Comment: record numbers are testament to tourism’s importance

VisitBritain/VisitEngland director Patricia Yates reflects on a strong summer for tourism.

With the summer drawing to a close, it is timely to reflect on the importance of our tourism industry.

It has been fantastic to see tourism well and truly in the media spotlight during the summer and to hear positive news from many local businesses about an up-tick in bookings, which is very encouraging, given the slow start to the year.

Just this week the BBC’s One Show ran part of its programme from Filey Beach in North Yorkshire focused on tourism and it was great to hear local businesses talking about their strong holiday season.

And what a summer is has been! The glorious weather coming just as schools broke up served as a timely reminder to many of us making a late call on where to go on holiday during the summer of the outstanding destinations, experiences and visitor attractions here on our doorstep.

VisitEngland’s August Bank Holiday Trip-Tracker survey showed that 7.3 million Brits had planned to holiday at home during the long weekend, bringing an estimated £1.75 billion boost to the economy.

And millions of overseas visitors have been enjoying the great summer and our attractions and destinations.

Extremely competitive

This summer has also been a reminder that tourism is an extremely competitive industry, people have lots of choice and while domestic holidays have grown in recent years, across the longer-term it is actually a fairly stable picture.

With more than a quarter of all domestic holidays in England taken in July and August, and with almost a quarter of rooms across the serviced accommodation sector unoccupied on average last year, boosting tourism across the shoulder seasons remains crucial.

So does increasing the value of visitor spending. Domestic day trippers in England spent £34 on average last year, while spending on holiday trips was about £70 per night, so driving that conversion to overnight visitors and getting them to stay longer is important.

We know there are destinations that would welcome more visitors, so as an industry we need to keep telling people about unexplored locations and new experiences.

And we need to get better at telling the story of places, inspiring visitors to discover more, travel further and stay longer.

Our global campaign ‘I Travel For…’, launched earlier this year, is all about shining the spotlight on unexpected experiences and less-explored destinations to boost tourism across the UK, alongside our globally renowned and iconic landmarks and attractions.

Last year set a record for inbound tourism to the UK with 39.2 million visits, up 4%, with overseas visitors spending £24.5 billion, up 9%.

Domestically, 59 million Brits took a holiday at home last year, up 6% on 2016, with spending on holidays in the UK also up 6% on 2016 to £14.1 billion.

Crucial role
These numbers are testament to the growing importance of tourism to the UK economy. They are also a reminder of the crucial role that tourism has in offering a warm welcome to the many millions of visitors who come to our shores.

As we reflect on a strong summer for our industry, our priority continues to be to work collaboratively with businesses and organisations across the tourism landscape and with the UK Government, continuing to drive growth and innovation in the tourism sector.

The industry’s bid for a tourism sector deal in the government’s industrial strategy is also set to ensure tourism grows and thrives year-round, as we work together to cement the continued competitiveness of one of Britain’s great industries.