The UK’s weakened pound is continuing to be the key driver in attracting the long-haul market while terrorism’s impact is diminishing.
Overall transacted booking data supplied and analysed by scheduled flight data analysts ForwardKeys in early October shows that long-haul arrivals in the UK from January 1 to September 30 this year are up by 17% compared with the same period in 2012, which included the London Olympics.
The data, which has been released in anticipation of today’s presentation and panel debate entitled “UK Inbound: Five years of long-haul arrivals”, reveals that the Olympic Games proved to be a damp squib in driving long-haul growth.
Instead, the number of long-haul arrivals fell by 1% in the third quarter of 2012 when the games took place – the only quarter that year when this was the case.
Meanwhile, two of the UK’s key markets, the US for its size and China for its potential, both outpaced the overall growth of long-haul travellers to the UK in the last five years, proving their continued importance.
But what has caused this growth?
The graph clearly shows the pound’s drop to a five-year low compared with the dollar in the wake of the UK’s vote to leave the EU.
In the six-month run-up to the Brexit vote on June 23 last year, the pound had risen 0.1% to $1.48, during which time long-haul arrivals to London fell by 2% and long-haul bookings fell by 4.5%.
However, in the four months leading up to October, when the pound’s value fell by 18.6% to $1.22, things began to change.
Although there wasn’t an immediate pick-up in actual long-haul arrivals in London during that period (numbers fell by 2.8%) there was a 4.9% rise in long-haul bookings over the same period.
Instead, the positive impact was far more noticeable in the following eight months leading up to June 30, 2017.
During this time, international long-haul arrivals for London grew by 14%, while bookings in the same sector grew by 17%. This occurred even though the pound rose by 4.9% against the dollar in the same period.
In the three months from June 30 until September 30, the trend remained the same with arrivals up by 11% and bookings up by 4.5%.
Laurens van den Oever, chief marketing officer at ForwardKeys, said the growth was likely to continue, providing the pound remains weak against other currencies and particularly the dollar.
While the weakened pound may prove a driver in inbound long-haul tourism to the UK, the impact of one of the biggest problems in recent years to hit European tourism – terrorism – is diminishing.
Van den Oever said that following the Paris attack in November 2015, statistics show international long-haul bookings were down – even 30 weeks after the attack – by more than 10% year-on-year.
He added: “Paris needed a year to come back to a growth situation.”
Van den Oever said the scene improved a little bit in the wake of the Brussels attack in March 2016, adding: “It needed half a year before it came back to normal.”
"Even 30 weeks after the terrorist attack on Paris in 2015, international long-haul bookings to the destination were down 10% year-on-year and the city needed a year to come back to a growth situation"
Laurens van den Oever, chief marketing officer, ForwardKeys
However, by 2017 the situation had completely changed. With the terrorist attack on London’s Westminster Bridge in March, bookings were not only unaffected, but they grew, even in the week directly after the attack.
Van den Oever said: “There’s more resilience from travellers and they’re less scared by the news. However, destinations have become more resilient in terms of finding the right ways to go back to normal as soon as possible. They are much more effective in ensuring that everything is back to normal again and so any impact on bookings is much shorter than it was after the attacks we saw in 2015.
“The perception has changed – a terrorist attack can happen, it will happen and there’s no large destination that is not affected.”
In the meantime, the biggest growth in the first nine months of 2017 came from the Americas at 17%. The US also has the largest market share at 49.7%, followed by Asia and the Pacific with 12% growth off a 35.9% market share.
However, this may yet change as figures for bookings made from October 1, 2017, to January 31, 2018, reveal.
Statistics to date show that the Asia-Pacific region saw an increase of 13% in bookings, giving it a market share of 41.3% and bringing it closer to the Americas’ market share of 46.9%, following bookings growth of 7.8%.
UK Inbound: Five years of long-haul arrivals takes place on November 7 from 12.30-13.30pm in Platinum Suite 4