As U.S. receptive tour operators, travel suppliers and DMOs return home following this week’s World Travel Market in London, they will be struggling to reconcile what they have experienced, one-on-one, with UK travel buyers versus what the torrent of mostly discouraging news told them about the condition of the outbound travel market from the UK as they arrived.
Until the June 23 “Brexit” referendum, in which Britons voted to leave the European Union (EU), the UK seemed headed for a record-breaking year in the number of visitors it would send to the USA. Then, following the Brexit vote and a further decline in the value of the British pound sterling vs. the U.S. dollar—it is down about 20 percent compared to its level at last year’s WTM—economists, tourism industry analysts and potential British visitors to the United States have been subject to a narrative with some wild ups and downs that have drained confidence In the UK market. From an array of sources, the Inbound Report presents some of the factors that shaped the business environment for this year’s WTM:
—Days before the event started, the results of a YouGov survey of 5,067 people showed that UK consumers are less confident about committing to overseas holidays than at any other time in the past three years. The Holiday Confidence Index (HCI), carried out on behalf of First Rate Exchange Services in partnership with the Institute of Travel & Tourism, blamed the Brexit vote and sharp falls in the value of the pound.
—Only 53 percent were planning to travel in the next 12 months, 2 percent fewer than last year.
—The number of people who said they weren’t planning to go abroad rose 2 percent over the past year to 28 percent.
—While a third of those questioned said they expected the UK economy to improve over the next year, which was a 14 percent increase since the pre-Brexit vote HCI survey last April, the Holiday Intention Index has dropped to 61, its lowest level since the survey started in 2013.
—There has also been a significant decline in the number of people planning trips to the Eurozone since spring and the pound sterling’s subsequent slide in value against the euro.
—In April 2016, when the last HCI report was published, 66 percent of people were planning trips to the Eurozone but the latest report found that only 63 percent were intending to travel there. The number of people planning trips to other European countries has remained constant at 7 percent.
—In addition to currency concerns, 65 percent of travelers said they were worried about terrorism in holiday resorts, although 54 percent said they were unlikely to alter their travel plans.
—Interestingly, there has been a rise in the number of holidaymakers planning to spend more, including on the cost of the holiday and in the amount they take with them.
At the same time … the UK Brexit vote has had “no impact” on bookings but recent terrorist attacks have “changed the industry,” said Thomas Cook UK managing director Chris Mottershead, who told the recent annual convention of ABTA: “Brexit has not had an impact on bookings at all. Bookings are strong for future seasons. We see greater demand for what we offer.” As for the falling value of the pound vs. the U.S. dollar, he said, “The impact of the exchange rate will be [felt] more down the road … But we’ve been here before with the euro—the weakness of the euro against the pound [in summer 2015] was more unusual. We can deal with it. ”
And then … Hays Travel reported trading ‘very well’ since the Brexit vote. Speaking at the recently convened Hays Independence Group (HIG) conference, managing director John Hays reported that both divisions of the Hays business had achieved growth despite “pricing pressures” placed on consumers. He told delegates that during the four months since Britain voted to leave the European Union on June 23, Hays Travel retail stores and Hays IG members had seen a “strong trend” towards all-inclusive bookings following a slump in the value of the pound.