It has been quite a 12 months for the UK. Brexit, a change of Prime Minister, an unplanned General election, three terrorist attacks and a terrible fire has left the UK a little short of self-confidence and with a definite uncertainty over the now and the future.

It might come as a surprise therefore, that despite these events, the current mood in the tourism industry is fairly positive. Brexit caused an unprecedented drop in the value of the pound sterling which has led to the UK being the cheapest it has been in relation to the dollar and the euro (the UK’s two biggest markets) for many years. This led to an upward trend in arrivals to the UK which hasn’t showed signs of slowing down. 

The luxury travel sector felt the benefits sooner than the budget sectors, as people rushed to take advantage of sudden discounts on hotel rooms and other services. Luxury travellers have the budget to pay a small premium on last-minute flights, whereas budget travellers often book further in advance. This led to a very strong summer in 2016 for luxury hotels in London and this trend has continued (see here). 

Last year, following the referendum vote to leave the European Union, the budget sector, specifically the youth travel market (those travellers below the age of 35) had an initial backlash against the UK, with young people of Europe voting with their feet and deciding against visiting the country in favour of other destinations. However, the sustained weakness of the pound proved more enticing than the anger against the Brexit vote, meaning that by October things had turned more positive.

Looking back over the last 5 years, youth travel to the UK  has continued to grow, as shown in the recent BETA ( study Unlocking the Value of Youth, Student and Educational Travel . However, despite growing at an average of 4.7% over the last five years, the pace of growth has slowed with the main reasons being the arduous process that non-EU nationals face in order to obtain visas, as well as a long-term perception of a “lack of value” in the British travel product. 

So where are we now? The recent terror attacks in the UK that targeted crowded public areas in London and Manchester has led to a small drop in visitors to the higher-profile attractions. Nevertheless, overall arrivals remain strong as the pound struggles to correct itself against the dollar and the euro. 

Despite the relatively positive situation at present, the months ahead could prove critical for Britain’s tourism sector. There are number of issues that Brexit has thrown up. 

Firstly, staffing. All areas of the tourism and hospitality sector will be affected as questions remain over the status of those EU migrants who are currently working in UK hospitality (and there are a lot). To give a very specific example, Prêt à Manger, the café chain that employs thousands of people across the UK, explained that 90% of their staff in London are EU migrant workers. If you look across the travel space there are EU migrants working in attractions, on reception at a hotel or in catering in all corners of the UK, and they may struggle to continue to work in the UK post-Brexit if the negotiations don’t fall in their favour. This would damage the industry tremendously as there just won’t just sufficient numbers of people to service the sector. 

Secondly, when it come to both corporate and leisure visitors, as well as youth travel in particular, a large share of all visitors to the UK come from other EU countries. As we can see from the 2016 figures, well over 60% of all visitors to the UK come from the EU. If negotiations mean that there is difficulty for business or leisure travellers from the EU being able to enter the UK, and if young students from the EU struggle to get visas to come and study in the UK, it could cause severe damage for the tourism industry as a whole. 

What's my personal opinion? Honestly, the only way to explain my feelings on where the tourism sector is heading at present is “expect the unexpected”.The recent general election showed that the UK population is not in favour of a hard Brexit, and one would hope that those in power will be sensible with negotiations and not cause unnecessary damage to a vital UK industry. As this is an unprecedented situation, no-one really knows how this will all pan out. The UK needs Europe and Europe needs the UK so there must be a resolution that works for everyone. In the end it could turn out that there’s no eventual Brexit but rather a slight change in the rules. News and politics change quickly, so watch this space!

How can we help you? 

With offices in London and Athens and expert associates across Europe, Toposophy is primed to assist you with your destination marketing and management goals. As you’ll find in our recent European Cities Marketing Manifest on the Future of DMOs, we have our vision firmly fixed on the future when it comes to supporting destinations and the many partners who work with them, for example adapting to change brought by the growth of the sharing economy. Making the best of what every place has to offer is our philosophy, and it lies at the heart of projects such as the Wine Roads of Northern Greece, and destination development with the Greek Marina Association. Our keynote presentations and workshops are in demand - choose from our programme or discuss your needs with us and we’ll be glad to come and add that winning touch to your next event. 





I ‘ll have our blog posts delivered fresh right to your inbox.


We have received your input and we will get back to you shortly.