Tourism trends for the year ahead were highlighted at The Tourism Society’s annual ‘Prospects’ briefing held at the offices of The Crown Estate in central London on 17 January.
Delegates heard from a panel of distinguished speakers representing different tourism sectors: Denise Bridges, managing director of Albatross Travel, and chair of the Coach Tourism Association; Richard Nicholls, head of research and forecasting with VisitBritain; Kurt Janson, director of tourism alliance; and Derek Moore, chairman of AITO.
The panel was chaired by Noel Josephides, chairman of ABTA.
The panel discussion covered a wide range of topics that will impact on inbound and outbound travel including exchange rates, VAT, the importance of green credentials, ageing demographics, refreshed products, and the Foreign Office.
Richard Nicholls reported that inbound visits to the UK were predicted to rise this year by 4% and spending by 8%. This would generate up to 150,000 new tourism jobs, but there was concern about where the workforce would be found with continuing uncertainty surrounding the movement of workers and Britain’s relationship with the EU. All the panellists agreed that tourism and travel remained good sectors to work in. In addition to the more obvious opportunities for product and marketing roles it was highlighted that there’s also a need for accountants, designers and other skills. With changes ahead in how the UK works with the rest of the world, there are good opportunities for entrepreneurs and start-ups.
Delegates were told that the growth in the ‘sharing economy’, notably Airbnb, was starting to have an effect on traditional hotel occupancy rates in major cities.
Denise Bridges said that growth in the domestic market is likely to push up hotel rates, a move that could generate a negative impact on the traditional coach tourism demographic.
Derek Moore told delegates that, in general, people are expecting to pay more for their holidays, but are expecting a high quality in return.
Kurt Janson said that on VAT, while the industry would still like to see a reduction, the government was now more concerned about its balance of payments. With a weaker pound and record visitor numbers in 2015 and 2016 it was harder to present a strong case for a reduction in VAT, so any movement looked unlikely.
The panel discussion included recent news stories about the possibility of a new tourism tax being trialled in tourist hotspots. The point was made that while local authorities see this as an easy way of raising much-needed revenue, in reality, it can dissuade people from staying overnight, so reducing the overall spend at a destination.
Delegates were reminded that older customers will be a key market across all sectors, with time available and money to spend. But while they may feel young at heart these clients will need to be realistic about what they can achieve and operators will have to offer itineraries and facilities that reflect this. Refreshed itineraries, including more experiential and unusual elements, will also be more in evidence as customers choose to do more than just visit a destination.
Delegates were also reminded that operating into continental Europe post-Brexit will still require us to conform to European regulations.
Greg Yeoman, executive director at the Tourism Society, says: “With so much political activity on the horizon it has been a tough job for the speakers this year to give confident and unqualified predictions. The level of debate has been excellent as always, though, and delegates left with plenty of great insights into what will influence their businesses in the months ahead.”
‘Prospects 2017’ was sponsored by BDRC Continental and The Crown Estate.
For more information about The Tourism Society, go to www.tourismsociety.org