Countries around the world will see a decline in visitors from the UK as Brits feel the pinch following the referendum vote, according to experts in a WTM London debate on Brexit.
However, for inbound and domestic markets, there is a golden opportunity to capitalise on the falling pound, as the UK is about 15% cheaper for overseas visitors.
The predictions came from Caroline Bremner, Euromonitor Head of Travel, who said the best-case scenario would be for the UK to keep access to single market and open skies.
However, she told delegates that a disorderly or ‘hard’ Brexit would mean there would be two million fewer visitors coming to the UK by 2020.
She also warned that a Trump presidency would see the dollar will weaken and markets will be “spooked”.
Andrew Swaffield, Chief Executive at Monarch Airlines, said the key issue was the freedom of movement for people.
“We need clarity on the free movement of people, and we need that clarity very quickly,” he told the audience.
“If we get that, we can keep visa-free travel and liberal air traffic.”
Chris Mottershead, Managing Director of Thomas Cook UK & Ireland, called on the government to act on tourism VAT – which is 20%, while other European countries have rates around 5% – and Air Passenger Duty, which makes travel in and out of the UK much more expensive.
“We are the most uncompetitive country with APD. Cutting it will stimulate more travel into the country and make better prices for people who want to go overseas.”
Patrick Richards, Chief Commercial Officer, Combined Buying and Distribution, at Cox & Kings, said the inbound and outbound sectors should not be pitched against each other, as they have plenty in common.
“We rely on the same air capacity and transport links,” he told the debate.
He also said that VisitBritain, along with TV and films with characters such as James Bond and Poldark, were helping change perceptions about the UK for the better.
Terry Williamson, Chief Executive of JacTravel, said the initial boost caused by the fall in sterling would soon dissipate as the rising prices of fuel and food in the UK affected costs for businesses in the inbound sector.
“The single, biggest thing that we need to get across is that we are open for business and we want to welcome guests and make them feel good,” he said.
“We need open skies – and we should build at Gatwick as well as Heathrow.”
The panellists highlighted how the travel industry has been resilient to many knocks over the years, including terror attacks and volcanic ash clouds, and Brexit was just the latest challenge.
Richards said: “We have been living in a state of chaos for the past 15 years and this is another punch that we have to roll with.”
Williamson added: “I’ve been in the industry for 30 years – this is one hell of a resilient industry, whatever challenge is thrown at it.”
WTM London is the event where the travel and tourism industry conducts its business deals. Buyers from the WTM Buyers’ Club have a combined purchasing responsibility of $22.6 billion (£15.8bn) and sign deals at the event worth $3.6 billion (£2.5bn).