In the last issue of INBOUND, we ran an article, The Hell with Brexit—Brits Want to Travel this Year, in which we cited a couple of recent surveys showing that the people of the UK would rather give up most near anything if it meant they could take their holiday. And not only that: midst a ceaseless drumbeat of speculation on the part of news media outlets that UK travel would fall off this year because of discontent over the impending implementation of the decision by UK residents to exit the European Union (“Brexit”), it looks as if Brits are prepared to travel more in 2019 than they have in five years.
And since that article, the UK’s Office of National Statistics (ONS) released figures showing that the June 23, 2016 referendum in which a narrow majority of Brits voted to “exit” the European Union (ergo, the word “Brexit”) did not slow UK outbound travel last year. Since 2015, the year before the referendum, Brexit doesn’t seem to have had any real impact—insofar as travel to the key barometer of North America is concerned.
But more important to the whole of the UK outbound tourism industry, ONS data confirmed that 2018 was a record year for all outbound holidays from the UK with the number of overseas holidays hitting 47.15 million, up 1 percent on 2017—which was also a record year.
While outbound travel to the U.S.—it usually accounts for about 90 percent of UK holiday traffic to North America—and Canada did decline five percent in 2017, most tour and travel observers attribute the decline to the currency exchange rate, not Brexit per se. The British pound sterling dropped 17 percent against the U.S. dollar from the day before the June 23, 2016 Brexit vote to the end of October that year. Since then, the pound has recouped about half its value against the U.S. dollar.
More important, the actual number of UK visitors to North America increased 6 percent, year-on-year, in 2018 vs. 2017, virtually matching 2016, the year of the Brexit vote. And for the fourth quarter of 2018, visitation to the North America by British travelers increased 21 percent, year-on-year. Below, INBOUND has arranged British travel to North America on a month-by-month basis from the year before the Brexit vote through 2018.