The UK has a rich history as a global transport hub. While we all value our holidays as individuals, the value of travel to the UK economy cannot be overlooked. In 2019, the 40.9 million overseas visitors who came to the UK spent over £28bn.
While many of us don’t consider the UK economy to be as dependent on tourism as some of our European counterparts, in 2018 the UK ranked 8th in the UNWTO international tourist arrivals league and 11th in the international tourism earnings, accounting in total for 2.7 per cent of global arrivals. London is also the second most visited city in the world, behind only Hong Kong.
Travel has therefore profoundly shaped the modern UK economy. The industry accounts for 9.6 per cent of total UK jobs and 9 per cent of the UK’s GDP. Yet, the emergence of the pandemic has unquestionably provided us with our biggest challenges to date, and they are continuing to mount. The complete global shutdown of the travel industry was devastating, but as we have reopened, government strategy is now in real danger of causing irretrievable harm to every aspect of the sector.
France and Spain, the UK’s two biggest travel partners are now both under quarantine measures, and the latest game of travel musical chairs has seen restrictions placed on Croatia, Austria, Trinidad and Tobago. STA Travel, the pandemic’s latest travel victim, is testament to the struggles being endured by an industry practically starved of income since March, and now facing short notice changes to quarantine requirements and a cascade of new cancellations.
For many tour agents and operators, the situation could soon prove terminal. The international Air Transport Association has already revised its prediction for recovery by another year to 2024, and over 90,000 travel workers have lost their jobs or are at risk of redundancy. The stop-start quarantine rules, combined with the wind down of the furlough scheme, will inevitably generate tens of thousands more losses.