If one sector of the UK economy has clearly and unequivocally benefited from the EU referendum result, it’s tourism.
The plunge in the value of the pound that followed the vote to leave the EU has made it cheaper for overseas visitors to come while making it more expensive for Brits to go abroad so boosting demand for ‘staycations’.
The latest figures from VisitBritain confirm these trends.
The number of overseas visitors in the first seven months of 2017 is up 8% on the same period last year and their spend is 9% higher at £13.3bn.
Regional figures for the North West, including Cumbria, are even better with visitor number up 14% to 1.5m and spending 40% higher at £684m.
Earlier statistics suggested that the weaker pound hadn’t deterred Brits from going abroad but VisitBritain now says there has been a boom in staycations.
The number of domestic overnight holidays in England rose 7% in the first half year, while spending by overnight visitors jumped 17%.
Steve Ridgway, chairman of the British Tourist Authority, believes that the 16% fall in the value of sterling since the referendum is a big factor in these figures.
But he is acutely aware that the weakness of the pound may not be permanent and that the industry should not become complacent.
Two-and-a-half times bigger than the automotive industry, and employing 3m people, tourism is one of our most successful exports and needs no trade deals to compete globally.
He said: “Tourism is an economic powerhouse worth £127bn annually to the economy and a job creator right across Britain.
“Two-and-a-half times bigger than the automotive industry, and employing 3m people, tourism is one of our most successful exports and needs no trade deals to compete globally.
“But it is a fiercely-competitive global industry and you cannot just build a strong, resilient industry on a weaker currency.
“We must continue to invest in developing world-class tourism products, getting Britain on the wish-list of international and domestic travellers. And we must make it easy for visitors to make that trip.”
Mr Ridgway, a former Chief Executive of Virgin Atlantic Airways, is leading the bid for a tourism sector deal under the Government’s Industrial Strategy.
A central plank of the document submitted to ministers is a 10-year tourism and hospitality skills campaign to boost recruitment, skills and long-term careers to provide the industry with the workforce it needs.
The sector is heavily dependent on migrant workers – a high proportion of the estimated 10,000 EU migrant workers in Cumbria are employed in the hospitality industry – and the weaker pound is already making it less attractive for them to come because their UK earnings are worth less back home.
That disincentive is likely to be compounded by restrictions on free movement that might apply after Brexit in March 2019.
Gill Haigh, the newly-appointed Managing Director of Cumbria Tourism, is already prioritising the recruitment issue.
She said: “The visitor economy supports 63,000 jobs already in the county and makes a £2.7bn contribution to the county but we cannot be complacent.
“As the county’s official destination management organisation, we continue to lobby on key issues affecting the industry.
“This includes seeking assurances from Government that any Brexit negotiations do not impact negatively on the county’s labour supply and that skills and infrastructure developments are delivered to support the industry.”
The issue was raised again when Tourism Minister John Glen visited the county earlier this month.
Rob Johnston, Chief Executive of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, said: “Labour shortages were flagged as a concern by tourism businesses when we consulted on the Industrial Strategy Green Paper earlier in the year.
“They told us that chefs and managers are already difficult to recruit, and that recruitment, retention and skills are the biggest issues facing the sector. One-in-five vacancies in hotels and restaurants are for skilled jobs.”
He added: “We have to find ways to tackle these shortages or they will act as a constraint on growth.
“Part of the solution is for tourism businesses to train their own staff although that can’t be the whole solution in the Lake District, because there simply aren’t enough people living locally to meet the sector’s needs.
“But this is an area where we can help.
“The Chamber’s Cumbria Business Growth Hub is running the Profiting Through Skills campaign, which offers free training to SMEs that want to upskill their workers or recruit apprentices.
“This help is available to all sectors, not only tourism, to enable businesses to meet the challenges of an ageing workforce.”
To take advantage of the free training on offer, call Cumbria Business Growth Hub today on 0844 257 84 50.
A specialist adviser will carry out a review of your training needs and opportunities to identify where improved skills could help.
They pass the assessment to an experienced training provider, or providers, who contacts you to arrange training programmes funded through the scheme and elsewhere. Training is available for new and existing staff.
This support is available through the Employees Support in Skills project, launched last year. The project is funded by the European Social Fund via the Education & Skills Funding Agency and supported by Cumbria LEP.
Other partners in the project include Carlisle, Furness, Kendal and Lakes Colleges, the University of Cumbria, Newton Rigg, Gen2 and SP Training.
The Employee Support in Skills project is receiving up to £8.5m of funding from the European Social Fund (ESF) as part of the 2014-2020 European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme in England. The Department for Work and Pensions is the Managing Authority for the England ESF programme. Established by the European Union ESF funds help local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, skills development, job creation, social inclusion and local community regenerations. For more information click here.© Cumbria Chamber of Commerce