British tourism continues to boom in July

In its July Overseas Travel and Tourism report, the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) has highlighted a continuing upward trend for Britain’s incoming tourism during the month.

The report noted that for the period January to July 2013, the number of visits to the UK by overseas residents is four percent higher than it was for the same period a year earlier. Visits to the UK for holidays have shown a particularly healthy increase, and a continued rise in July contributed to an overall 12 percent increase for the three months from May to July 2013, compared with the same period of the previous year. July was a record month for visitor spend, with its £2.52 billion figure beating the previous record month of August 2012 by £900 million.

The net result of the increased throughput of foreign visitors is that earnings from the sector have also increased and are up by 10 percent for the 12 months to July 2013, compared to the 12 months to July 2012.

Meanwhile, the figures also revealed a preference for locations closer to home for British travellers going overseas, with visits to Europe up by three percent for 2013, while visits to North America and Other Countries were down by nine percent and one percent respectively.

The ONS collects the data for the International Passenger Survey from face to face interviews with passengers passing through ports and on routes into and out of the UK. It conducts between 700,000 and 800,000 interviews a year, of which over 250,000 are used to produce estimates of Overseas Travel and Tourism patterns.

Ministers’ Summit to focus on coordinated tourism and aviation policymaking

The upcoming seventh UNWTO & WTM Ministers’ Summit is set to discuss measures to help governments across the world to better align their tourism and aviation policies to benefit both sectors.

The Summit – How to Bridge the Gap Between Tourism and Aviation Policies – will be held on November 5, 2013 and follows the discussions at last May’s UNWTO & ATM Ministerial Forum held in Dubai.

The Summit will facilitate global tourism ministers and industry leaders to resolve all related issues for ensuring a better coordinated view, when formulating and implementing policies for tourism and aviation. It will particularly focus on:

The factors to be considered in bringing air transport and tourism policies closer together

The opportunities and challenges facing air transport development, particularly infrastructure, taxes and levies, visa facilitation and regulation

The success factors and remaining obstacles to better-coordinated policy making

The Summit comes as tourists increasingly prefer aircraft travel; in 2012, more than half of the one billion registered tourists travelled by aircraft. However, governments across the globe continue to outline transport and tourism policies entirely independently of one another, often, policies are formed that are aggressively damaging to one another. Such shortsighted measures are said to act as a major constraint on both sectors with a consequent impact on the economy.

Reed Travel Exhibitions, senior director, World Travel Market, Simon Press, said: ‘By working with the UNWTO to attract so many tourism ministers and travel bosses from around the world, WTM is in a unique position. The Summit means the world’s most influential private and public sector decision makers in tourism can meet and have meaningful dialogue over the issues that affect the industry and the potential solutions for them.

‘It is vital that those creating aviation policy work closely with those overseeing tourism to ensure both their countries and our industry are in the strongest possible position to thrive. This will ensure the steady growth we are currently enjoying continues long into the future,’ he added.

High VAT hitting UK tourism, say industry insiders

A group of UK travel industry insiders is claiming that the high Value Added Tax (VAT) rate in the country is detrimental to the industry, making it difficult to compete with European neighbours.

Led by the British Hospitality Association (BHA), a large number of organisations that are dependent on UK tourism, including hotels, attractions and associations, have joined forces to campaign for a sizeable reduction in VAT. Britain’s 20 percent VAT rate compares unfavourably with many other European countries, including France, Ireland and Italy, none of which charge more than 50 percent of Britain’s rate. The group argues that the additional levy on virtually everything that foreign visitors buy during a visit to the UK can act as a major disincentive to visiting the nation. Also, UK residents can be deterred from visiting their domestic attractions by costs that are inflated due to the tax.

Most other European Union countries take advantage of a ruling that allows reduced VAT on tourism related purchases, and the action group, CutTourismVAT, would like to see the UK do likewise. At the moment, of the 27 member countries, the UK is one of only four that has not taken then opportunity to relax the levy on accommodation for visitors. Almost half of member countries do not impose the full tax level on entry to amusement parks, and 18 member states do not impose the full tax on entry to cultural attractions. Nearly half of member countries reduce their tax rate for meals in prepared food outlets.

CutTourismVAT would like to see VAT on tourism-associated purchases in the UK reduced from 20 percent to 5 percent; an action that it claims would result in £4 billion of additional revenue and 80,000 new jobs in the industry.

Holiday companies cancel Egypt tours until October

Adventure holiday companies are cancelling trips to Egypt en masse for the coming months as conflict continues in the country following the removal of president Mohammed Morsi.

Holiday companies Explore! and Exodus have cancelled several of their planned trips following an advisory from the UK government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) against all but essential travel to Egypt, except to resorts in the Red Sea region. Exodus has cancelled tours until the end of September and Explore! has cancelled all holidays to the country until October 5. The companies are contacting customers to inform them of the changes and offering them the opportunity of booking another tour or receiving a full refund.

In its statement, Explore! Said, ‘The UK Foreign Office has advised against all but essential travel to most of Egypt. Consequently we have taken the decision to cancel all Explore tours due to depart prior to October 5, 2013, and our Reservations team has contacted customers due to depart within this period to discuss cancelling or transferring their bookings.’

‘Moving forward we will be reviewing the situation in Egypt on a weekly basis and will be looking at tours departing after October 06, 2013 and informing customers accordingly over the coming weeks,’ it added.

Egypt’s violence has had its effect across the travel industry. Thomson has re-routed a cruise that departed last week and was due to call at Alexandria and Port Said. The ship is now visiting Ag Nik, in Crete, and Haifa, in Israel. Thomson and First Choice have also cancelled all outbound flights to Luxor.

‘People should also take considerable reassurance from the fact that the resort of Sharm el Sheikh operates like a country in itself. It is run separately from the rest of the Egypt, benefits from having just one secure road into the resort, and enjoys an exceptionally low crime rate,’ a spokesperson from Thomson said, adding that there have been no related incidents in Sharm el Sheikh.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Thomas Cook said, ‘We continue to monitor the situation in Egypt and are working in close contact with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, adding: ‘Our experienced teams on the ground assure us that no tourist areas at the Red Sea have been affected. The resorts to which we travel are fully operational and holidaymakers are continuing to enjoy the popular resorts of Sharm el Sheikh and Hurghada.’

Hayes and Jarvis have also issued a statement saying. ‘The Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheikh is one of our most popular destinations in Egypt and all the reports from resort hotels indicate that it remains safe for holidaymakers.

‘Despite the current situation in other parts of the country, we have had no reports that this has affected people’s enjoyment while on holiday in Sharm el Sheikh or other Red Sea resorts. Of course we will continue to follow FCO advice and advise our customers to do the same.’

While trips to the cities, Nile River cruises and cruise stop offs have been cancelled due to the ongoing violence, the FCO has reassured travellers that they were safe to visit Red Sea Resorts. The St. Catherine’s Monastery World Heritage Site has also been declared trouble free, along with the roads between the resorts and the airports of Taba and Sharm el Sheikh. The regions that are still considered safe for British travellers are the entire region of Sharm el Sheikh, Taba, Nuweiba and Dahab.


Egypt proclaims ‘new era for Egyptian tourism,’ reassures holidaymakers

Tourism authorities in Egypt have heralded a ‘new era for Egyptian tourism,’ as tour operators look forward to the withdrawal of a UK Foreign Office travel advisory.

Amid the mass demonstrations that ended in the defeat of Mohammed Morsi last week, the Foreign Office had advised Britons against all but essential travel to the country – excluding the Red Sea resorts.

However, the latest statement released on behalf of Omayma El Husseini, director of the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism, proclaimed a ‘new era for Egyptian tourism’, saying that tourists should be ‘assured of their safety and ability to complete their planned visits without disruption.’

‘Tourists booked to visit Egypt this summer are equally reassured that there is no impediment to their visit,’ the statement said. ‘They will come to enjoy Egypt as millions of tourists have done for years and years, in safety and security, welcomed by their friendly and hospitable Egyptian hosts. Tourism in Egypt is expected to boom as of next autumn as the country settles down to its newfound democracy which will bring peace and prosperity to this great country and its united people.’

While last week the Office had warned Britons against travel to major parts of the country, it excluded the popular Red Sea resorts of Sharm El Sheikh, Taba, Nuweiba and Dahab on the Sinai peninsula; St Catherine’s Monastery – a World Heritage Site also in the Sinai; roads between the five locations; and mainland resorts including Hurghada. Those wishing to cancel their trip to any of the Red Sea resorts were not allowed to do so free of charge.

The warning has reportedly resulted in the cancellation/deferral of hundreds of package holidays and cruises to the country’s attractions, including Luxor and Giza. Affected holidaymakers were entitled to a full refund or an alternative itinerary, but not obligated to accept the latter, the advisory said.

Following the Travel ministry’s statement, the Association of Independent Tour Operators said that it was expecting the Foreign Office to withdraw its advisory soon, and ‘holidaymakers should not be worried about [visiting] Egypt in the near future’.


Troops prepared for Egyptian protests

Troops have been deployed in several of Egypt’s major cities ahead of protest demonstrations that are planned for the weekend.

Protestors are demanding that the country’s president, Mohamed Morsi, leaves the office that he has occupied for the last year. He made a speech marking his first year in office in which he admitted having made mistakes and offered a say in amending the country’s new constitution to his opponents. Ahead of the speech, violent clashes broke out between the government’s supporters and opponents in the northern city of Mansoura, in which two people were killed and one hundred and seventy were injured, the BBC was reportedly told by an Egyptian Health Ministry official.

The UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO), the government department responsible for the welfare of British citizens overseas, has issued a warning to travellers to the country, saying, ‘A series of large protests are planned for Cairo, Alexandria and other Egyptian cities from June 25 onwards. Exercise caution at potentially sensitive locations such as government buildings, police stations, security directorates, political party offices, military barracks, the vicinity of Tahrir Square, the presidential palace and the Mokkatam area in Cairo. Do not attempt to cross roadblocks erected by demonstrators, or the security forces. Monitor travel advice updates and the local media for further information.’

The FCO added that of the million British travellers that visit Egypt each year, most have a trouble-free experience.

The recently appointed governor of Luxor was forced to step down in the last few days, following opposition to his appointment by parties that were critical of his alleged membership of a militant organisation.


Wales adopts major tourism strategy

A major new tourism strategy has been announced this week by the Welsh government.

The new strategy is intended to develop the Welsh tourism sector by 10 percent between now and 2020. Manon Williams, the new chief executive of tourism and marketing for Visit Wales, the body responsible for developing Welsh tourism, has been the guiding force behind the creation of the strategy, which is intended to maximise the country’s high quality and iconic products and events while at the same time building on its reputation.

The views of 1,000 individuals, operators and businesses involved in the Welsh tourism industry were sought as part of determining the strategy for future tourism in the country. Following this consultation, five key focus areas emerged. These are, Promoting the brand, Product development, People development, Profitable performance and Place building.

The strategy intends to place additional importance on the creation of more luxury and branded hotels, well-being facilities, heritage hotels that utilise historic and distinctive buildings, year-round attractions, activities, cultural experiences and innovative and unusual products.

In addition to focussing on the obvious potential of the British domestic market, Ireland, the USA and Germany have also been highlighted as key overseas markets that should be targeted for Welsh tourism growth.

Manon Williams said, ‘This strategy is the beginning of a new direction for tourism in Wales that will support growth in the sector during the coming years. We want to work more closely with partners in Wales and the travel trade to develop our offering and ultimately increase visitor spend to Wales.’

UK visitor numbers fall but spend increases

Newly released figures for April this year has shown that spending by visitors to the UK increased by 13 percent for the month, despite an actual fall in visitor numbers.

The 2.88 million foreign visitors that arrived during the month of April was 1 percent down on the same period last year, but arrivals from developing markets including Brazil and China were at record levels.

With the final month’s figures in place it can be revealed that visitors to Britain spent GBP19.19 billion during the year to April, which was a record.

For the first four months of 2013, visitors from the 15 major European countries have registered a 1 percent increase in numbers. However, visitors from North America registered a 7 percent drop for April, and a drop of 4 percent for the first months of 2013.

Sandie Dawe, the chief executive of VisitBritain, the body responsible for generating tourism to the UK, commented, ‘While these latest figures indicate that we’re on track with our 2013 forecast, it’s clear that we’re fighting hard to increase visitor numbers against better resourced competition who recognise that inbound tourism can deliver economic growth and jobs in a tough climate. The USA, still Britain’s most valuable source of overseas visitors, continues to struggle. We simply haven’t got the resources currently to arrest that.

‘Like others in the public sector, we’re making a strong case for additional funding through the Spending Review.

‘Our GREAT campaign is having a positive impact, but we must not be complacent.

‘We must continue to make further inroads in key inbound markets if we are to increase visitor numbers to 40 million a year by 2020.

‘The world travel picture remains highly competitive and our GREAT activity is building good momentum on what it is that makes Britain such a wonderful destination, especially at a time when other countries are dramatically raising their game and their funding.’

Senior economist stresses importance of tourism to UK growth

A senior economist has spoken of the importance of tourism to the UK’s economic recovery.

Andrew Sentence, a senior economic advisor at London-based PriceWaterhouseCoopers and a former member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee, said that tourism was on a par with financial services with regards to driving growth.

Speaking at the British Hospitality and Tourism summit in London on Tuesday, Sentence itemised Britain’s top export-oriented services, estimating tourism, culture and heritage as being responsible for 9 percent of GDP, which puts it on a par with financial services. Only business and professional services at 13 percent fared better in the speaker’s estimation, with IT, communications and software at 5 percent and media, fashion and music at 2.5 percent.

Sentence stressed the importance of tourism in a new growth pattern that the economy would have to adapt to. He said, ‘We’ve been through a serious recession and we’re in a different situation. We’ve come to the end of a long period of expansion and the conditions that dominated it are not likely to return. We’re in an era of relatively slow growth.’

Speaking directly to an influential audience in the industry, he added, ‘You’re not exempt from the ‘new normal’, but tourism and hospitality has a key role to play in driving growth.’

He continued, ‘The UK is forecast to do relatively well this year compared with other European economies.’

Maria Miller, the UK’s secretary of state for culture, also addressed the summit, during which she too stressed tourism’s value to the economy.

VisitBritain announces success of GREAT campaign

VisitBritain, the UK body tasked with developing tourism in the nation, has announced that its GREAT international promotional campaign is bearing fruit in increased tourism spend.

The GREAT tourism campaign cost £25 million and is focussed on garnering interest from travellers in 14 major cities in nine countries around the globe. Predictions for its success estimate an additional inbound tourism spend of £200 million over the next two years.

A survey in the target cities that was carried out to gauge the effectiveness of the campaign has revealed that an impressive 72 percent of those questioned had recalled seeing the promotion, and 23 percent of respondents that were aware of the promotion said that they intended visiting the UK within the next year, compared to 11 percent of those that had not been made aware of the campaign. Estimating the GREAT campaign’s success in hard figures reveals that it potentially lured 422,000 extra visitors from the target cities.

Respondents also confirmed that the promotion had encouraged them to visit destinations in the UK other than the nation’s main tourist centre, London.

VisitBritain is predicting that the 31 million visitors that descended on the UK in 2012, spending £18.6 billion, will increase to 40 million a year by 2020, with the spend increased to £31.5 billion.

Maria Miller, the UK’s culture secretary, said, ‘The GREAT campaign has been fantastic, encouraging overseas visitors to come and experience the very best of Britain. We need to keep up the momentum, and continue to increase both the number of visitor numbers and the amount of money they spend here. The tourism industry has a key role to play in delivering economic growth and the GREAT campaign remains at the heart of the sector’s strategy.’