Britain’s EU exit creates opportunity and uncertainty

Britain’s EU exit creates opportunity and uncertainty

It’s too early to tell exactly how Britain’s vote to leave
the European Union will affect the travel industry over the long term, but
right now is a great time for Americans to visit the U.K. because of the
plummeting British pound.

Following the vote to leave the EU, the pound plunged to a
31-year low, falling about 10% in a span of a few hours. It’s not good news for
British travelers because a weaker pound likely makes their vacations more
expensive, but international travelers will pay less for a trip to the U.K.

U.K. specialist Ellen LeCompte, an independent agent with
Brownell Travel in Richmond, Va., called it a “terrific opportunity” for
American travelers.

“If you can get there, it’s absolutely going to be a great
time to go,” she said.

Steve Loucks, chief communications officer with Travel
Leaders Group, also said that Britain is enticing.

“If the lower value of the suddenly plummeting British Pound
is sustained, the United Kingdom could provide dramatically increased value for
Americans traveling there,” he said.

SmartTours, a bargain travel specialist, has never offered
an England package. Now the company is seriously considering it.

“SmarTours has sent nearly 200,000 travelers across the
globe since 1996, yet we have never had a trip to England. It’s one of the
great destinations in the world, yet we have always struggled to find a way to
offer England in a way that’s sensibly priced,” said co-CEO Greg Geronemus.
“However, Brexit has changed the equation completely. England will now be
dramatically more affordable and we are taking a hard look at offering a new
tour to the United Kingdom.”

Collette, a tour operator that has been offering the U.K.
for a long time, is already promoting the destination as more affordable.

Said Paula Twidale, executive vice president of Collette,
“The dollar will become stronger against the pound and it is a perfect time to
travel to the U.K. to take advantage of those savings in restaurants, shops,
museums and throughout the tour.”

As for what Brexit might mean over time, Loucks said, “It is
simply too soon to tell what exactly will happen.”

“Since we never speculate and only deal in facts — and the
experts disagree about the ultimate impact of the Brexit — it will be difficult
at this moment to forecast what will occur,” Loucks said.

David Scowsill, president and CEO of the World Travel and
Tourism Council, said that challenges likely lie ahead.

“We are entering a period of market uncertainty which will
undoubtedly put pressure on travel and tourism businesses. However, we know
that our sector is resilient and we expect business and leisure travel to hold
up in the face of these challenges,” Scowsill said.

The WTTC emphasized that travel to, from and within the EU
and the U.K. should not be affected in the short term.

“The process set out by the Lisbon Treaty allows for a
two-year period of negotiation once the U.K. formally states its intention to
leave the EU, and this period could even be extended by agreement of all the
parties. During this period, the legislation around travel and tourism will
remain unchanged,” said the WTTC.

IATA also said there is “considerable uncertainty”
surrounding Britain’s EU exit, but the airline association said an economic
downturn in the U.K. is likely. IATA forecasted that the number of air
passengers from the U.K. could fall 3% to 5% by 2020.

LeCompte speculated that the EU is in peril.

“The European Union is a house of cards that, just like the
Soviet Union, is going to collapse a lot faster than people think,” she
predicted.

In the long run, LeCompte said a European Union collapse
would likely have a “stabilizing effect” on tourism in Europe: countries would
have more control over immigration and union disputes, so travelers would face
fewer issues like labor strikes, she said.

In the meantime, U.S. travelers to the U.K. won’t experience
any big changes.

“Brexit is like a divorce, and just because this morning
your husband announced, ‘I’m moving out to another apartment. I’m filing for
divorce,’ doesn’t mean you’re divorced,” LeCompte said. “You’ve got a whole
legal process to go through.”

The “kids” in Britain’s divorce from the European Union
would be the labor force, LeCompte said, and the Brexit could have a big effect
on staffing for travel and hospitality companies. Many workers in restaurants
and hotels are European but not British, which could make getting work permits
more complicated, she said.

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