The cheapest holiday destination for 2018? According to the Post Office’s annual survey of on-the-ground costs, it’s offbeat Bulgaria.
After comparing prices in 42 destinations, for typical travel purchases such as drinks in local bars and restaurant meals, the Black Sea resort of Sunny Beach supplanted the Algarve as the top option for budget breaks.
The total cost of the items came to just under £38, on average, in the Bulgarian summer favourite, around £5 less than its nearest rival, Tokyo. The Algarve, where the bill came to a little over £44, slipped to third overall, while Prague and Cape Town completed the top five.
Propping up the table was Singapore, where the items were found to cost almost £154, on average, followed by Dubai, Oman, Barbados and Rio de Janeiro.
The Post Office’s Worldwide Holiday Costs Barometer, released every January, doesn’t take into account hotel and flight prices – and, of course, it is possible to find costly meals in Bulgaria and budget ones in Singapore. But it does offer some guidance to where British travellers will find their pound stretching furthest.
At a Glance/The cheapest and costliest destinations for 2018
|Destination||Cost of eight essential holiday purchases*|
|Bulgaria (Sunny Beach)||£37.92|
|Czech Republic (Prague)||£53.40|
|South Africa (Cape Town)||£54.95|
|Spain (Costa del Sol)||£55.20|
|Vietnam (Hoi An)||£65.85|
|Dominican Republic (Punta Cana)||£67.46|
|Sri Lanka (Colombo)||£72.12|
|Costa Rica (Tamarindo)||£81.48|
|USA (New York)||£95.88|
|Mauritius (Grand Baie)||£96.03|
|St Lucia (Rodney Bay)||£99.61|
|South Korea (Seoul)||£103.11|
|New Zealand (Auckland)||£104.80|
|Jamaica (Montego Bay)||£105.53|
|Antigua (Jolly Beach)||£114.18|
|Brazil (Rio de Janeiro)||£138.59|
|Barbados (St Lawrence Gap)||£139.29|
|Singapore (China Town)||£153.72|
*Items are a coffee from a local cafe, a beer, a soft drink and a glass of wine from a local bar, a large bottle of mineral water, suncream and insect repellent from a local supermarket, and a three-course evening meal, including wine, at a local restaurant. Source: Post Office.
Overall, the picture is fairly positive for UK travellers in 2018 – compared with last year, at least. Sterling has strengthened against 70 per cent of the Post Office’s 40 best selling foreign currencies since January 2017, when it was still in the post-referendum doldrums, helping to decrease holiday costs in many destinations.
The biggest falls were found in long-haul locations such as Dubai, where prices are down 36 per cent, and New Zealand (down 27 per cent). The Caribbean is offering far better value too, with a drop in prices reported in St Lucia, Antigua (both down 31 per cent), Jamaica (down 27 per cent) and the Dominican Republic (down 26 per cent).
Hoi An in Vietnam (down 21 per cent) and Cape Town (down 16 per cent) are among the other places where the pound is going further in 2018.
While eight of the 10 cheapest destinations are found in Europe, budget travellers might consider steering clear of Italy, 23rd overall, and France, 30th overall. China, Chile and Australia also appear towards the lower end of the ranking.
Why go to Sunny Beach?
A fair question. Besides low prices, what can one expect from the Bulgarian Riviera? Is it worth the potential savings?
“It’s cheap and cheerful, with some fairly rough-and-ready communist-era concrete constructions,” said Telegraph Travel’s Adrian Bridge, following a visit to the resort of Varna, just north of Sunny Beach. “But there are some nice cafés and restaurants. We drank a couple of beers (£1.30 for the two) and ordered fish fresh from the Black Sea. Over a shopska salad (tomatoes, cucumbers, olives and feta-style cheese), I was introduced to the pleasures of rakia, a fruit-based schnapps.”
Varna’s other attractions include the beautiful Sea Gardens, modelled on the Baroque palace gardens of Schönbrunn and Belvedere in Vienna, the lavish Cathedral of the Assumption, an open-air theatre, an aquarium, a planetarium, a “bizarre” little naval museum, a well-preserved old town, and, of course, the sea itself: “I took a dip and experienced the strange sweetness of the Black Sea,” recalled Bridge. “It has barely any salt.”
He adds: “It’s still a working port and in addition to a sea of cranes I spot cargo ships. It lends the beach itself a certain hardness that may not appeal to all holidaymakers (most of whom anyway head further north to the purpose-built resorts of Sunny Beach and Albena). But for an afternoon – or a day or two – it’s fun.”
Robert Nurnden, meanwhile, a former resident of Bulgaria, recommends another Black Sea resort: Sozopol. “It manages to cater for the young, party-going set from Sofia as well as those seeking something more sedate,” he says. “The classy old town offers shoreline restaurants and bars where you can watch the sun slide down over Asia. To the south, miles of sandy beaches stretch as far as Turkey. To the north, Sunny Beach pulsates to the beat of 24-hour parties.”
How reliable is the study?
As mentioned above, there are drawbacks to the Post Office study. It does not take into account the cost of travel, only a handful of on-the-ground purchases, while cheap food is easy to find in just about any city on Earth (Singapore, for instance, the most expensive destination to feature, is renowned for its street food stalls, which will leave you satisfied for a few quid).
However, it offers a fair guide as to the destinations to avoid if you want to keep costs down (Australia, Dubai and Antigua, for example), and those to consider (like Portugal, Turkey and Prague).
The biennial World Economic Forum Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report, released last summer, takes into account a far greater number of countries and assigns each a “price competitiveness” score, based on typical costs. It too highlights Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia as good options for cheap breaks (the cost of flights notwithstanding).