Nigel Huddleston MP quizzed business leaders in the travel and tourism industry about the impact of Brexit at a session of the Culture, Media and Sport select committee this week.
Representatives of organisations including Thomas Cook, Thomson Holidays, ABTA and Visit Britain gathered at the committee’s session to testify about the impact of Brexit on the tourism industry.
Despite economic and political uncertainties, the committee heard that all three sectors of the industry: inbound; outbound and domestic tourism had grown in the last year. Given the depreciation of the pound, the UK is an even more attractive place for overseas visitors to come to and the UK saw record visitor numbers last year. Despite the weakness of the pound and the fact that the average cost of package holidays has increased by 8% over the last year, outbound travel is still up by about 3%. Domestic tourism (Britons holidaying in Britain) has also boomed in the last year.
However, all witnesses said that the UK should not be complacent and pointed out that we operate in a highly competitive marketplace for global tourists. There are many implications of Brexit that need to be carefully thought through and the panel raised particular concerns about potential shortages in the labour force, visa restrictions, complications with health insurance, mobile phone roaming charges, and the shortage of foreign language skills.
Ufi Ibrahim of the British Hospitality Association pointed out that there were more than 100,000 jobs available in the UK’s hospitality and leisure sector today and that while the travel industry depends on EU citizens for about 10% of its labour force nationally, in some places such as London it is more than 70% and some individual hotels rely on EU citizens for 90% of their labour force.
The Chief Executive of Airlines UK, Tim Alderslade, highlighted the need to secure the UK’s position as the world’s 3rd largest aviation market post Brexit. This means making sure we have access to the EU and US aviation markets as a matter of urgency. New deals will have to be struck because our access is currently through the EU. Mr Alderslade said: “We need to hold the government’s feet to the fire on this… we have no fall-back option. Aviation is not part of the World Trade Organisation.”
Nigel Huddleston said: “We covered a large number of topics with seven witnesses over a two hour period and they gave the committee a lot of food for thought. Brexit presents the travel and tourism industry with many challenges, but also many opportunities. I will particularly continue to lobby the government for urgent renegotiation of our aviation agreements, and for more funding for Visit Britain as we have a golden opportunity now the pound is weak to market the UK as an even better value destination than before. We also need to make a concerted effort to get more international visitors to travel outside London and visit other beautiful and fascinating parts of the UK – not least Worcestershire. Currently more than 50% of all overseas visitors’ spend is spent within the M25.”