Tourism is worth £66bn a year to the British economy, and its importance to our country will only continue to grow.
This week, London’s Excel hosted the World Travel Market. It is the UK’s most significant annual tourism event, where deals worth almost £3bn are estimated to have been signed. Some 50,000 visitors are believed to have attended, and almost 5,000 companies from across the world have exhibited.
It has been a great opportunity to show buyers that our destinations, products, and services are worth investing in, and that the UK is, and will continue to be, fully open for business.
Tourism shows the world the best of our nation. We have so much to offer international visitors – beautiful landscapes, world-class culture, and unique heritage sites. We are a global country, and have always been a must-visit destination.
The UK’s withdrawal from the European Union is not going to change that. In fact, VisitBritain expects a record 40.9m international visits to our shores this year alone.
We are absolutely committed to maintaining a positive relationship with EU member states and the wider world. After all, Europe benefits from access to the UK tourism market too.
In 2017, EU member states accounted for 75 per cent of the 72m visits abroad by UK residents, and 65 per cent of the UK’s 39m inbound visits were from EU residents.
These statistics demonstrate why we have been very clear that, after March 2019, we want a continuation of UK-EU flights at attractive prices and of visa-free travel for UK and EU-based tourists.
Furthermore, there is always work that the industry can do to remain competitive and prosper, particularly following Brexit. The government is committed to leading by example.
That’s why I reinforced this message earlier this week at the World Travel Market, as I joined a ministerial summit, covering 52 countries, to focus on investments in tourism technology.
I also hosted a roundtable event at 10 Downing Street with international chief executives from the World Travel and Tourism Council who invest heavily in UK tourism. This focused on all that is attractive about the UK market, and how we can continue to stimulate growth and productivity.
And to further support tourism from the wider world, the chancellor announced in the Budget last week that millions more travellers from Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and the United States will be able to use ePassport gates as they arrive at 14 airports in the UK from next summer.
This is part of our ambitious work to improve the passenger experience at busy airports such as Heathrow, while maintaining border security.
Travel is good for our understanding of each other. It is good for our economies, and it is something that the UK will absolutely continue to support.
We will keep banging the drum for this sector, and support both our inbound and outbound tourism markets. They are of huge importance to our economy, and to Britain’s place in the world.