UK Outbound travel growth slows

LONDON, 23 March 2018. More British holidaymakers are opting to stay at home on ‘staycations’, with outbound tourist departures from the UK growing by only 2.5% (compared to 7.8% in 2016 and 9.9% in 2015), the latest World Tourism and Travel Council report indicates.

Spend on domestic travel, however, increased by 5.8% in 2017.

Slightly more than a year ahead of Brexit taking effect in Britain on 29 March 2019, the UK travel industry is already feeling a grassroots impact as Brexit negotiations enter a crucial stage of the negotiations.

WTTC’s latest annual research, in conjunction with Oxford Economics, shows the United Kingdom’s travel & tourism sector’s contribution to GDP grew by 6.2% in 2017, higher than the global average (4.6%) and more than four times faster than the UK’s economy as a whole (which grew by 1.5%).

This growth translated into a GBP 214 billion contribution to GDP, 4 million jobs, and GBP 29 billion in exports.

“Most critical will be ensuring the country has a workforce which is sufficient in number and skills to support this growth,” said WTTC CEO and president Gloria Guevara.  “Furthermore, as outlined by the Prime Minister in her speech, earlier this year, the continued inclusion of the UK in EU aviation agreements will be vital if the UK is to continue to enjoy access to high spending EU markets and maintain affordable European travel for residents.”

Commenting on the controversial issue of hard, or soft borders, particularly between the UK and Ireland where the only land border with the EU will be created after Brexit, the WTTC head said both sides must ensure safe, secure and seamless travel.

“Security is paramount and investment in technologies such as biometrics offer not only increased security, but also a more efficient experience for travellers.”

She added: “If the UK is to benefit from significant opportunities offered by tourism over the coming years, I would encourage the government to prioritise the needs of the sector. The prize is nearly UKP 40 billion in exports per year and around 400,000 new jobs – vital for the economic success of Britain outside the European Union.”

But travel firms in the UK were already claiming they were feeling the effects of Brexit.

The Association of British Travel Agencies said earlier this week that  “we have to accept our guests may not have the freedom [to travel] like they do today, and we may have some challenges with our staff moving around.”

TTG UK reporting on an ABTA breakfast event, earlier this week in London, noted that travel company concerns remained even after the UK and EU agreed terms for a Brexit transition period, despite big questions remaining over the Northern Ireland border.

It quoted Andrew Stewart, chief financial officer at Hotelplan UK, parent company of Inghams and SkiTotal, saying: “There is a difference between overarching policy and what’s happening at the grassroots.

“We’re feeling the effects of Brexit right now – when you send staff overseas you’re also obliged to comply with local labour laws… and they can make your life very difficult at a local level. In the space of the last two months we have experienced more employment inspections than in the last five years put together… The immediate effects that we’re feeling are very hostile.”

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd, said it was “time to do some contingency planning.”

“We don’t know what’s coming, but as with any organisation we have to accept our guests may not have the freedom [to travel] like they do today, and we may have some challenges with our staff moving around,” he said.

But despite the uncertainties of Brexit the  WTTC’s annual report concluded strong growth in UK inbound tourism was great news, not just for the sector but for the country’s economy as a whole.

“Behind this growth lies a double benefit of the sustained weakness of sterling after the EU referendum in 2016, said WTTC Director of Research, Rochelle Turner.

As a result, the UK saw an increase of 6.7% in arrivals, the strongest growth in over a decade, boosted by increased price competitiveness and a 7.9% increase of spending by international tourist visitors.

“However, this success cannot be taken for granted. While the weak pound is certainly improving  competitiveness in the short-term, and driving visitor arrivals and spending, there are significant challenges in the longer-term which will need to be addressed,” WTTC’s CEO noted.