Stay-at-home holidaymakers in the UK are likely to be rubbing shoulders with even more overseas visitors this summer, according to statistics that suggest Brexit could lead to an influx of foreign tourists.
As Article 50 is triggered, marking the start of the process through which Britain will leave the EU, voices from the tourism industry suggest this summer will be a strong period, with a record-breaking increase in visitor numbers, as well as an increase in how much they spend.
Much of this increase will be down to the weaker pound making the UK a more-affordable destination for foreign visitors. According to Visit Britain, at the end of February 2017, the UK was 11% more affordable for overseas tourists than it was in the same month last year.
The latest official figures, released on Friday by Visit Britain, show that January already set new records, with 2.85m inbound visits to the UK. These visitors spent £1.5bn, up 15% on last year, while holiday and business visits were also up a record-breaking 19% and 22% respectively. Flight bookings to the UK for this summer, from March-August 2017 are up 19%. Visit Britain forecasts this growth will continue during the remainder of the year, with a total of 38.1m inbound visits – and a total spend of £24.1bn.
Among these travellers is 28-year-old lawyer Lucas Gifuni, who travelled from Canada to spend a week in Scotland last autumn. Now that the exchange rate is more favourable, it was easier for him to justify the trip, and he is considering returning for an outdoor or trekking holiday, something he previously would have chosen to do in a cheaper destination in Europe. “The weak pound was a big factor in making a short-notice decision for the destination,” he said.
He added: “As a Canadian who has wanted to travel to the UK in the past when the exchange was at C$2 for a pound, now is definitely an attractive time to visit. I (and lots of Canadians) saw the UK as a very expensive destination before Brexit. Now, I can consider it as an option.”
Adventure company Wilderness Scotland confirmed it has seen a significant increase in travellers from Europe and North America, while holiday rental firm Cottages.com says Scotland is its best-performing region, with visits over Easter up 19.7% on 2016, and the Highlands proving to be the most popular region within Scotland.
The latest World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) economic impact report for 2017, says that the UK’s travel and tourism sector is expected to do well in 2017 despite the uncertainty caused by Brexit. According to the report, visitor exports – the money spent by visitors to the country – is forecast to grow by 6.2% this year. This will have a positive benefit for many; the report states that the sector supports over 4m jobs, which accounts for 11.9% of the UK’s total employment (it is worth £127bn annually). Visit Britain claims that for every 22 additional Chinese visitors that come to Britain an additional job in the sector is created.
Online bookings site HotelsCombined.co.uk supports these claims with figures that show a big increase in interest regarding travel to the UK. It says bookings from Italy and Austria increased by 149% and 135% respectively year on year, with bookings from Spain up by 122%. It adds that the launch of new direct routes into the UK in 2016 are behind interest from Taiwan and Singapore, which have seen increases in bookings of 134% and 132%.
Flight bookings company Cheapflights found huge interest from China for travel to the UK this summer, with a year-on-year increase of 373% over the last six months. Searches from Italy had increased by 104% and France by 97%.
The British Hospitality Association also reports an increase of interest in travel to the UK: in its monthly travel monitor it found a 15% increase in spending by visitors from overseas.
Ufi Ibrahim, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association, said: “It is encouraging to see, yet again, a year-on-year boost in inbound holiday visitors following the Christmas period. The weak pound makes the UK an attractive destination but the government would do well to remember this is just a short-term benefit.”
The WTTC points out that outbound expenditure will drop (by 4.2%) this year, as Britons are less able to afford a holiday abroad. It said that labour mobility, visa-free travel, remaining in the European Single Aviation Market and improved infrastructure at borders are vital to protecting the UK’s tourism industry.
Other organisations share this concern. Deborah Heather, head of assessment services at Quality in Tourism, which provides star ratings for hotels across the UK said: “I have been speaking to a number of our members over recent months regarding this issue. Many have seen an increase in bookings and are citing this as being partly due to the weak pound. There is a real worry from them all surrounding what may happen as and when the pound begins to recover.”
Stephen Trowbridge, general manager at the Hatherley Manor Hotel, a four-star hotel on the outskirts of Gloucester said: “We have seen very little effect from Brexit in terms of the number of bookings. The bigger concerns have been with our staff, how the exit from the EU will affect them. Many of them are questioning whether they will still have the ability to work in the UK in the future.”