BHA Summit: inbound market is ‘strong’

Inbound travel to the UK surged in the first quarter of 2017, and forward bookings for the summer are strong, new figures show.

Data from VisitBritain and ForwardKeys – which analyses flight bookings – were revealed to delegates at the aviation summit, during the British Hospitality Association Summit in London yesterday.

Sally Balcombe (pictured), VisitBritain chief executive, said: “We had a record-breaking 2016 and forecasts for 2017 are strong.

“For the first three months of 2017, we have seen a surge in bookings, with visits up 7% year-on-year and spend up 11%.

“Forward bookings look good…and there is growth from all regions apart from the Middle East.”

Long-haul markets are performing well, with North America up 17% and the Rest of the World up 18%.

Ged Brown, airports divisional director at ForwardKeys, also painted a positive picture.

He said the UK enjoys Europe’s biggest share of long-haul arrivals (29%), and is seeing the fifth fastest growth rate in Europe – up 18% year-on-year.

Brown highlighted the buoyant inbound performance from ‘BRIC’ nations: Brazil, Russia, India and China, where the UK is outperforming the growth rates seen across Europe.

Balcombe highlighted how VisitBritain offers a return on investment of 23:1 but said the agency is massively out-spent by other national tourist boards which get far larger government grants.

“With the new industrial strategy, there is a need for tourism to be at the centre,” she said.

“It is a really challenging time for us – Europe is important and this sector is important.”

Karen Dee, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, commented: “A healthy tourism industry relies on a healthy aviation industry, as 70% of visitors come by air.

“There are challenges and opportunities as we leave the EU, and we want a good Brexit deal and a cut in Air Passenger Duty.”