Thousands of groups flock to the sun-scorched Costa Blanca resort each year for a hedonistic, booze-fuelled weekend before their friend ties-the-knot.
Yet with energy prices soaring, and budgets being tightened across the continent, is Benidorm’s title as Spain’s stag and hen capital under-threat?
According to one of the industry’s leading voices, Benidorm has never been in a stronger position – with the resort expected to become even more popular in the coming years.
Matt Mavir is the founder and Managing Director of Last Night of Freedom. Formed four decades ago, it is Britain’s leading stag and hen party organiser and has sent around 500,000 Brits on trips across Europe since the company was formed from his student house in Newcastle.
“Benidorm has always been busy, but this year business there has absolutely exploded,” revealed the businessman.
“Trips booked through Last Night of Freedom are up approximately 50% compared to 2019, which was the final year before covid restrictions caused havoc across the sector.
“But once the rules were eased, groups returned straight away. People were desperate to laugh, relax and enjoy life again so you can easily see why Benidorm was instantly appealing.
According to Matt, Benidorm has become such a hit that this year, it is the most visited stag and hen destination in continental Europe proving twice as popular as the likes of Prague and Amsterdam.
Only Liverpool, Edinburgh and Newcastle regularly attract more groups, while it is particularly popular with males.
This weekend, industry data shows stags are expected to outnumber hens by a whopping seven to one.
“The resort’s appeals are obvious,” added Matt.
“Drink is dirt cheap, with the resort packed with pubs offering pound-a-pint deals plus you have summer-long sunshine which almost guarantees groups great weather.
“Unlike places such as Amsterdam or Eastern Europe, you also have unbelievable beaches in Benidorm and the nightlife is like nowhere else. It feels like the resort has been set-up for stags and hens, it encourages people to go a bit wild and let off steam, so the appeal is enormous.”
For decades, Benidorm has carved out a niche for offering cheap fun in the sun. Yet back in Britain, Matt said the market is changing slightly.
“What we are increasingly seeing, particularly with hens, is that they are wanting to spend a bit more money and to have more shared experiences. A few plastic props and some L plates doesn’t quite cut it anymore.
“Groups are spending more on their accommodation and are happy to spend more on activities and even in their drinks – especially with cocktails – which in some ways is the opposite of what Benidorm is about.”
Given Benidorm’s booking boom, the North East firm sent staff to the resort last week to assess if and how the resort was changing, and to forecast any emerging trends. Staff did notice some shifts in what was being offered.
“There were some pretty spectacular upgrades taking place in a lot of the hotels. The dark wooden interiors were going, with brighter and lighter modern fittings instead and they were really quite eye-catching.
“For years, accommodation on a stag weekend in the sun has been about having somewhere to lay your head for a few hours after a heavy night out. Now, groups clearly want a room that enhances their experience – we were seeing big screens being installed and state-of-the-art Bose soundsystems.
“Hotels are also dramatically enhancing their communal areas. Our staff reported more focus on pool parties during the day, with the pools getting huge upgrades with some resembling nightclubs. That would have been unheard if a few years back.
“So clearly big changes are taking place.”
Post-pandemic, Matt said 2022 has been the busiest year ever for the stag and hen industry with groups desperate to get away after years of restrictions.
However, there are issues. The war in Ukraine resulted in a dramatic dip in bookings to Eastern Europe earlier this year.
Around 60 per cent of Budapest bookings with Last Night of Freedom were cancelled earlier this year, which Matt states could partially explain the surge of interest in Benidorm.
“A lot of groups who cancelled their trips to Eastern Europe either rebooked in Britain, or they looked at Southern and Central Europe – so Benidorm was likely a big benefactor from that,” he added.
However, there’s possibly a bigger hurdle on the horizon in the form of the cost-of-living crisis.
Households across Europe are tightening their purse strings amid rising energy costs. In Britain, bills have now been capped this winter but are still expected to set households back several thousand pounds.
According to Matt, the jury is still out on how much – if at all – the crisis will impact the industry. Yet while bookings to Europe could potentially dip, he believes Benidorm is potentially best placed out of all the destinations to ride any storm.
“We still don’t know what impact this will have. Obviously, people are trying to spend less, but as long as there are weddings, there will be stags and hens – and people don’t tend to skimp on what’s a special occasion with your closest friends,” he said.
“But we expect Benidorm to perform very strongly again next year, if not stronger than 2022. In 2023, we’ve already taken almost half as many bookings as we did in the whole of 2019 and it is barely September.
“That’s massive, and clearly the word is out about just how much fun Benidorm is. Plus if you are looking at a more budget-friendly alternative, even with flights, you will probably spend less money in Benidorm than you would in Britain and that is something that will have huge appeal when groups come to decide a location.”’