VisitBritain have published their 2019 inbound tourism forecast, which anticipates a 3.3% increase in visit numbers to 38.8 million, and a 7.8% increase in overseas visitor spend to reach a record £24.9 billion.
Whilst Brexit remains a key uncertainty, the forecast assumes that there will be no major disruptions to travel after 29 March. Although bookings from long haul markets remain broadly in line with the previous year, there has been a sharp decline in flight bookings from Europe, particularly for arrivals after 29 March. VisitBritain noted that this is a significant and growing risk and the result from European markets in particular could be significantly less than assumed by the forecast.
The value of the pound, which remains lower than its pre-referendum level and is forecast to continue to be weak throughout the medium term, was cited as another key uncertainty. Consumer sentiment research by VisitBritain found that while there is still widespread agreement that the weak pound makes it a good time to visit the UK, the favourable exchange rate is less important to visitors than it was in 2016. The pound is expected to strengthen slightly by the end of the year, however this will depend on a number of factors including, Brexit, monetary policy in the UK, Europe and the US and the strength of their economies.
The global economy, and in particular the economic performance of the UK’s main source markets, will be another major factor in driving visitor numbers. While the outlook is still for moderate growth in 2019, the global economy has slowed since its 2017/18 peak, with the Eurozone economy experiencing a difficult H2 in 2018 with unexpectedly weak growth, and the Chinese economy continuing to slow gradually.