Has Brexit boosted UK travel and tourism?

Everyone has an opinion on Brexit and it was thought that no professional sector was safe from its shockwaves. Although negotiations are very much still ongoing, the effect of the vote started immediately.

Has the tourism industry taken a hit? Are less of us going on holiday? Are fewer visitors choosing the UK for their holiday destination? Now more than a year into Brexit, we’ve joined with Lycetts — a supplier of arcade, gaming and travel insurance — to explore the Brexit repercussions for UK tourism.

Visiting the UK from abroad

There was a great fear of losing international holidaymakers for businesses across the hospitality, hotel and travel industries. However, this seems to have been unfounded. Out of more than 7,000 worldwide travellers, over 60% specified that they were now more interested in visiting places around the UK than they were 12 months ago, according to the Destination UK report. On top of this, a massive 97% also said they wanted to see the UK in the next few months or very soon.

The bonus of having a healthy number of international tourists is the money they put into the economy when they’re here. A Destination UK report by Barclays found that the average spend on accommodation by international holidaymakers was £667, which makes a decent contribution to the economy when you factor in average spends of £453 on shopping and £339 on food and drink.

Official figures collected by VisitBritain have discovered that foreign visitors have already spent a record £2.7 billion in January and February 2017 alone! This is a rise of 11% compared to 2016’s figures, year on year.

Where are Brits going for holidays now?

Of course, it’s a massive boost to the economy if a holidaymaker chooses to stay in the country and spend their money, instead of going abroad for a getaway. And apparently, Brexit hasn’t reduced the numbers of people holidaying at home either.

The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) carried out a Travel Trends report in 2017 and found that holidays in the UK actually rose a massive 71% in 2016 – up from 64% in the previous year. And there’s little indication available that states this is due to an economic downturn or personal funding problems. Barclays’ Destination UK report showed that more than a third of adults across Britain are choosing to holiday closer to home this year, more so because of personal preference than cost. 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 here.

But are these holidays restricted to a particular region? Evidently not. When asked as part of a survey, 30% of respondents said they were planning on visiting south-west England, 22% were heading to Scotland, 20% had chosen Wales, 20% opted for Yorkshire and Humberside, and 18% were packing for a London trip. This means the money is more likely to benefit all regions, rather than just a pocket of the country.

Holidaymakers choosing to visit somewhere in the UK spend on average:

  • £309 on accommodation.
  • £152 on dining out.
  • £121 on shopping.
  • £72 on parks (if part of the holiday).

What do Brits think about heading abroad?

Staycations are great for pumping money into the economy, but their recent increase in popularity isn’t an indication that people aren’t jetting off to more exotic destinations for their holidays. Early bookings for holidays abroad throughout the summer season of 2017 went up by 11% compared to last year, according to ABTA’s Travel Trends report. Plus, there appears to be a general desire to explore the globe. More than a fifth of all holidaymakers said that they are ‘very likely’ to visit a country that they’ve never been to before.

UK tourist attractions since Brexit

The risk of a ticket sales and footfall downturn as a result of Brexit worried many employees of popular UK landmarks and attractions. However, looking at figures from a report by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA), visitor numbers to UK attractions have risen by 7%, with 66,938,947 people visiting London attractions last year — more than the entire UK population!

Attraction Part of the UK Total visits in 2016
British Museum London 6,420,395
National Gallery London 6,262,839
Tate Modern London 5,839,197
Natural History Museum (South Kensington) London 4,624,113
Southbank Centre London 3,909,376
Somerset House London 3,443,220
Science Museum London 3,245,750
Victoria and Albert Museum (South Kensington) London 3,022,086
Tower of London London 2,741,126
Royal Museums Greenwich London 2,451,023
National Portrait Gallery London 1,949,330
Chester Zoo Chester 1,898,059
Kew Gardens London 1,828,956
Westminster Abbey London 1,819,945
National Museum of Scotland Edinburgh 1,810,948
Edinburgh Castle Edinburgh 1,778,548
Royal Albert Hall London 1,660,123
Scottish National Gallery Edinburgh 1,544,069
St Paul’s Cathedral London 1,519,018
British Library London 1,500,986
Old Royal Naval College London 1,477,117
Stonehenge Wiltshire 1,381,855
Royal Academy London 1,285,595
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum Glasgow 1,259,318
Riverside Museum Glasgow 1,259,042
Roman Baths & Pump Room Somerset 1,216,938
ZSL London Zoo London 1,211,279
RHS: Garden Wisley Woking 1,110,050
Tate Britain London 1,081,542
The Royal Shakespeare Theatre & Swan Theatre Stratford-upon-Avon 1,069,129
Imperial War Museum London 1,011,172
Eden Project Cornwall 1,000,363

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.”

ABTA: making a success of travel and tourism despite Brexit

Of course, all might be looking bright now, but we haven’t technically left the EU left. So, what happens to travel and tourism when the papers have been signed? ABTA advises that the government needs to focus on five key points in the country’s Brexit negotiations:

  1. Chances for growth — this might include reducing Air Passenger Duty, cutting visa costs and working towards world-class connectivity.
  2. Consumer rights — such as abolishing mobile roaming fees in Europe and ensuring UK travellers have access to either free or minimal-cost medical treatment.
  3. Free travel ensuring that UK airlines can still fly freely, and protecting rail, road and sea routes.
  4. Visas — keeping visa-free travel for fast and efficient processes through ports.
  5. Operational stability —keeping access to employment markets and continuing to look into tax and border issues.

The future is uncertain. But coming to an agreement on the above points should go a long way to ensuring a continued healthy travel and tourism industry in the UK.