As CEO of the British Hospitality Association, the national trade association for the hospitality and tourism industry in the UK, Ufi Ibrahim's job is never easy, never quiet. On June 23, it became uproarious. That is the day when the UK voted to leave the European Union, the so-called Brexit. The fallout, the uncertainty had a swift impact on tourism and hospitality. And it's Ibrahim's job to shepherd UK's travel industry through the Brexit storm. In the throes of high-level talks and meetings, she took some time to speak with HOTEL MANAGEMENT on the direction of UK's travel and hospitality industries, in the wake of Brexit.
What is the short-term impact of the Brexit on UK's travel and hospitality industries?
First, the depreciation of the pound—the fastest depreciation of the pound in the last 60 years. It's had a big impact on travel. First, the positive. It means more people in the UK will stay and vacation at home. That's good. It also makes the UK cheaper for visitors. We have already seen an uptick of travel from the U.S. market.
The negative side is that a number of investors are putting their decisions on hold. And some decisions are being postponed altogether, on both transactions and new development. That's where the uncertainty comes in. There is caution among the investment community. At the same time, our industry flourishes in a thriving economy. We are looking at a revised downward growth projection for the rest of the year. Possibly negative. That's affecting consumer confidence. The positive is that there are whispers that the Bank of England will keep interest rates low. But from the corporate travel perspective, there is caution and uncertainty.
What, then are the long-term effects from the Brexit?
There are four areas of concentration:
- Immigration: The focus on freedom of movement of people. We have a large volume of EU nationals working in our industry in the UK. There is concern there. We are positioning ourselves at the negotiation table on any introduction of a points-based immigration system. It is critical that we are at the table. Everything, right now, is about freedom of moment.
- Tax reform: The short-term advantage of a weak pound is we want to seize and lock in our competitiveness. We are calling on government to reform tax. We want to see the government take down and reform the VAT.
- Regulation: There is a pipeline of regulations coming down from Brussels. There is the opportunity for our industry to underline key areas of regulation without a detrimental impact on the customer. We want to create a simplified environment for business.
- Reputation management: The damage that could have been caused has to be managed. Visit Britain is starting a mass campaign and there are elements at the local level, like from London and Partners, which is making sure to tell the story that London is open for business.
There is even uncertainty now about who your next Prime Minister will be once David Cameron steps away in October. Once the new PM is elected, what would you want to say to him or her?
We have already had several meetings with government officials. That will continue. Once it's clear who the leader of the country will be—Theresa May looks to be the leader—I would say: 'Our industry has to have a seat at the top table on all areas of negotiation vis-à-vis Brexit.' Tax reform and immigration are two that are really important. We support 4.5 million jobs in the UK and are the 4th largest industry in the UK. We must therefore be at the table about all discussions around Brexit.