Travel and tourism can be a major UK growth sector post-Brexit, new World Travel & Tourism Council research suggests.

UK travel and tourism grew by just 1% last year to represent £234 billion, well below the world average growth rate of 3.9% and the European Union average of 2.7%. It was down from 6.2% growth the previous year.

Uncertainties over Brexit and a near 10% decline in spending by international visitors led to the weak level of growth in the UK.

Spending by international visitors dropped by 9.7% from £31.5 billion in 2017 to £28.4 billion in 2018

However, the UK remains the fifth largest travel and tourism economy in the world by economic contribution behind the US, China, Japan and Germany.

It is ahead of Italy (£207 billion), France (£200 billion), and Spain (£159 billion).

Growth for 2019 is forecast to be 1.4%, again below the global average of 3.6% and 2.4% for the European Union (2.4%).

The sector is estimated to have contributed 4.2 million jobs in the UK in 2018, highlighting its importance of the sector to the social fabric of the country, according to the WTTC.

President and CEO Gloria Guevara said: “Post-Brexit, travel and tourism stands to be one of the major sectors to drive a recovery in the British economy.

“Its current growth rate of 1% is dramatically below the 6.2% recorded the previous year and demonstrates the huge potential of our sector to be a driver of economic growth.

“Our sector is not being helped by uncertainty over the form of Brexit.

“Last month we published research to show that over 300,00 jobs could be at risk our sector in the UK and almost 400,000 in Europe if the UK leaves the EU without a deal on 29 March.

“So, we welcome the role of the British government in adopting a joint agenda for growth with the private sector and its determination to keep promoting the UK to overseas markets.”