Tourism is a key topic to have come out of the Brexit question in the months leading up to yesterday’s referendum. After all, the number of visits by Europeans to the UK is more than double that of visits from residents in the rest of the world, while British travellers are a key player in the global tourism market.
Now that the polls have closed, the announcement that Britain will leave the EU following the referendum of June 23 has left many more than a little shocked, including many politicians and experts based in a pro-Remain London.
However, the people have spoken. 17,410,742 voted in favour of leaving the EU, or 51.9% of voters. As soon as the first results came in, the market was affected rapidly. Scotland is also highly isolated from the majority of English voters choosing Leave, with all 32 council areas backing Remain.
The upcoming months are still very unclear, especially with David Cameron's recent announcement that he will stand down as Prime Minister by October. But life goes on and rather than sit on the fence, we’ve come up with some tips on how you can offset the effect - or indeed take advantage of the opportunities offered by Brexit.
A weaker pound could boost UK tourism
Despite the chaos described in the British and international press this morning, there could still be advantages for UK-based tour and activity providers. Due to a weaker sterling, the rest of the world will get more pounds for its dollars, euros, yen, etc, which would make the UK a cheaper destination to visit and thus potentially lead to more arrivals.
So, while rising inbound tourism is not guaranteed, in any case it's worth making sure that as a tourism provider you're prepared, especially by having an online booking system in place. Increasingly, this is what tourists are looking for when planning a trip and choosing between competing options.
Another strategy is international distribution through channels such as Viator, which can enable suppliers to make the most of the weaker sterling and let as many tourists as possible know about the good value to be had. We’ve shared our advice on effective distribution strategies in Marketing 101, our ebook on building your online presence.
Now is the time for Irish tourism companies to be innovative
The Irish Times has commented how Brexit means an inevitable economic hit for Ireland, with longer-term trade uncertainties still in question. If you're a tour or activity provider in Ireland, now is the time to be innovative, recommends our TrekkSoft Country Manager for UK and Ireland, Olan O'Sullivan.
Define your niche, polish your marketing strategy, and stand out from the crowd. As a first step, define your personas and understand who you are really selling to. As British travellers in Ireland will find that their pound does not go as far as it did (or at least for the short-term), now is the time to offer real value to these customers. The currency uncertainty has also hit the EUR:USD exchange rate, which makes Ireland even more attractive for the already buoyant US market, so it's not all bad news from a currency perspective.
To see what some of our most successful Irish customers are up to, check out our article for Bank of Ireland's ThinkBusiness.ie on Ireland's tourist gems. One great example is Boyne Boats Adventure: a company that, because their "currachs" were used in the filming of Game of Thrones, is benefitting from the TV tourism trend. A defined niche that's designed to benefit from - although not rely entirely on - a popular trend can be a great added value.
With new hurdles to entry, destination marketing is key
It’s now more important than ever for the UK to strengthen how the world views them as a destination. This is especially the case if a visa requirement is introduced and disincentives travel to and from the UK. If destination marketing is not at its strongest, the choice of destination could seem clear between, say, Spain (no visas, no hassle, no extra cost) or the UK (visas, hassle and cost), says Catherine Barnard, Professor in European Union law and employment law at the University of Cambridge.
To remain an appealing option, the UK needs to consolidate destination marketing efforts and offer high-value incentives, especially if prices do rise and visas are introduced. However, a high price wouldn’t be a new issue: the UK was already facing price competitiveness, with nearby countries offering more financially appealing deals for travel, adds Ian Cass, Managing director of the Forum of Private Business.
We think a Britain post Brexit will place a high value on tourism. It brings vital export earnings, delivers direct economic benefits to the local economy and, probably most importantly, diversifies the economy from the dominance of London. We can’t guarantee this of course...but by engaging early with your local tourism board to find out their plans, you’ve made a good step to ensure you’re on the front foot. The fact the EU provided regional support to key UK destinations such as Cornwall, and the Isles of Scilly further underlines the importance of a coherent government strategy.
The staycation trend for Brits may well rise further
ABTA shared eight advantages of the EU for travel in the months leading up to the referendum, and now that Brexit has been announced, there may be some implications. The freedom for British airlines such as easyJet to fly within and between EU countries could be curtailed, and it will also cost Brits more in the short-term when travelling to Europe because of the slide in sterling.
The natural benefit here is more holidays at home. In the years preceding the financial crisis, when sterling was low, “staycations” hit an all time high. Since 2012, as the economy has recovered, foreign travel has increased. We still like our sun, however, and it’s worth mentioning that between the summers of 2008 and 2009, when the cost of going abroad increased by roughly 25 per cent, the number of overseas trips by British holidaymakers reduced by a much smaller percentage.
In any case, it is worthwhile for tourism companies to increase their marketing to locals or British travellers looking for "staycations". The UK is full of popular destinations for travel, from Cornwall to the Highlands, and Brexit may reignite the traditional British fondness for holidays that don't involve air travel or advance planning (despite the inevitability of less reliable weather).
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