A peer of mine mentioned he was surprised not to see reference to Brexit in our recent 2021 trends whitepaper. A fair point, and one which was purposefully left out because surely we’re all bored after four years of this circus, and I wanted our whitepaper to focus on the landscape shift as a result of the pandemic.
But my friend makes a valid point and Brexit is indeed a major factor affecting travel and tourism in the future.
The impact on resourcing
Before the pandemic, I would have said the biggest impact of Brexit for UK tourism would be on resourcing. A significant percentage of the UK’s excellent hospitality professionals, from front-of-house staff, all the way through to our back-office functions, are indeed European citizens, and simply put we rely on them for our tourism businesses to function.
In fact, at a conference late in 2018, one international hotel group Managing Director I was speaking with mentioned that over 40% of his central London team are from Europe, and thanks to Brexit, applications for new roles were down by 80%.
Therefore, 2 years ago, the immediate challenge with Brexit and tourism was centred around resourcing. But now, in a cruel twist of fate, many hospitality businesses that would have been scrambling around to satisfy resourcing requirements, have been reducing headcount owing to the pandemic, and therefore this impact is no longer as strong as it was.
The impact on demand
The next biggest issue is on actual visits – mainly, will as many Europeans travel to the UK? And I say Europeans, because studies in 2018 by BVA BDRC, demonstrate it is primarily Europeans that have the impact of Brexit as a deciding factor. US and Asian visitors seemed not to care, with some thinking leaving the EU was a good idea.
Our advice at this point in 2018 was to focus on the U.S. and Asian international visitors, however, all the latest data predictably show that these audiences will be slowest to return to us. So what now?
Well, firstly, whatever happens, the combination of the pandemic and Brexit suggests we need to heavily focus on domestic tourism for the next 12-18 months as we know international travel, near or far is going to be reduced.
Secondly, we need our continental neighbours to visits us. A few days ago, Visit Britain released their forecast for 2021 and have predicted that European visits will drop by 50% of 2019 levels.
Presumably, this is a combination of negative impacts of Brexit and the pandemic, balanced with the potentially positive impact (on inbound tourism at least), of a weaker pound and stronger Euro.
We initially thought resourcing would be the biggest impact on tourism from Brexit, but this challenge may not be visible for 2-3 years, as hospitality headcount reduces. This is helpful as it gives businesses more time to figure out how on earth they are going to fill the gap left by European hospitality professionals.
Inbound tourism figures are now the biggest casualties from Brexit fallout, and whilst there was a plan afoot to elevate marketing to long haul visitors from the East and West, the pandemic has put paid to these plans.
Therefore, we should focus our offering on the key factors that could attract Europeans next year.
- Firstly – value, and fingers crossed – an attractive exchange rate (for them!)
- And secondly, really driving home the differentiators in history, culture, landscape and experiences of a visit to the UK.
As a continental European, you have many choices of where you can travel to on your holidays. You can jump in the car and be in a different country in hours, therefore Britain needs to up the ante on how it positions itself to European visitors in order to have a chance of convincing them to cross the water next year.
Anthony Rawlins is the Founder and CEO of Digital Visitor with over 15 years experience in crafting successful marketing strategies for the travel and tourism businesses. He has worked with leading organisations in every part of the industry including airlines, cruiselines, global hotel chains, destinations and attractions.
Regarded as a visionary by many industry leaders, through his scientific background, data interpretation expertise and proclivity for creativity, he has a proven track record in accurately predicting future trends. Combined with expansive industry knowledge and pragmatic and commercial mindset he’s has been able to effectively translate these trends into actional strategies and tactics for Digital Visitor’s clients.