Most inbound operators have lost 95% of business or more

Fresh data shows 87% of the UK’s inbound tour operators and destination management companies (DMCs) have lost more than 95% of their 2021 business due to a lack of clarity on reopening.

Trade association UKinbound took to the water on a Thames River Sightseeing Boat with more than 30 members this morning to highlight why ‘Freedom Day’ is “anything but” for the inbound tourism industry.

The survey by UKinbound, which represents more than 300 inbound tourism businesses, found 26% of its respondents forecast no business at all for the remainder of 2021, having now missed the summer season, while 53% expected to make 10% or less of their 2019 revenue this year.

The group used its day on the water to deliver a fresh message to government highlighting that the lack of inbound tourism – which is normally worth more than £28 billion per year to the UK economy – has resulted in a loss of £78 million per day to government coffers.

It is calling for support for the sector, including:

– A Tourism Export Recovery Fund
– Extension of furlough to April 2022
– Mutual recognition of Covid vaccination status with key inbound markets, such as the EU and US

UKinbound chief executive Joss Croft told Travel Weekly: “Part of the job is about educating government, and we have been doing that ceaselessly for the last 18 months – there’s still not a full understanding of the supply chain in tourism.

“These are companies that are absolutely implicit to the UK’s future economic activity and, because they don’t have a retail front, haven’t received one of the retail of hospitality grants – and have been left out in the cold.

“We don’t have a reopening date. We don’t have reciprocity on vaccine certification. It’s not a great position to be in at the moment. The Global Travel Taskforce said we would have a managed restart of international travel, and we haven’t got that. On the same day Grant Shapps said he would look at reciprocity [of vaccine certification] ‘in due course’, one of our members lost £1 million.”

Croft said “no one is going to come on holiday here if they have to self-isolate for 10 days” and pointed to the study’s findings that tourism was going to rival destinations instead, and called for action in reducing the cost of PCR testing.

“Even if the borders were able to open by the end of July, a lot of people have already decided were they are going to go, so we will need support to keep these businesses alive so they can play their part in the UK’s future economic activity.”

(L-R) Joss Croft, CEO, UKinbound; Rob Russell, CEO, AC Group; Rt Hon Bob Stewart MP; Mike Clark, Chairman, ECE Travel Ltd
(L-R) Joss Croft, CEO, UKinbound; Rob Russell, CEO, AC Group; Rt Hon Bob Stewart MP; Mike Clark, Chairman, ECE Travel Ltd

Earlier this month UKinbound submitted a proposal to Treasury for a Tourism Export Recovery Fund. The proposal calls for an allocated fund that would allow inbound tour operators and DMCs to apply for a capped grant award based on their 2019 revenue levels.

UKinbound says this investment, totalling £47 million for the UK’s circa 230 tour operators and DMCs – 60% of the UK’s daily export earnings loss – would enable these businesses to survive until inbound tourism can safely resume at sustainable levels.

In a statement, Croft (pictured, left) added: “With the rest of the UK economy opening up, the UK economy continues to lose £78m a day in exports due to a lack of inbound tourism, and hundreds of previously profitable businesses that provide valuable revenue to local economies and sustain thousands of livelihoods all across the country are on the brink of collapse, through no fault of their own.

“We urgently need government to implement Covid vaccination reciprocity for our key inbound markets to allow inbound travel to return as quickly and safely as possible. However, with the summer season lost, and members reporting cancellations through to the end of the year, even a rapid reopening of inbound tourism will not be enough to save many of these businesses, which are now facing a second year – and a fifth ‘winter’ – with no income or support.

He said 2022 “will shine a global spotlight on the UK” which is due to host the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, Festival UK 2022, and the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, and “presents a fantastic opportunity for the UK to showcase its world-class welcome and tourism offer”.

Croft said: “Tourism can deliver the government’s Global Britain agenda, but the country will not be able to reap the full financial and reputational benefits without a successful inbound tourism sector in place to convert pent-up demand into bookings. These businesses promote, sell and funnel business and revenue to all corners of the country, and through multiple sectors.

“As the rest of the UK economy opens up, the Government absolutely has to provide specific support for these inbound tourism businesses to enable their survival until the return of the market so that UK tourism can make its vital contribution to our national economic recovery and maintain its position as a desirable and globally competitive destination, and that needs to happen now.”

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