, based on the travel period 1 November 2023 to 29 February 2024.
- A survey of 2,000 UK adults conducted in October 2023. Data was split by respondent age, gender and nearest city.
- Google Trends and Google Keyword Planner data.
- Stats collected on 26/10/2023. They reflect UK-only searches and compare year-on-year as specified.