Comment: The government is clear – we want UK tourism to thrive after Brexit

Tourism minister Michael Ellis says: “The government is clear – we want UK tourism to thrive after Brexit.”

Since my last column, I have been privileged to spend the summer of 2018 visiting our nations and regions, and meeting tourism and hospitality businesses during a booming time for these sectors.

Tourism is creating jobs and boosting economic growth right across the UK.

I have seen this in Devon and Cornwall where I announced an additional £250,000 towards the Mayflower 400 commemorations; in Newcastle-Gateshead’s 80-day Great Exhibition of the North (backed by £6 million of government funding); in Belfast where I saw the work to boost the local tourism industry and in Edinburgh, which welcomes the world to its festivals every year.

Thanks to great experiences such as these, the UK tourism sector is now worth more than £66 billion a year to our economy.

VisitBritain is forecasting that we will reach 40 million inbound visits in 2018 – two years earlier than originally forecast.

Tourism shows the world the best of our nation. While I understand that Brexit is causing uncertainty for all sectors, and particularly tourism, I have also heard from tourism businesses about some of the opportunities it offers.

Travel arrangements

I want to be absolutely clear to TravelGBI readers: we are determined to help you, and we are clear as to where we stand on the three biggest issues that impact the tourism sector.

On the movement of tourists, the UK is proposing reciprocal visa-free travel arrangements to enable UK and EU citizens to continue to travel freely for tourism and temporary business in the future.

On the movement of workers, we have set out proposals for labour mobility that support businesses to provide services, move their talented people and facilitate mobility for students and young people.

The Home Office will set out proposals for a new immigration system soon.

This will act as a platform for discussion about what the shape of our future immigration policy might look like.

Finally, on aviation we are focused on securing the right arrangements for the future so that our aviation industry can continue to thrive and passengers across the UK and the EU continue to have high levels of connectivity and choice at attractive prices.

Good progress

We have made good progress in the negotiations.

We have reached agreement with the EU on the vast majority of withdrawal issues, including citizens’ rights and the financial settlement, and on the terms of an implementation period.

While I am confident in agreeing a good deal for both sides, as a responsible government we will continue to prepare for all scenarios, including the unlikely outcome that we leave the EU without any deal in March.

This is contingency planning for a scenario that we do not expect to happen, but people should be reassured that we are taking a responsible approach and I know many tourism businesses are undertaking similar scenario planning.

In the meantime, there is always work that the industry can do to remain a competitive force, and prosper following Brexit.

For instance, we must continue to attract inward investment into the tourism sector.

Tourism ministers

This November, I will join the biggest gathering of tourism ministers in the world to speak at World Travel Market London.

With almost 5,000 exhibiting companies there to showcase their destinations, products and services to buyers, competition will be fierce.

With 50,000 people expected to visit, and deals worth more than £3 billion signed in previous years, we must promote the very best of  UK tourism and hospitality markets and showcase why they are worth investing in.

Both the UK and the EU want tourism to continue to thrive.

After all, Europe benefits from access to the UK market.

In 2017, EU member states accounted for 75% of the 72 million visits abroad by UK residents and 65% of the UK’s 39 million inbound visits were from EU residents.

Travel is good for our understanding of each other; it is good for our economies, and it is something the UK will absolutely continue to support.

We will continue to help the industry grow and promote the UK as a must-visit destination.