<p>Waiting game: new testing rules have led to a slump in bookings to UK airports such as Gatwick</p>

Waiting game: new testing rules have led to a slump in bookings to UK airports such as Gatwick

‘2022 will be brilliant for British tourism’: I hope that proves right against all odds

The Man Who Pays His Way: ‘The reintroduction of testing and the added complexity and cost for travellers will hit consumer confidence’ – VisitBritain

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Saturday 11 December 2021 21:30
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Simon Calder, also known as The Man Who Pays His Way, has been writing about travel for The Independent since 1994. In his weekly opinion column, he explores a key travel issue – and what it means for you.

At last, some optimism about travel: “2022 will be a brilliant year for the UK and British tourism.”

So predicts Paul Gauger, senior vice president for The Americas at VisitBritain. It is his job to boost the brand, and on Friday he tweeted his view while praising the culture secretary, Nadine Dorries, who was visiting New York.

“All of our American travel industry guests & media/content creators were inspired by your speech at the @VisitBritain reception,” he wrote.

That very day, though, his organisation revealed new data showing the devastation caused to UK inbound tourism by government travel restrictions.

In the week in which the prime minister announced mandatory PCR tests and self-isolation for all arrivals to the UK, new inward flight bookings slumped to just 37 per cent of the corresponding week in 2019.

Last weekend, the government brought back pre-departure tests for fully vaccinated travellers to the UK.

“The reintroduction of testing and the added complexity and cost for travellers will hit consumer confidence in the run-up to the critical festive season,” said the VisitBritain commentary accompanying the data.

The organisation has already downgraded its existing forecast for 2022 – for a slump of 41 per cent in visitor numbers and 33 per cent in spend, compared with 2019 – because of the spread of the omicron variant of coronavirus.

In short: 2022 will be a shocking year for the UK and British tourism; we just don’t know yet how bad it will be.

I am not sure that the self-inflicted harm caused by the government’s decision to ban European Union ID card holders from the UK has been properly factored in. Not content with operating Europe’s most complex travel restrictions for fully vaccinated visitors, ministers have chosen to put up a big “Keep Out” sign aimed at our 300 million or so nearest neighbours.

Every EU country except Ireland and Denmark issues ID cards, which are far more secure than they once were, and entitle holders to visit dozens of countries. But not the UK anymore. Some travellers will go to the trouble of getting a passport, but most will simply head for more accessible destinations.

In the dark days of mid-December, let me predict that only half as many overseas visitors will come to the UK in 2022 compared with 2019 – when 41 million visitors arrived and spent £28.5bn.

The economic damage from a 50 per cent collapse in inbound tourism to the UK is bad enough: over £14bn forsaken in national income. and perhaps half a million jobs lost.

Airlines, ferry firms and train operators will all suffer. They depend on bringing people to the UK as well as taking us away. Subtract 20 million visitors, and 40 million one-way journeys will be lost. Capacity will fall in response, choice will diminish and fares will rise to make up for the missing persons.

The harm goes deeper, and directly affects many aspects of our lives. The business models of hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions within the UK depend partly on foreign visitors; some, like five-star London hotels, Scottish islands and Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford, are highly reliant on tourists from overseas. When those visitors stay away, viability is jeopardised – with UK residents at risk of losing amenities.

Foreign travellers also contribute generously to public transport, buying tickets for (mostly) off-peak journeys on the London Underground and on railway lines in remote areas, such as the “Harry Potter viaduct” in the wild west Highlands of Scotland.

Most depressing of all: by choosing to raise barriers to entry, the nationalist government in England is willingly surrendering the benefits of international understanding and degenerating from a welcoming, friendly nation into hostile territory.

Let us hope my despondency proves hopelessly misplaced and Paul Gauger’s optimism is vindicated.

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