Inbound and outbound ‘not at loggerheads’ says VisitBritain chief

The inbound and outbound travel sectors should not be “at loggerheads” despite the UK’s £34 billion tourism deficit, according to the chief executive of VisitBritain.

Speaking at the ITT Conference in Istanbul last week, Patricia Yates outlined plans for building Britain’s tourism industry back following the devastation of the Covid pandemic which saw inbound tourism lose £50 billion over two years.

She warned there is a “lazy assumption” that the UK’s borders are open and people will come back and added even domestic tourism, which is assumed to have boomed during Covid, needs support.

Yates said inbound and outbound have common cause in rebuilding tourism and praised the sector for working together during Covid with Abta and Aito represented at weekly meetings with government.

“Noel Josephides [Sunvil chairman and former Abta and Aito chairman] certainly said his piece,” Yates told delegates in Istanbul.

She added: “During Covid I have seen the industry work well together. We spoke to government. Government gets confused if there are multiple messages every time they speak to you.

“I do not think inbound and outbound should necessarily be at loggerheads even though there is a £34 billion deficit with you guys.”

VisitBritain is conducting regular consumer sentiment surveys and says it has not yet seen any softening in demand to travel.

Yates said there is “huge pent-up demand”, although she warned cost of living issues are likely to come to the fore this autumn, adding: “Eighty per cent of people want to travel internationally. Half have not decided where to go. In long-haul markets there’s still some nervousness so that message of reassurance is important still.”

She said: “There’s going to be a slow rebuild to 2025. There is a lazy assumption that now we are open, our borders are open, they will come. But we have competition. They may not come.

“Thank goodness America is back and travelling. Last week we were back to 88% of 2019 volumes. The big gap is China which was our second most valuable market in 2019. It does not look like it is going to be opening any time this year.

“There is an assumption that the domestic market has done really well. Do not forget it was closed for much of the year and those beaches are always pretty busy in July and August.

“We have a domestic market that needs some support, and we need British people to holiday in Britain as well as going overseas.”

Yates said the UK tourism recovery plan, which was published a year ago by government, has set out how it intends to rebuild the sector to be more sustainable, accessible and resilient.

She said it recognises that tourism impacts all government departments and a cross-department tourism ministerial group has been formed to inform policy on how to grow the sector.

“It’s about getting value back quickly. We are looking at what markets we can see growth coming from. Building our future,” she added.

“Consumers are now consuming content differently and we need to build systems to connect with that. We need to make sure we are talking to commercial partners to rebuild.”

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