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Raising the frame on the Brexit debate: The travellers view

According to Thomas Frey, futurist speaker, “Our greatest motivation in life comes from not knowing the future”. In a time consumed by Brexit conversation, this adage raises an interesting question for U.K. tourism: how is the uncertainty around Brexit shaping visitors’ views of the U.K.? Put differently, is the unknown future of the U.K.’s relationship with Europe motivating or discouraging travellers to visit this island nation?

With much focus today on the views of the U.K. public towards Brexit, STR raised the frame on the conundrum by asking U.K. and international travellers for their views on the consequences of Brexit on their travel plans and behaviour in 2019.
In February 2019, 927 U.K. and international respondents took part in an online survey that used STR’s proprietary Traveller Panel, a global community of engaged travellers. The survey has helped to paint a picture of travellers’ views on this complex issue.

Should I stay or should I go?

Travellers were asked if Brexit was affecting their travel plans for 2019. Reassuringly, for most travellers – 61% of the sample – Brexit does not appear to be influencing their propensity to travel or plans to visit specific destinations.

Although still not adversely impacted by Brexit, U.K. and European (excluding U.K.) travellers were more likely than those from elsewhere to cite Brexit as a driver of change in their holiday planning and decision-making – 17% of Brits and 15% of Europeans said that Brexit was influencing their travel plans compared with just 4% of travellers from the rest of the world. 

Holidaying in Europe, the U.K. or elsewhere

Those who stated that their 2019 travel plans have been affected by Brexit (11% of the sample) were asked about Brexit’s specific influence. Were they more or less likely to travel to the U.K., Europe or to other destinations?

There was little evidence that Brexit will lead to buoyed demand to visit destinations outside of Europe as respondents did not show increased interest in visiting other destinations beyond Europe. However, a small proportion of travellers from the U.K. and Europe (excluding U.K.) appear to be adjusting their travel plans as a backlash to Brexit. Overall, 9% of U.K. travellers stated that they were less likely to go to Europe in 2019 due to Brexit, whilst 10% of Europeans said that they are less likely to go to the U.K. These findings highlight not only the divisive nature of Brexit but also signal the potential damaging impact of uncertainty on travel.

In the context of U.K. tourism, the above findings are worrying as Europeans are a major inbound market accounting for around two-thirds of international travellers to the U.K. Crudely, a 10% reduction in European holidaymakers would constitute 2.5 million fewer visitors to U.K. shores in 2019. These are concerning findings, but what is the attitude among Europeans towards the U.K. as a visitor destination?

Brexit: perception or reality

Travellers living outside of the U.K. were asked if Brexit has shifted their perception of the U.K. as a visitor destination. The results reinforce earlier findings that Brexit has contributed to shape a negative perception of the U.K. among a minority, but not insignificant proportion, of European travellers. 

As shown above, 38% of Europeans said that the ongoing Brexit issue has negatively impacted their perception of the U.K., which makes them less likely to travel there. Surprisingly, although much less pronounced compared with Europeans, there was also evidence to suggest that some travellers from outside of Europe are also seeing the U.K. in a different, more negative, light due to Brexit: 17% of travellers from the rest of the world cited they would be less likely to travel to the U.K. in the future due to Brexit.

Article 50 implementation: To fly or not to fly?

Respondents were asked for their views on travelling in the U.K. and Europe around the Article 50 implementation date of Friday, 29 March 2019. 

Overall, 33% of U.K. travellers and 36% of Europeans (excluding U.K.) thought that it was best to avoid travelling in late March and early April 2019 when the U.K. may formally withdraw from the European Union. Compared with earlier analysis, which suggests that around 10% of travellers are adjusting their travel behaviour in 2019 due to Brexit, these findings suggest a greater impact of Brexit on the travel industry during the potential transition period.

Brexit uncertainty: The end of the road for travel?

Despite indications that some travellers will adjust their behaviour and attitudes in 2019 and beyond due to Brexit, the overall outlook for tourism in 2019 – with or without Brexit – looks optimistic. 

As illustrated above, the vast majority of U.K., European and rest of world travellers have no intention of reducing their travel spend in 2019 due to economic uncertainties around Brexit. These findings augur well for the travel and tourism industry. Perhaps Frey was right that uncertainty is in itself a cause for action?

Our research set out to gauge potential impacts of Brexit (both today and after the implementation of Article 50 in late March 2019) on travel and tourism in the U.K. and Europe. The high-level analysis above provides a cursory overview of attitudes and potential behaviour in the current complex situation. Need to know more about how markets and segments may be impacted by Brexit? Or perhaps, you have key questions that remain unanswered about how Brexit may impact your customer base or business operations?

Please get in touch to discuss your business objectives and challenges with our expert team of researchers and analysts.