As word filtered through the industry Friday morning that the UK had voted to leave the European Union, U.K. and international travel trade organizations expressed their dismay at the vote. At the World Travel Market conference, which last week hosted a panel on the role of the tourism industry in economic growth, Scott Kirsner, global head of industry analysis at United Nations World Tourism Organization, called the vote a “massive blow to the travel industry.”
“With this damaging Brexit decision, there will be huge uncertainty and market impact for many years to come,” Kirsner told Reuters. “We all thought the UK economy was healthy and stable, but given the uncertainty it does worry us. We need clarity and we need agreement on the terms of exit. It is essential that it be equitable and progressive.”
Kevin McAteer, CEO of the U.K. Travel Association, told Reuters that Friday’s results would have an immediate impact on tourism. “While our information at this stage suggests that the travel sector will come through this downturn more robustly than the wider economy, the concern is that a decade of uncertainty will do long-term damage to our industry,” he said.
Concerns regarding tax and regulation are likely to get more attention now. A report released this year by the Association of British Travel Agents showed that 44 percent of the budget-travel travel market is represented by “low-value” trips, and that three-quarters of the market is made up of business and leisure travelers. Business trips are largely booked by American companies. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) projects that visitors to the U.K. will hit 131 million by 2020, up from 107 million this year.
In the short term, it seems that although the tourism industry can adapt, few major projects are on the horizon. The £38 billion ($50 billion) Crossrail-London project that was scheduled to open in 2018 now appears to be on hold and companies may wait until new leadership takes hold before making international investments.
Where tourists headed for the past decade has also been targeted, especially for business meetings.