UK tourism outperforms GDP during recession but visitor numbers fall

By Luke Nicholls

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Cent, Tourism, Olympic games, Uk

VisitBritain's GREAT campaign helped to improve our national image, increasing the potential for more future inbound tourism
VisitBritain's GREAT campaign helped to improve our national image, increasing the potential for more future inbound tourism
As the UK continues to endure the longest double-dip recession since the 1950, the tourism industry has been ‘resilient’, outperforming the general economy and leading the way in terms of employment numbers. 

That’s according to a new report published this week by budget hotel chain Travelodge. It reveals that, while GDP grew by 8 per cent from 2007 to 2011, tourism increased its revenues by 12.6 per cent to more than £40bn.

'Staycations' have formed the backbone of the tourism economy, with domestic trips and holidays increasing by 5.6 per cent to 126.6 million.

The industry is also one of very few not to have seen the number of jobs decline between 2007 and 2011 - especially impressive considering UK unemployment rose from 1.58 to 2.64 million during the same period.

“Our report confirms UK tourism has successfully weathered the recession and outperformed other key sectors which is great news,” said Travelodge’s chief executive Grant Hearn.

‘Real opportunity’

Travelodge chief executive Grant Hearn is calling on the Government to do more for UK tourism

“However, as one of Britain’s biggest business sectors it deserves the chance to unlock its true potential. We have a real opportunity within our grasp which can play a significant part in helping our economy to recover; our lack of immediate action is costing jobs, growth and investment.”

On the back of the report’s findings, Hearn is now calling on the Government to do more; to ensure that its ambitions for tourism are realised and to aid’s the UK’s economic recovery.

He added: “As the UK’s fifth largest sector we are creating jobs and providing long lasting career opportunities, something very few industries in the economy can say at present.

“The issue we face is that tourism is quite low on the agenda for the Department for Culture, Media & Sport, therefore it is essential that the Government takes action and moves our industry to where it belongs – the Department for Business, Skills and Innovation.

Lagging behind

“It is in our national economic interest and this has to happen now. We need to be treated as a serious business sector.” 

The tourism industry grew job numbers by 2,000 between 2007 and 2011, from 2.690 million to 2.692 million. Although this growth is relatively modest, at the same time manufacturing fell by 17 per cent, construction by 15 per cent, and finance by 7 per cent.

The report goes on to reveal that the UK, which is the sixth biggest tourist destination in the world, is actually lagging behind its international counterparts in terms of visitor numbers. 

On a global level, visitor are up by 23.4 per cent, whereas inbound visitors to the UK have fallen by two million (6.1 per cent) from 32.8 million to 30.8 million. The UK is losing out on attracting tourists from fast-growing markets such as China, India, Brazil and Russia.  

National Brand Index

Meanwhile, a new study commissioned by VisitBritain and its partners in the GREAT campaign​suggests that global perceptions of ‘Welcome’, Britain’s ‘Overall Nation Brand’ and the UK’s sporting and cultural credentials have significantly improved thanks to the hosting of the London 2012 Olympics.

The Nations Brands Index, which rates 50 of the world’s leading nations around six core categories, found that Britain’s ‘Welcome’ has seen the biggest jump, moving from twelfth place pre-Games to 9th​. Sixty-three per cent said the Olympics had increased their interest of visiting for a holiday in future.

VisitBritain’s chief executive Sandie Dawe said: “London’s hosting of the Games, the amazing opening and closing ceremonies and the warmth of welcome shown to our international visitors have combined to boost our global image.”

Master Innholders Conference

VisitBritain's marketing director Jos Croft was speaking at the MAster Innholders Conference at Grosvenor House Hotel on Monday

However, earlier this week VisitBritain’s marketing director Jos Croft told delegates at the Master Innholders Conference​that the Games actually contributed to a year-on-year decline in international visitors.

Speaking at the Conference for hotel managers at the Grosvenor House Hotel on Monday, Croft said: “The people that were coming here were spending a lot longer here and spending a lot more money here. But in truth, the numbers themselves were actually down.

“But there was some good news - the average spend per visit was up from about £540 to well over £1300.  Most people that visited during the Olympics did feel welcome too – a significant shift from 79 to 84 per cent. And it’s fair to say that the overall ranking of Britain in the upcoming Brand Index has improved.

“So we think it was a fantastic year. Although visitor numbers themselves have not increased, we will be one of the few Olympic host cities that maintains a static level or an increase over the coming few years.”

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