Britain’s ‘leave’ vote is forcing tourists to stay put

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The U.K. is about to encounter an unintended consequence of Brexit — a slump in tourism. Other European countries will step in to fill the gap, they say.

The “Leave” side in last month’s referendum called on the country to leave the European Union in order to regain control over its borders and immigration policy. And since the referendum, the number of visitors to the U.K. has been declining fast.

“The whole country has not recovered from the shock of June 23rd,” British tourists have been saying to visiting agents, reports The Guardian.

Brexit means that the UK must rediscover a new strategy to attract tourists. But so far, few options seem to offer an appealing, competitive offering. China and Hong Kong have become major traffic routes, for example, but they attract fewer domestic tourists compared to France and Italy.

The United States, while significant, is less attractive because Americans favor outdoor activities and cultural events over hotels and restaurants.

Canada and Australia, meanwhile, are keen to remain attractive to British tourists. And Italy is generally the choice of those seeking great food and wine.

The exodus is expected to continue as Europeans postpone their British plans after Brexit takes effect in March 2019. It is believed that all 10 English rugby games will be played abroad in 2020 because a new home stadium in England cannot be built in time for this year’s event. Britain’s royal family has also indicated it will relocate its lower courts to outside the country if Brexit hits.

However, the U.K. still has potential markets to capture. Once more, China and Hong Kong dominate travel to Europe. One commercial travel group, UK Visitor 2016, said visitors from mainland China and Hong Kong to the U.K. are more likely to return than those from other Asian markets.

Last year, the Chinese paid more for vacations in Britain than any other nationality, spending an average of about $4,600 a person, according to a report by Oxford Economics, although its effect on tourist spending in the U.K. remains to be seen.

The truth is that many of these tourists are repeat customers, visiting to see family, friends and the well-preserved London skyline and “champagne hangover culture.” In 2016, there were about 1.6 million visitors from mainland China to the U.K., and 2.1 million from Hong Kong, compared to 581,000 from Japan and 622,000 from South Korea. The fact that both countries’ currency is listed as weak against the British pound — which has, of course, dropped in value since Brexit — is the main driver. And in 2017, China’s share of visitor spending in the U.K. is expected to rise.

The result could be an increase in internal tourism in the U.K. With fewer inbound tourists, the “staycation” surge may be postponed, but it could spur more tourists to the Continent to catch the best that both Britain and Europe have to offer.

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