Coming together and trying to carve out a deal from the UK government makes sense for the tourism industry. The only problem with that is the country's looming separation from the European Union, which is casting a shadow over its political and economic future.
UK tourism leaders are working on a deal to get wider recognition from the government, which they say could more than double the amount of money the industry brings in.
Tourism is often marginalized by politicians who don’t see it as a coherent entity, but the UK’s destination marketing organization VisitBritain and other stakeholders want to change all that.
Under new plans unveiled by the government earlier this year, different sectors can apply for deals to address issues and opportunities specific to their industry. While the government’s pledge “to offer a range of support” is vague, the tourism industry will undoubtedly benefit by becoming closer aligned.
This is especially important given the UK’s upcoming departure from the European Union and the concerns raised about its economic future.
As the sector deal submission to the government makes clear, tourism is actually in an advantageous position in that “it needs no trade deals” (although of course it is likely to be affected by any changes to the visa and aviation regimes as well as currency fluctuations).
Should the bid be granted, advocates say the UK tourism industry would have the potential to more than double in value to $352 billion (£268 billion) within a decade and increase employment to 3.8 million.
To help get it to that total, the industry has united around four priorities: boosting skills and recruitment; extending the tourism season and gaining market share in business travel and events; improving connections and make it easier for people to get around the UK; and creating tourism zones.
“Tourism is an economic powerhouse, worth $167 billion (£127 billion) annually to the economy and a job creator right across Britain. Two and a half times bigger than the automotive industry, employing three million, tourism is one of our most successful exports and needs no trade deals to compete globally,” said Steve Ridgway, the former Chief Executive of Virgin Atlantic Airways, who is chairman of the British Tourist Authority and is leading the tourism industry’s bid for a deal.
“Tourism is a fiercely competitive global industry and you cannot just build a strong, resilient industry on a weaker currency,” Ridgway said. “We must continue to invest in developing world-class tourism products, getting Britain on the wish-list of international and domestic travelers. And we must make it easy for visitors to make that trip.”
The UK’s plans to attract more visitors comes during a bumper year for overseas arrivals.
In the first seven months of the year, there were a record 23.1 million overseas visits to the UK, up 8 percent on 2016 with visitors spending $17.5 billion (£13.3 billion), up 9 percent.
Part of this is likely to be down to the pound’s depreciation against currencies such as the euro and dollar in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum in June 2016.
While that has made it more expensive for Brits to travel abroad, visitors are finding their cash now goes a lot further in a destination often regarded as expensive.
It is one of the unintended consequences of the vote that has worked in the sector’s favor. Less appealing is the uncertainty over EU nationals who make up at least 15 percent of the work force, according to the British Hospitality Association.
To achieve the figures touted by tourism leaders, the sector not only needs support from the government but also new ways to lure visitors. VisitBritain has identified a number of marketing misses that the organization is hoping to put right with future campaigns.
Food and wine tourism, luxury, and rail travel are the three areas that VisitBritain hopes to grow into.
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Photo credit: Denbie's Wine Estate in Dorking, UK. VisitBritain is looking to push the country's wine industry. mendhak / Flickr