Outbound travel contributes more than £22 billion a year to the UK economy or 1.6% of GDP, research commissioned by Abta has found.
The sector has an even bigger impact when the indirect impact of suppliers is added, rising to more than £54 billion or 3.8% of UK GDP. Yet this contribution is frequently ignored.
Abta released the findings, conducted by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr), at its Travel Matters conference in London yesterday.
The association’s senior public affairs and research manager Stephen D’Alfonso said: “Few other industries can boast of the potential to encourage growth all over the country.”
He said there is a sizeable amount of research on the impact of domestic and inbound travel, but nothing until now on outbound.
D’Alfonso told the conference: “The sector touches a critical mass of other sectors. The discourse needs to change from talk of a ‘tourism deficit’. The industry is interconnected and interdependent.”
The study found UK holidaymakers spend an average £532 a head on products and services before they depart on an overseas holiday, amounting to £31.2 billion a year - almost as much as total spending abroad (£31.6 billion).
This includes spending at travel agents and on clothes and accessories, cameras, and toiletries. Almost £1.8 billion is spent by outbound holidaymakers at UK duty-free.
The report calculates the tax take from the outbound sector at £6 billion a year, with £1.2 billion raised from indirect taxes such as Air Passenger Duty.
It points out this represents a significant contribution to the Treasury.
The study reveals the sector maintains 620,000 people in full-time employment, more than the arts, entertainment and recreation sectors combined, and accounts for 2.6% of the UK workforce.
However, when jobs at suppliers to the industry are included, this figure rises to 5.2% of the workforce.
Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer said: “For too long it has been assumed that by going abroad on holiday, money is being taken out of the UK economy.
“This report proves conclusively that the foreign holiday market makes a huge contribution. The government must recognise and support outbound travel to deliver growth to the wider economy.”
He told the conference: “Inbound, outbound and domestic tourism are complimentary. They are part of one industry, they share the same infrastructure.”
Tourism minister John Penrose welcomed the research, saying: “I appreciate the work done by Abta on the contribution of the outbound trade. We all know outbound travel is big and important, but this report provides the facts underpinning that when I put the case in Whitehall.”
He said: “It is not right to talk about a tourism deficit. Any economy needs a mix of imports and exports and I’m making that point strongly across Whitehall.”
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