Study shows Brexit has hurt travelers' perception of UK

Brexit is scheduled to take effect on March 29. Photo credit: Pixabay / moritz320 (EU flag torn)

Barring a new vote or other government actions, the U.K. will formally leave the European Union by the end of this month as Brexit takes effect, with or without a formal deal in place for what happens next. While much of the conversation has revolved around the effects Brexit could have on hotel investment and development, a recent survey from STR's Consumer Travel Insights team examined what the departure will mean for travel trends to and from the U.K. 

Brexit has had little impact on 2019 travel plans, the study found, but it has shaped a negative perception of the U.K. among European travelers, posing a potential problem for hoteliers in top destinations across the country. 

“We asked our traveler panel a series of questions surrounding Brexit’s impact on travel behavior and travel plans,” said Sean Morgan, STR’s director of research, in a statement. “Although there are indications that some travelers will adjust their behavior due to Brexit, the overall impact of Brexit on consumer travel plans in 2019 and beyond looks marginal. The results do, however, indicate that Brexit has shaped a negative perception of the U.K. among a small proportion of European travelers. But, it appears that strong consumer demand to travel far outweighs any potential limiting effect, such as economic uncertainty due to Brexit. These findings bode well for the future of the travel and tourism industry pre- and post-Brexit.”  

More than half—61 percent—of respondents said that Brexit was not affecting their 2019 travel plans, while 11 percent said that it was. Brexit has had a greater impact on the 2019 travel plans of British and European travelers, with 17 percent and 15 percent, respectively, saying that Brexit had impacted their holiday plans in 2019. 

Those who said that their 2019 travel plans have been affected by Brexit (11 percent of the sample) were asked about Brexit’s specific influence. While there was little evidence that Brexit will lead to increased demand to visit destinations outside of Europe as respondents did not show increased interest in visiting other destinations beyond Europe, a small proportion of travelers from the U.K. and Europe (excluding U.K.) appear to be adjusting their travel plans as a backlash to Brexit. Overall, 9 percent of U.K. travelers said that they were less likely to go to Europe in 2019 due to Brexit, while 10 percent of Europeans said that they are less likely to go to the U.K.

Even more worrisome, CNN noted that a legal loophole could mean that U.K. passport-holders with up to 15 months' validity could be blocked from a number of nations if Britain exits the EU without a deal. "If there is no deal, new rules would apply when traveling on a British passport to many European countries and some people may need to renew their passport earlier than planned," said a Home Office spokesperson.

These findings highlight not only the divisive nature of Brexit but also signal the potential damaging impact of uncertainty on travel, the report claimed.

Doors of Perception

Primarily, Brexit has affected the world’s perception of the U.K. as a visitor destination, with 38 percent of Europeans saying the issue has negatively impacted their perception. At the same time, only 17 percent of travelers from the rest of the world said they would be less likely to travel to the U.K. in the future due to Brexit. 

With the withdrawal from the EU slated for March 29, 33 percent of U.K. travelers and 36 percent of Europeans thought it was best to avoid traveling in late March and early April, when the U.K. may formally withdraw from the European Union. Compared with earlier analysis, which suggests that around 10 percent of travelers are adjusting their travel behavior in 2019 due to Brexit, these findings suggest a greater impact of Brexit on the travel industry during the potential transition period.

STR called the findings “worrying” in the context of U.K. tourism because Europeans are a major inbound market accounting for around two-thirds of international travelers to the U.K. A 10-percent reduction in European visitors would constitute 2.5 million fewer visitors to U.K. hotels in 2019.