For centuries, the UK has considered itself, and been considered by other nations, to be an economic powerhouse and land of prosperity. But this idea came crashing down when the nation voted to leave the EU in June 2016. Many experts predicted serious ramifications to this democratic decision, and it seemed that the entire world looked at the UK with disbelief and even disdain.
Now a year has passed, what has been the impact of the ‘Out’ vote on the UK’s once strong travel and tourism industry? Leading travel insurance provider, Lycetts, analysed reports from various travel and tourism organisations to find out the state of affairs in the UK today.
Are people still taking holidays?
The fear factor of Brexit has reportedly affected growth across all industries. Since taking a holiday is considered a luxury, experts expected the sector would be one of the most negatively affected. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Early bookings for holidays abroad throughout the summer season of 2017 went up by 11% compared to last year, according to a report by the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA). What’s more, 26% of all holidaymakers have said that they are very likely to visit a country that they’ve never been to before, while 29% said they will look for a holiday to a new resort or city, even if they have been to the country in the past.
International holidaymakers since Brexit
It’s crucial that the UK attracts tourists from Europe and the rest of the world to maintain a profitable travel and tourism sector. And thankfully, this seems to be the case. According to Barclays’ Destination UK report, 97% of non-UK residents said they wanted to see the UK in the next few months or very soon. In the same report, over 60% of about 7,000 worldwide travellers stated that they were now more interested in visiting places around the UK than they were 12 months ago.
International spend in the UK is something the country risked damaging with the outcome of the referendum. Fortunately, this continues to be considerably high. The same Barclays report found that the average spend on accommodation by international holidaymakers was £667 — more than double what UK holidaymakers typically pay. Factor in £453 on shopping and £339 on food and drink, and you have a healthy contribution to the economy that hasn’t been weakened by Brexit.
The tourist board of the UK, VisitBritain, also discovered that foreign visitors have already spent a record £2.7 billion in January and February 2017 — a rise of 11% compared to 2016’s figures.
Has there been a change to UK holiday destinations?
Aside from how international tourists perceive the UK as a holiday destination, where Brits are holidaying has also arguably been affected by Brexit. ABTA carried out a Travel Trends report in 2017 and found that holidays to places in the UK actually increased 71% in 2016 – up from 64% in the previous year.
But could this be due to a decline in the economy and having less spare money? Not necessarily. Barclays’ Destination UK report showed that more than a third of adults across Britain are choosing a holiday at home (a ‘staycation), more so because of personal preference than cost. The following reasons were given for why people opted for a staycation.Some reasons given by people who chose to stay at home for their upcoming holiday included: enjoying a recent holiday in the UK, not having time to take a longer holiday abroad, and the variety of activities on offer. It’s clear that holidaying in the UK can have a positive impact on the British economy, especially when you consider the average spend findings from Barclay’s Destination UK report:
- £309 on accommodation.
- £152 on dining out.
- £121 on shopping.
- £72 on holiday parks (if part of the holiday).
Even better for the overall economy, there was a near-even share of planned holidays taking place across south-west England, Scotland, Wales, Yorkshire and Humberside, and London; which helps spread tourism money across the country.
The effect of Brexit on home tourism and attractions
The UK has always been a sought-after destination for arts, culture and historic sites. But have ticket sales and footfall at some of the UK’s most famous attractions been affected by Brexit? Figures from a report by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA) show that visitor numbers to UK attractions have risen by 7%. Incredibly, 66,938,947 people visited London attractions last year — more than the entire UK population — while sites such as the Natural History Museum, Tate Modern, National Gallery, and British Museum all attracted more than four million visitors in 2016.
ALVA director, Bernard Donoghue, commented:“Many of our members in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Cornwall had record years in 2016, although the first nine months of the year were hard for some of our members, particularly in London. However, by the end of the year, nearly all attractions were reporting growth from overseas and domestic visitors.”
The future of UK tourism
While the future of travel and tourism in the UK looks good, the nation hasn’t cut its ties with the EU yet and still has months of negotiations to navigate. The danger now is how the industry will cope once the papers have been signed. ABTA advises that the government needs to ensure the following in the country’s Brexit negotiations:
- Providing operational stability for UK businesses— such as keeping access to employment markets and continuing to look into tax and border issues.
- Free travel in Europe and worldwide— including ensuring that UK airlines can still fly and protecting rail, road and sea routes.
- Protecting consumer rights — such as mobile roaming fees in Europe being abolished and ensuring UK travellers have continued access to either free or minimal-cost medical treatment.
- Chance for growth — this might include reducing Air Passenger Duty, cutting visa costs and working towards world-class connectivity.
- Keeping visa-free travel between the UK and the EU — for fast and efficient processes through ports.
Has the UK’s tourism sector prospered since Brexit? It certainly looks that way, although whether this is possiblydespite or because of is another question.