Inbound and domestic tourism trends update
As ever VB/VE and the other National Boards continue to produce essential industry statistics down to Nations and regions level, in cooperation with ONS. As this is freely available on the National Board’s own websites, we tend only to highlight the annual summaries, when they become available, in arrears, c 6/7 months after the calendar year end. If you need them, we do include links to all the National Boards and National statistic agency’s tourism statistics at the head of our Research and statistics – by year main menu tab, to aid those seeking a central point of access to all major national sources.
The latest quarterly figures from VB for Q1 January to March 2022, released in September, usefully compare the 2022 detail against 2019. In order to do this, they have made adjustments to the 2019 figures to make them broadly comparable with the Q1 2022, that currently do not include Eurotunnel and cross Northern Ireland border travel, due to ongoing corvid 19 related survey issues. There are a number of important caveats included within all recent releases and these should be read and understood, before drawing any firm conclusion from some of the figures given. The overwhelming conclusion that can be drawn from the statistics is that, while inbound international travel had started to recover as at 31 March 2022, it still had some considerable distance to go before returning to anything like 2019 levels.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that Q2 and Q3 in 2022, the key early shoulder and main summer seasons months, saw an increasingly stronger rate of recovery. Regrettably we will need to wait a further 3 and 6 months respectively for this to be confirmed by the official IPS figures.
It would be crass to suggest that current economic crisis and, in particular, the fall in the value of pound against the dollar was good news for international inbound tourism. Nonetheless, the weakness in the pound will have immediate impacts on the recovery of international tourism from key markets including the US which could on current political and economic performance persist well into 2023. Good new perhaps, but for all the wrong reasons; reasons that will almost certainly impact negatively on many aspects of all businesses, regardless of their potentially positive exposure, or not, to more international tourism.
Similarly, the tragic loss of the Queen in her 70th year on the throne will, if it follows previous Royal events, result in renewed interest in the UK and key Royal venues within it, in 2023. Unlike the weakness of the pound this should be viewed entirely as an additional positive draw, albeit in extremely regrettable circumstances. Any concerns that the undoubted draw of Royal family and Royal heritage under the outstanding direction of Queen Elizabeth II will quickly diminish, seem at this early stage to be groundless. Long may that continue under the direction of Kings Charles III.
The UK figure down to National level released on 23 September, can be accessed at (note the sample size caveat): PowerPoint Presentation (visitbritain.org) and of more immediate interest to destination managers the Nations and English Regions breakdowns released on 5 October: PowerPoint Presentation (visitbritain.org).
The ONS base data for the above and their assessments will also be of interest, not least because it also reports, at section 4, on UK resident’s outbound travel. The quoted headline for this is an 8.6m increase between Q1 2021, during the second peak of the pandemic and Q1 2022. Not explicitly stated but of far more relevance to adherents like me of the “Leaky Bucket Syndrome” is the 2022 Q1 total of 9.5m outbound trips compares with the 2019 Q1 of 18.1m (hover over the relevant graph intersections to obtain details) or give or take 50% of pre pandemic numbers.
A rapid return to, or towards 2019 levels of outbound UK residents’ travel might be good news for the outbound operators and the industries that surround outbound travel but it is not necessarily good news for the domestic market and the domestic and inbound international markets that are both reliant on what is essentially the same domestic industry infrastructure. HMG need to recognise that while there are benefits to the UK economy of outbound domestic tourism is does come at a significant cost to domestic tourism and, thus, to an important sector of the UK economy. Just like any other major “import” activity will have an impact on UK based businesses, manufacturing or trading in that commodity, outbound tourism impacts on the domestic alternative. Trying to ignore that uncomfortable truth helps neither side of the equation.
ABTA have recently released its annual ABTA Holiday Habits 2022 (publication suspended during the pandemic). This contains a lot useful information, principally around outbound travel which with the “right framework” is predicted to grow by 15% over the next 5 years. Critically the report confirms the view that for many the “main holiday” (overseas?) is increasingly regarded as sacrosanct. The finding in the section on “cost of living” at page 12 will make uncomfortable reading for UK destinations and, in particular, some of the component parts of the wider visitor economy within them.
The report appears to confirms our earlier concerns that in the fast-developing, economic crisis discretionary disposable income will not simply be reduced across the board but selectively reduced, with the more routine domestic/local spending taking a potentially disproportionately larger hit, than the already generally, big ticket, overseas holiday. In these circumstances not only are these holidays acting as an import cost to the UK, they are also doing so at a demonstrable cost to domestic spending across a raft of discretionary areas, including: retail, hospitality, leisure and domestic tourism.
Although it is entirely possible that HMG can still calm the financial markets, billion have already been spent/lost and considerable damage has already been done to the UK economy, well beyond that being done in parallel by a number of external circumstances. We are in economic difficulties next year regardless, it just how deep and for how long that is still in any doubt. UK destinations must plan and react accordingly for what is likely to be a very difficult winter 2022/3 and full new year or more to come thereafter.
The ABTA report has been added to our reports and statistics library accessible under the “Research and statistics – by year” main menu tab, or go direct to that page at: https://britishdestinations.net/research-and-statistics/