Confidence among UK inbound tourism businesses is falling despite the boom in overseas visitors to Britain over the past 18 months.
Government figures show a 10% year-on-year rise in holiday visits to Britain from abroad in the first 10 months of last year, with numbers boosted by the fall in the value of the pound since Britain voted to leave the EU.
However, a survey among members of the UKinbound trade association suggests a decline in business confidence in recent months.
The latest UKinbound Business Barometer, published this week, showed a fall in members’ confidence levels from a high of 86% in March 2017 to 54% this January.
Ukinbound chief executive Deirdre Wells said: “Brexit is key, but it is all so uncertain and nothing has really changed in the last few months.
“Members are doing a good job of getting on with business in a vacuum. But we need to keep the pressure [on politicians] on the issues we’re concerned about.”
Speaking at the UKinbound annual convention in Cardiff this week, Wells said: “These are challenging times. Tour operators are trying to contract for a post-Brexit scenario.”
She told Travel Weekly: “There will have to be a post-Brexit regime that allows [UK firms] access to EU labour, with the level of migrant workers the industry needs. [But] when we surveyed our members last autumn, 25% of EU migrant workers had already left the UK.
“Language skills are a concern, and there is a concern that the post-Brexit regime be light touch so companies can recruit people quickly if needed.”
Wells said: “The current UK system for recruiting workers from third [non-EU] countries does not inspire confidence. It can take months to recruit a Japanese speaker from Japan.
“Our members would like to be able to employ more UK people. But we have a long way to go to get more people interested in the industry. The demographics are against us [in Britain] and there is low unemployment.”
She insisted: “We want no impact on EU visitors coming to Britain on holiday. And if we’re going to position ourselves as a ‘global Britain’, we need the right messaging and the right visa regime in place, to say ‘We are open for business’.”
Wells said: “The tourism industry can deliver results quickly. We would like the British government to see tourism as an enabler for the hard trade deals to follow.”
A former senior civil servant before joining UKinbound as chief executive, Wells said: “I know how difficult it [Brexit] is going to be. Politicians are trying to shape a pragmatic and workable solution while managing opposition in Parliament.
“I don’t think either side wants us to crash out of the EU. [But] we are running out of time to implement radically new arrangements.
“I’m not expecting things to be much clearer from March [when UK-EU negotiations resume].”
Wells added: “Of course, we will do well as an industry. But whether we do as well as we could have done [without Brexit] is another matter.”
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