Has Brexit damaged UK tourism?


The ‘Out’ result of June 2016 sent the country, and world, into uproar. With economic uncertainty and a change in global attitude towards the UK, many experts thought the UK’s travel and tourism industry was sure to take a hit. But more than one year on, has Brexit instead worked in its favour?

Alongside Lycetts — a supplier of arcade, gaming and travel insurance — we aim to found out how positively Brexit has affected tourism for residents and visitors.

Sticking with the UK for your holiday

One of the first things we looked at was where people were choosing to holiday since the referendum and if this had changed from the years prior to the vote. 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{c3361bb0cafa607323a298437b54afc507cdfbda6b55a640fbdde2a09fd3f6b4} in 2016 – up from 64{c3361bb0cafa607323a298437b54afc507cdfbda6b55a640fbdde2a09fd3f6b4} 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, not cost. Reasons given for staying in the UK included: generally wanting to spend more time in the country, past enjoyment of a UK holiday, range of activities, and lack of time to spend overseas.

Looking further into where people were choosing for a holiday destination, it’s apparent that one UK region isn’t necessarily attracting much more attention than another — although, England’s South West seems to be a favourite. When asked as part of a survey:

  • 30{c3361bb0cafa607323a298437b54afc507cdfbda6b55a640fbdde2a09fd3f6b4} of respondents said they were planning on visiting south-west England.
  • 22{c3361bb0cafa607323a298437b54afc507cdfbda6b55a640fbdde2a09fd3f6b4} were heading to Scotland.
  • 20{c3361bb0cafa607323a298437b54afc507cdfbda6b55a640fbdde2a09fd3f6b4} had chosen Wales.
  • 20{c3361bb0cafa607323a298437b54afc507cdfbda6b55a640fbdde2a09fd3f6b4} opted for Yorkshire and Humberside.
  • 18{c3361bb0cafa607323a298437b54afc507cdfbda6b55a640fbdde2a09fd3f6b4} were packing for a London trip.

But is this doing much to boost the tourism industry and national economy? Apparently so. People who holiday in the UK spend on average:

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

Multiply this by the increase of people staying in the UK for their holiday and that’s a decent extra contribution.

Have the feelings of going abroad changed for UK residents?

Staying at home for a holiday is clearly on the rise, but that’s not to say people are vetoing flying away when they have time off work since Brexit. Early bookings for holidays abroad throughout the summer season of 2017 went up by 11{c3361bb0cafa607323a298437b54afc507cdfbda6b55a640fbdde2a09fd3f6b4} compared to last year, according to ABTA’s Travel Trends. What’s more, 26{c3361bb0cafa607323a298437b54afc507cdfbda6b55a640fbdde2a09fd3f6b4} of all holidaymakers said that they are very likely to visit a country that they’ve never been to before, while 29{c3361bb0cafa607323a298437b54afc507cdfbda6b55a640fbdde2a09fd3f6b4} stated that they will look for a holiday to a new resort or city, even if they have been to the country in the past.

What about people from overseas choosing the UK for their holiday?

Travel and tourism is a highly profitable sector, but it’s also massively supported by international tourism, not just UK residents. Thankfully for the UK, research from the Destination UK report shows that international tourists’ attitudes towards visiting the UK for a holiday are also positive since Brexit. Out of more than 7,000 worldwide travellers, over 60{c3361bb0cafa607323a298437b54afc507cdfbda6b55a640fbdde2a09fd3f6b4} specified that they were now more interested in visiting places around the UK than they were 12 months ago, according to the previously-mentioned Destination UK report. On top of this, a massive 97{c3361bb0cafa607323a298437b54afc507cdfbda6b55a640fbdde2a09fd3f6b4} also said they wanted to see the UK in the next few months or very soon.

Unlike British residents’ top holiday destinations, the most popular regions for international visitors to the UK are:

  • London (67{c3361bb0cafa607323a298437b54afc507cdfbda6b55a640fbdde2a09fd3f6b4})
  • Scotland (44{c3361bb0cafa607323a298437b54afc507cdfbda6b55a640fbdde2a09fd3f6b4})
  • Wales (29{c3361bb0cafa607323a298437b54afc507cdfbda6b55a640fbdde2a09fd3f6b4})
  • Northern Ireland (24{c3361bb0cafa607323a298437b54afc507cdfbda6b55a640fbdde2a09fd3f6b4})
  • Yorkshire and Humberside (17{c3361bb0cafa607323a298437b54afc507cdfbda6b55a640fbdde2a09fd3f6b4})

What about the money that international tourism brings in? The previously-mentioned Barclays report also found that the average spend on accommodation by international holidaymakers was £667 — more than double what UK holidaymakers typically pay. Factor in £453 on shopping and £339 on food and drink, and you have a healthy contribution to the economy that hasn’t been weakened by Brexit.

And the year is already off to a great start for UK tourism. Official figures collected by VisitBritain have discovered that foreign visitors spent a record £2.7 billion in January and February 2017 alone! This is a rise of 11{c3361bb0cafa607323a298437b54afc507cdfbda6b55a640fbdde2a09fd3f6b4} compared to 2016’s figures, year on year.

Patricia Yates, director of VisitBritain, said: “2017 is off to a cracking start for inbound tourism. Britain is offering great value for overseas visitors and we can see the success of our promotions in international markets.”

Why are people really visiting the UK post Brexit?

The sector might be financially sound, but how does the UK rank around the world as a holiday destination? VisitBritain’s 2016 ‘How The World Views Britain’ report explains how the world rates the country for different tourism attributes:

Dimension/attribute UK rank in 2016
Tourism 5
Rich in historic buildings and monuments 5
Vibrant city life and urban attractions 4
Would like to visit if money was no object 5
Rich in natural beauty 24
Culture 5
Interesting and exciting for contemporary culture 4
Excels at sport 5
Has a rich cultural heritage 7
Top cultural venues associations for the UK
  1. Museums – 47{c3361bb0cafa607323a298437b54afc507cdfbda6b55a640fbdde2a09fd3f6b4}
  2. Films – 39{c3361bb0cafa607323a298437b54afc507cdfbda6b55a640fbdde2a09fd3f6b4}
  3. Music – 39{c3361bb0cafa607323a298437b54afc507cdfbda6b55a640fbdde2a09fd3f6b4}
  4. Sports – 36{c3361bb0cafa607323a298437b54afc507cdfbda6b55a640fbdde2a09fd3f6b4}
  5. Pop videos – 29{c3361bb0cafa607323a298437b54afc507cdfbda6b55a640fbdde2a09fd3f6b4}
Top tourism word associations for the UK
  1. Educational – 34{c3361bb0cafa607323a298437b54afc507cdfbda6b55a640fbdde2a09fd3f6b4}
  2. Fascinating – 31{c3361bb0cafa607323a298437b54afc507cdfbda6b55a640fbdde2a09fd3f6b4}
  3. Exciting – 30{c3361bb0cafa607323a298437b54afc507cdfbda6b55a640fbdde2a09fd3f6b4}
  4. Romantic – 16{c3361bb0cafa607323a298437b54afc507cdfbda6b55a640fbdde2a09fd3f6b4}
  5. Relaxing – 16{c3361bb0cafa607323a298437b54afc507cdfbda6b55a640fbdde2a09fd3f6b4}
Have UK attractions been harmed by Brexit?

An increase in tourism means a boost in money spent at places like restaurants, bars and hotels. But what about some of the nation’s biggest and most-loved attractions and landmarks? UK attractions also risked a downturn since Brexit. However, looking at figures from a report by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA), visitor numbers to UK attractions have risen by 7{c3361bb0cafa607323a298437b54afc507cdfbda6b55a640fbdde2a09fd3f6b4}, with 66,938,947 people visiting London attractions last year — more than the entire UK population!

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.”

Here’s a rundown of the top tourist venues and how many people visited last year:

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
How does the UK continue to make a success of its tourism industry?

The UK has months, even years, of negotiations, debates and paper-signing to go before we officially divorce the EU. So, could everything change for its travel industry after the nation has properly left? ABTA advises that the government needs to focus on five key points in the country’s Brexit negotiations:

1. Constancy —

such as keeping access to employment markets and continuing to look into tax and border issues.

2. Development —

including reducing Air Passenger Duty, cutting visa costs and working towards world-class connectivity.

3. Consumer rights —

such as mobile roaming fees in Europe being abolished and ensuring UK travellers have continued access to either free or minimal-cost medical treatment.

4. Easy travel —

including ensuring that UK airlines can still fly and protecting rail, road and sea routes.

5. Visas between the UK and the EU —

such as keeping visa-free travel for fast and efficient processes through ports.


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