Pictured: Terry Williamson

Inbound tourism is booming, but the sector shares the outbound industry’s concerns about Brexit. Ian Taylor reports

UKinbound members’ confidence was at a record high ahead of their convention last week.

A survey suggested almost two-thirds saw growth in bookings and visitor numbers at the end of last year and 82% were “confident about bookings” in the next 12 months. Yet uncertainty about the UK’s future relations with the EU following the Brexit vote appeared a major concern at the Ukinbound convention in Plymouth.

JacTravel chief executive Terry Williamson said the pound’s fall in value since the vote had “created short-term opportunities, but I don’t see that as long term. Costs are going to go up.”

VisitBritain commercial director Carol Dray agreed: “The value message is a huge opportunity. The key is how quickly we make the most of it. No one knows how long this will last.”

Hotels and More managing director Karin Urban said: “The most important thing the government can do is send a message that tourists are welcome in the UK. A lower exchange rate should boost us, but there is not a day without a negative report in the German media [about the UK]. It’s not all about facts, but feelings.”

City Cruises managing director Kyle Haughton warned: “Our industry is built on overseas employees and they are beginning to go home.”

Encore Tickets chief executive John Wales said: “Getting a short-term message to staff working here that ‘you’re safe’ is important, and getting the message across as quickly as possible.”

Williamson added: “I’ve had staff say to me, ‘You don’t want us here anymore’. As a country, we want to attract people, but they may choose another country as a consequence of not knowing whether they are welcome. About 60% of my staff in London are EU migrants.”

However, China Holidays managing director Stephanie Cheng said: “Brexit should bring the UK on to the world map again. The EU was the focus before [for Chinese travellers]. The pound’s devaluation is making it much cheaper to come. The UK is also quite a safe destination, so people are choosing the UK. We’ve seen an increase in numbers and in bookings. It’s all positive for us.”

She added: “Outside the EU, people don’t feel the UK is closed. The feeling is the UK has character. The UK stood up for itself.”

Giles Smith, deputy director of tourism at the Department for Culture, told UKinbuond leaders: “The government is looking at Brexit as an opportunity and that is doubly true with tourism. There is a huge opportunity to grow the sector. The tourism action plan the Prime Minister launched in August is one of the few things she has done outside Brexit, and that is a powerful signal.”

UKinbound chief executive Deirdre Wells told Travel Weekly: “Business has been good since June, but we haven’t left [the EU] yet. The pound has fallen, but the trading conditions are the same. There is a plethora of issues we’re bothered about.”

She added: “We can say what we want. What others [in the EU] are going to say is another matter.”