Soft power, Brexit and tourism
In December, VisitBritain released a report saying promoting inbound tourism would boost investment in the UK and could be part of the government’s “Global Britain” ambition.
It added that marketing Great Britain as an outward-looking country would “counter perceptions that leaving the EU would result in Britain isolating itself internationally”.
Nearly two thirds of the UK’s inbound international tourism comprised visitors from EU member states, the most recent data from the Office for National Statistics said.
VisitBritain Chief Executive Sally Balcombe said: “Tourism is one lever which can be used effectively and swiftly to help deliver ‘Global Britain’s’ aim of promoting Britain as an open, inclusive and outward facing free-trading global power.
“Those who come and experience Britain at first hand are not only more likely to tell their friends and relatives to do the same, but they are more likely to want to invest and do business here in the future.
“Britain’s soft power has never been more important, and as this strategy develops, I am clear that tourism is an important and ongoing element to help drive success.”
The report made eight recommendations, including improving visa services for foreign visitors and guaranteeing that EU holidaymakers do not need a visa to visit after March 29.
It said while British cultural exports were important, “Connecting overseas audiences with our culture digitally will never match the depth of engagement that can take place when people visit this country and experience the creative buzz of the Edinburgh International Festival, the majestic coastline of Wales, or explore the life of the Bard in Shakespeare’s England, for themselves.”
The Association of British Travel Agencies issued a set of warnings about the potential effects of Brexit on the industry.
Chief Executive Mark Tanzer also made the point about the visas, but added that a series of other arrangements, including deals struck meaning UK operators do not have to register for VAT separately in each country they work in, were also important.
Roughly a quarter of the tourism and hospitality workforce in Britain are EU nationals.
In November the chief executive of lobby group UKHospitality told industry website Skift: “The reality is that hospitality businesses do need to supplement their workforces with non-UK workers, particularly given the record employment rate if they want to keep pace with projected growth.
“If, following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, there is not a system in place to ensure employers can access labour then businesses will struggle, and consumers will suffer through higher prices and falling service levels.”
British Tourist Authority Chair Steve Ridgway also sounded a note of caution.
Responding to a projection of record numbers of visitors to the UK in 2018 he said: “We face a number of significant challenges – the most important, the UK’s departure from the European Union. While we address the initial fluctuations in currency and EU worker concerns, we soon will need to deal with the longer-term realities. We want to ensure that the future relationship keeps our borders as frictionless as possible for visitors, our aviation as connected as ever and our economic stability on track – because tourism depends on this.”