Ongoing Brexit Negotiations Complicate the UK Travel Industry

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June 3, 2019

By Rebecca Heilweil

The unclear path forward for the United Kingdom's impending withdrawal from the European Union has left the British tourism and travel industries nervous.

"People might make different choices for their trips, so they might travel more in their countries, or make shorter trips, or different types of destinations. But luckily, people still travel," said Gillian Tans, the CEO of the travel reservation site Booking.com. "We are very much involved in staying close to the developments, but we also don't know the outcome."

British lawmakers have repeatedly delayed finalizing a deal to leave European Union, most recently culminating in the resignation of Prime Minister Theresa May. Now, the prospect of a no-deal Brexit — in which the British government would depart the EU without an agreement clarifying economic relations between the two, or a transition period — appears increasingly likely.

Continued uncertainty has left the UK's tourism industry concerned that a heated political climate and the unclear status of travel regulations could deter visitors. "For us, it's very important that we keep consumer confidence up, and that it's easy for people to cross borders, and keep traveling, because that's, of course, in our interest," Tans explained.

The UK-based Tourism Alliance, an industry lobbying group, told Cheddar in an emailed statement that, thus far, Brexit has primarily impacted tourism from other parts of Europe, such as France, but not "long-haul markets" like the U.S. and China.

Counterintuitively, one bright spot might be the struggling British pound. "Currency has an impact on travel. And we do see that when currencies are improving, that people think and say 'why don't I take this trip this year, instead of waiting for another year,'" said Tans. The alliance echoed her sentiment.

The Tourism Alliance also said that the way in which the UK does ultimately leave will matter. While a long-term transition might allow the tourism industry — and travelers — to slowly adjust, a "crash" could create a barrage of procedural issues for tourists, affecting licenses, the transporting of pets, healthcare, and the processing of travelers at customs.

"However, even in this scenario, we would expect that it will only take a few months for new systems to be put in place for little long-term impact on tourism flows in an out of the UK to European destinations," said Kurt Janson, the director of the Alliance.

But in the long-run, Brexit could also complicate travel and tourist company's employees in the UK. Tans noted that Booking.com, which is based in Amsterdam, has thousands of employees working in the UK who could also be burdened by the result of negotiations. Overall, Brexit could mean that up to a quarter of hospitality workers in the UK will lose their right to work in the country, according to Reuters .

"I always say that Europe needs to stay competitive, versus the United States, versus China," said Tans. "And therefore cooperation is really needed."

"It needs to stay an interesting business climate for companies in Europe," she added.