Mike Saul, head of hospitality and leisure at Barclays
As shorter days and longer nights draw in, the summer months may seem like a distant memory, but they have set the tone for the months to come of softening inbound numbers and stable outbound figures.
This summer’s Royal and sporting pageantry was billed to boost the outbound travel industry as Brits sought to take advantage of the extra bank holiday and avoid the sporting crowds. Inbound operators were also tipped to benefit as increasing numbers of international visitors were expected to head to the UK.
While outbound figures did not disappoint and held firm, helped in no small part by the weather – more on that later – the summer saw UK-bound tourist numbers counter the longer-term trend and fall.
June’s 1% fall in inbound numbers was exacerbated in July with a further year-on-year 5% drop. And despite the hype, not even August’s sporting extravaganza could reverse this, with the month seeing an additional decline of 5% compared with the same month in 2011.
It could be argued that August’s events were partly responsible for the dwindling figures, as holidaymakers concerned about higher accommodation prices and overcrowding at key attractions chose to stay away.
Of course it would be remiss to ignore the relative strength of the pound. Consumer purchasing power remains under pressure, and with sterling reaching a near four-year high against the euro earlier this summer, it will come as no surprise that cost-conscious travellers were closely looking at exchange rates before committing to a holiday destination.
This is the third month running that we have seen tourist numbers slide, and it is becoming clear that for many, particularly for those on the Continent, concerns over the eurozone – where unemployment remains at a record high of 11.4% – continue to weigh heavily.
European airlines are additionally reported to have seen a decline in both regional and long-haul flight and seat capacity.
While the biblical washout that categorised the summer as the wettest in a century may have added to the list of reasons deterring international visitors from heading to the UK’s shores, it did much to boost outbound numbers.
June saw a 9% increase in outbound trips from 5.6 million in the same month in 2011 to 6.1 million this June.
No doubt some of this uplift would have been attributable to the increased number of people wanting to take advantage of the extra bank holiday over the Jubilee weekend, but as the prospect of a summer of sunshine disappeared, consumers took decisive action to seek their dose of sunshine.
Outbound numbers held firm in both July and August, and all indications are that this will continue. Our clients have noted an early autumn boost to their booking figures with both last minute and sales for next summer seeing a material surge.
These signs of stability in the outbound market, following the significant declines we saw at the height of the recession, are welcomed, particularly when capacity has been taken out of the industry.
While all signs are that this trend will continue, it remains to be seen whether confidence will return in a meaningful way to temper the softening inbound trends that are becoming the norm.
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