The UK will lose £37 billion in domestic and inbound tourism revenue this year, Visit Britain has estimated.
Patricia Yates, Visit Britain acting chief executive, outlined the Covid-19 impact to parliament’s digital, culture, media and sport committee.
“Every time we do the modelling it gets worse,” she said.
“For inbound, we were looking at £26.6 billion coming in this year. We reckon a £15 billion drop on that and for domestic, an industry that’s normally worth around £80 billion, a £22 billion drop on that and that’s actually before we’ve factored in the quarantine.
“I think inbound tourism will be slower to recover if there is a quarantine on that.”
She said she hoped domestic demand would pick up some of the lost inbound business but added: “I think the worrying thing we see is the lack of confidence in the British public about travelling – 74% of people who have a holiday booked for July-September think that holiday won’t take place.”
Only 19% were thinking of booking a domestic summer holiday, a figure much lower than, for example, Italy, where 43% of Italians were hoping to book domestically.
“So there’s a real job to be done there, given this has to be the year of domestic tourism.”
Yates said government messaging had been very effective in persuading people to stay home. “Consumer sentiment at the moment isn’t looking like a bounce-back and every country is urging their own citizens to holiday at home.”
Visit Britain has a £1 million marketing budget and Yates said “certainty of funding” from DCMS and a review of domestic marketing was needed this year.
“Australia spends more in China than we do internationally, so we are hugely outspent. We are not in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia and have no presence in Africa at all.”
Yates said she had seen engagement with the government “like never before” and revealed the idea of an October bank holiday to boost the sector was being considered. This would help extend the domestic season, she said.
She urged marketing efforts to be targeted at families and older clients, who were most likely to travel domestically, but who were also the most risk-adverse, she added.
“So really getting over that confidence and showing that businesses are Covid-compliant, do understand infection control and social distancing I think, is a really important message. What we need from government is that sign-off and support on that.”
Yates was asked about mixed messages coming from places like Wales, which is urging visitors not to come.
“We have to be really careful that we are promoting places people can travel to.” She said all parts of the UK were looking at what they could talk about “and when”. She predicted any threat of overtourism would be offset by the re-starting of the outbound industry.
Yates said she hoped pricing would remain sensible: “I have to say that is what industry is talking about.”
Bernard Donoghue, director of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, whose members include the National Trust, Historic Royal Palaces, theme parks and the Forestry Commission told the committee Covid showed people “only have a certain grasp of how vulnerable the industry is…the vast majority are wholly dependent on ticket revenue; they haven’t had any money coming in and won’t until lockdown is released.”
Donoghue said he would normally expect US and Chinese markets to recover first. However, he said it was “an odd fact” US travellers did not tend to travel in a presidential election year, meaning November’s poll could scupper a recovery.
The Chinese, he said, were being encouraged to spend holidays at home “and there is research to show the Chinese people are less than impressed with the UK government’s handling of Covid. We have some brand reputation catching up to do.”
Some members received no external funding, he said, calling for attractions run by local authorities to be exempt from business rates.
He also called for an extension to furloughing “even to the end of this year” because social distancing meant attractions would open at reduced capacity, hitting profit margins. He also urged support for attractions that normally receive no grants of any sort.