Inbound bookings to the UK are at least 10% down on a year ago and declining due to Brexit, tourism marketing authority VisitBritain has revealed.

Sally Balcombe, VisitBritain chief executive, told the UKinbound convention in Glasgow: “All the concerns about Brexit are filtering into the results.

“We saw a decline of 10%-14% in December and when we look forward we see a decline across the board.

“Even as we were preparing these figures we saw the trend data declining.”

Balcombe reported ‘intention-to-travel’ research among EU consumers found 32% “said their perception of Britain has declined”.

She described the trend as “particularly strong in France and the Netherlands” and said: “The desire to travel to the UK has decreased again since 2018.

“There is a decline in every market [in Europe] in interest in travel to Britain. The messages are not getting through.

Balcombe told UKinbound members: “We have said to the government, ‘Give us some messaging’.”

Asked what is affecting perception of Britain, she said: “Anecdotally, we hear ‘Do I need a passport? Do I need a visa?’”

She said: “We are working on messaging with the government and awaiting sign off. We will be ramping up promotional activity across Europe around the themes of welcome and value for money, targeting France, Germany, Italy and Spain.”

Balcombe also promised “a big campaign with easyJet” across France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Spain.

Despite the declining numbers from Europe, Balcombe said: “We are still forecasting growth [for this year] and we still hope to hit 40 million visitors by 2020.”

She described 2018 as a “story of two halves” for inbound tourism to the UK following a record 2017 when visitor numbers passed 39 million and VisitBritain forecast its target of 40 million arrivals by 2020 would be met two years early.

Balcombe said: “We had fantastic growth from China, up 43% on 2017. Chinese visitors will probably spend £1 billion this year, up 50% on 2017.

“We’ve started to see the Japanese market turn – it was up 9% [in 2018] as airlines put on new capacity.

“The US saw really good growth and we forecast in January-June this year the US will be 31% up [year on year].”

But she said: “However well we do from China or the US, Europe provides two thirds of our inbound visitors.”

tw4