People queuing to get away for Christmas (Image: Getty)

The pent-up desire for a festive break is expected to trigger a weekend rush to travel agents in a possible sign of renewed consumer confidence.

Spain, Greece and the Caribbean are the most requested destinations for much-needed winter sun, while December 23 and 27 are proving to be the top departure days.

Holiday industry experts are forecasting that the next three weeks could be the busiest in years for the sector, with one saying fed-up families are looking to give Christmas shopping the chop and swap the stress for a week in the sun from £265.

David Child, head of communications for Thomas Cook, said: “Buying experiences as gifts is becoming ever more popular.

“We can see a last-minute rush of bookings for families and couples who are opting to book a getaway over Christmas.

“And no doubt, people are keen to avoid the effort of all the gift-buying and fridge-stocking that’s needed for a Christmas at home.”

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Other workers are rushing to use up annual leave before the year ends, rather than lose it.

Chris Webber, head of holidays and deals at TravelSupermarket, said: “December is cold…with the shortest day guaranteeing more darkness For many of us, leave allowances will be renewed in January, so for some, there will be days to use up and together with two bank holidays around Christmas and New Year, this is a great time to max out that allowance.

“With office shutdowns and school holidays, following a long busy autumn, many are looking forward to a well-deserved restful break with or without families.”

As Christmas gets into gear, 640,000 festive fliers are set to leave from Stansted as 470,000 jet out of Luton; 500,000 will depart from Manchester, 175,000 are setting off from Bristol plus hundreds of thousands from Gatwick, said travel agents association Abta.

Many Britons want sun on their backs

Many Britons want sun on their backs (Image: Getty)

Staff at Heathrow are making plans to help more than three million departing and arriving passengers in the last fortnight of this month while a significant number of holly-holidaymakers will cross the Channel to Europe by ferry or via the Channel Tunnel.

The travel industry has battled an unprecedented toll of crises in the past few years.

Travellers were first kept at home by pandemic-related bans on movement. Then high energy costs followed by mortgage and rent rises plus dearer food bills and transport charges all put the squeeze on household budgets.

The sector has also been badly hit by natural, manmade and technological challenges such as wildfires raging across Europe, strikes and an air traffic control system failure in August that sparked week-long chaos for millions.

Mark Tanzer, Abta chief executive, said: “Despite cost-of-living pressures, people’s appetite for travel has remained strong this year and looks set to continue into 2024. We expect this month will be a busy time for overseas breaks, with many holidaymakers taking to the slopes or looking for some winter sunshine.

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“All are looking for good value and our research has shown many are choosing to take package holidays to have both value and security.”

Last-minute bargains include a week at all-inclusive resorts in Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt for less than £550 per person.

Seven nights of self-catering in Malta averages £329 – and Cyprus comes in even lower at just £265.

The most-searched destinations for travel this month include Tenerife, Lanzarote, Gran Canaria, Egypt, Fuerteventura, the Costa Blanca, the Algarve, the Costa del Sol, Cape Verde and Turkey.

Tourism chiefs in Greece have been encouraging off-season travellers, pushing visits to sites and attractions at lesser-known destinations which have proved irresistible to Britons wanting more for their hard-earned money.

Athens, the mountain village of Nymfaio and the ski resort of Kaimáktsalan – known as the “Mykonos of winter” – are all proving popular.

Abta said the total of Britons splashing out on a foreign holiday rose from 45% in 2022 to 52% this year, adding: “Despite additional strains on household finances, many are still taking multiple holidays a year, both at home and abroad.” There are no signs of the trend slowing, as American Express research found adults are to spend £1,756 on overseas trips in 2024 compared with £1,693 this year.

Some 13.6 million holidaymakers have already booked parts of their 2024 breaks abroad, with Britons set to have two next year.

The Amex findings showed Spain remains the top destination, with 15% of Britons planning a trip there to chase the sun. Italy holds on to second place (12%), followed by France (11%) and Greece (10%).

Compared with 2023, the sole newcomer among the top spots is the US – ranked at joint 5th with the Canary Islands – on 8%.

Meanwhile travel agents are also urging families to book their break for summer 2024 soon since limited numbers of free places for children can be snapped up early. TUI reported: “We’ve seen strong demand this year and we know there is huge appetite for travel – we expect 2024 to be no different.

“After Christmas people begin to think about their travel plans.

Many will head to the beaches for Christmas and the New Year

Many will head to the beaches for Christmas and the New Year (Image: Getty)

“When our sale goes live on Boxing Day, we see searches up on average by around 200% versus the previous Monday with demand remaining high throughout January.” Zoe Harris, chief customer officer for online travel agent On the Beach, said: “Bookings are already flying for 2024.

“It seems more people than ever want to escape British shores for a holiday next year.

“Given that last summer was a washout, it seems that many Brits are not taking the risk of enduring a similar holiday season.

“This trend is set to continue as we approach the new year when we expect to see more holidaymakers decide on their destinations and lock in their holidays early to get great value and something to look forward to.”

Naomi Leach, the deputy editor of Which? Travel, said: “With the January sales just weeks away, our inboxes will soon be jam-packed with deals from holiday companies looking to tempt us to book.

“Our research has previously found that the period between November and January is generally the cheapest time to book a summer break but you don’t need to rush when the sales are on. Instead, take the time to consider your options and shop around.

“Holidays are often one of the biggest purchases you’ll make in a year, so compare prices across multiple apps and platforms and check the reviews before you part with your hard-earned cash.

“Plus, if you can be flexible on your travel dates and destination, you’ll find there are good deals to be found throughout the year.”

Ms Leach added: “Be wary of booking with companies you’re unfamiliar with, as scams proliferate at this time of year – and if a deal looks too good to be true, it usually is.”