Britain's tourism industry could benefit from a weaker pound in the wake of Brexit if the UK ensures it continues to attract visitors from around the world.
This is the message from the chief executive of the UK’s tourism body, VisitBritain, Sally Balcombe, who has issued a plea for unity and hard work following the UK’s decision to leave the European Union.
Of the countries that make up the UK’s top 10 visiting nationalities, European nations take eight spots. Two thirds (67 per cent) of the UK's visitors are from EU states, accounting for billions of pounds in spending every year.
As politicians move to assure Leave and Remain voters alike that the UK is not turning its back on the continent, Balcombe, speaking exclusively to Telegraph Travel, echoed the sentiment: “Whether we are in the European Union or out, Britain will continue to offer a warm welcome to all our international visitors.”
This week VisitBritain published its best ever first quarter figures for inbound tourism: inbound visits from January to March totalled 7.36 million (up 6 per cent on the same period last year), with visitors spending £3.64 billion. Britain’s tourism industry is worth some £22.1billion to the economy, with 2015 registering 36.1million visits, each spending on average £611.
“These numbers represent people from across the globe who come to enjoy our culture, heritage and countryside,” said Balcombe. “They are a reminder of the crucial role that tourism has in offering a warm welcome to the many visitors who come to experience and enjoy all that our country has to offer.”
The tourism industry might well be concerned that the UK will fall out of favour with European travellers after last week’s vote, but Balcombe said that VisitBritain’s priority is to work with businesses and organisations across the country as well as the Government “to ensure that tourism can continue to make a big contribution in the years ahead”.
While it could become less attractive for Britons to travel abroad should the pound struggle against the euro or dollar, it could sweeten the deal for foreign visitors.
Speaking to Telegraph Travel, Balcombe added: “Because of the some of the currency movements, Britain is tremendous value at the moment.
“I don’t think we’re concerned [about Brexit] but we do want to send a very positive message of welcome and to say that Britain is open for business.”
She said it was too early to know what assurances the tourism industry would seek from the Government once it begins to negotiate its way out of the EU, but added: “We would want everything that keeps us as competitive as possible in the market place. People can choose to go to a different place.”
Balcombe said that more and more tourists are booking their holidays late, and with the UK about to enter its peak period now is an ideal time to push the UK’s attractions.
“With the peak holiday season almost upon us we are working hard to show the world why this summer is a great time to book a trip to come and visit Britain,” she said. “Because while tourism is one of our fastest growing export industries, it is also one of the most globally competitive. And we want our nations and regions to be top of the list of ‘must-go now’ destinations.”
In a week where the country has felt bitterly divided, Balcombe said all visitors to the UK, domestic and international, are ambassadors who will later influence friends, family and colleagues of their perception of the nation.