Tourism is big business in the UK. We are the eighth largest international tourism destination in the world, with tourism providing one-eleventh of the UK’s GDP, and many tourist attractions are peppered throughout England’s cities, towns and villages. This is true especially true of the South East of England. One of the great pleasures of being a Labour representative for the South East of England in the European Parliament is having the ability to travel the length and breadth of a region with a rich cultural, historical and literary heritage.
The majority of in-bound holidaymakers to England – 63%- are from member states of the European Union. Outside of the USA, tourists most likely to visit England hailed from Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands and Sweden.
Statistics from the Tourism Alliance reveal that outside of London, more money is spent on day trips to the South East of England than any other region in Britain, and overall, excluding London, more money comes into the South East of England from tourism than any other region in England.
Tourism provides huge numbers of jobs. Outside of London, more employment from tourism happens in the South East of England than any other region in Britain, creating over 225,000 jobs, not including those connected with holiday travel.
However, with the invocation of Article 50 on Wednesday of this week, it is important to ensure that the reputation of England as a tourist destination is not threatened by Brexit.
Following Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, the value of the pound crashed.
This was expected by many to lead to a huge boost in Britain’s tourism figures, with European tourists being able to get more pounds for their Euros. However, this did not happen, and whilst statistics suggest that there was a 3% boost in English tourism, this was as previously predicted by ONS growth estimates.
We must also make sure that popular modes of transport for holidaymakers stay accessible. It is perhaps not a coincidence that the South East of England’s high tourism figures can in part be attributed to the easy transport links offered by the UK’s biggest airports, Heathrow and Gatwick. Following the recent warnings to UK-based airlines by EU officials that they may have to relocate their headquarters to an EU member state, or face selling shares of their company to EU nationals in order to stop routes around continental Europe after Brexit, this is all the more pertinent. Last year, over 75.7 million passengers passed through Heathrow, with 51% of those passengers arriving in the UK.
We must also ensure continued traffic on ferry routes between Dover and Calais, and Portsmouth, St Malo and Cherbourg- especially given worrying signs that France may alter its approach to immigration controls following the Brexit vote. And we need to avoid any additional bureaucracy being imposed for cruise travellers, with Southampton constituting Europe’s leading turnaround cruise port.
This English Tourism Week, we must do all we can to ensure we keep these gateways to the South East open, and our local tourist industry thriving.