The U.K. voted to exit the European Union on June 23, 2016. // © 2016 iStock
Feature image (above): The value of the British pound vs. the U.S. dollar plunged, a huge plus for travelers headed to the U.K. // © 2016 iStock
Britain’s startling decision last month to withdraw from the European Union unleashed a flood of disbelief and confusion across the globe. The world pondered both political and social effects of the “Leave” campaign’s historic winning vote. But whatever your beliefs may be on whether this was the correct way for the U.K. to go — and what this will mean for society overall — research is showing that as far as tourism is concerned, Brexit means that now is the time to travel to Britain.
Sally Balcombe, CEO of VisitBritain, released a video message on YouTube to members of the trade following the decision.
“The first and most important thing to say is that we are very much open for business,” she said. “Nothing has changed. We are still members of the EU, and all of the travel arrangements and everything else remain the same. The second thing is that it is a great value time to come. It is a great time to sell Britain.”
Steve Loucks, chief communications officer for Travel Leaders Group, agrees that now is a great time for visitors to travel to the U.K.
“While it’s still too early to know some of the practicalities — for example, we don’t know yet when the U.K. will formally leave the EU — in the short-term, we do know that the value of the British pound vs. the U.S. dollar has plummeted to more than a 30-plus year low,” he said. “As of this moment, $1 equals 1.29 pounds; that’s a huge boon for travelers headed to the U.K., where just two weeks ago, it was $1 to every 1.5 pounds.”
Travel Leaders has been polling its agents on whether they have seen an increased demand for travel to the U.K. as a result of the current exchange rates. At this point, Loucks reports that 45 percent of Travel Leaders agents are seeing an increase in interest and/or bookings as a direct result.
“We believe that if the value of the pound stays the same or decreases further, it will continue stimulating further demand, especially since the U.K. is perennially among the top international destinations our agents book for their clients,” he said.
In a statement, George Hobica, president of Airfarewatchdog, said the immediate effect will be that American visitors will pay less for travel to and within Europe and Britain.
“If the British pound continues to stay low or fall even more, your trip to England will be cheaper,” he said. “The pound recently traded at levels not seen since 1985, making hotels, meals, shopping and other purchases at least 10 percent cheaper than recently. It’s a good time to buy pounds for an upcoming trip.”
According to research conducted by Hotels.com, U.K. hotel searches have risen by more than 50 percent. The Hotels.com Hotel Price Index for 2015 showed that U.S. travelers paid, on average, $257 per night for a hotel in London. But following the Brexit vote, certain hotel deals available to American travelers are almost half that price. If you have already booked a hotel or other land arrangements, it can’t hurt to see if you can rebook at a better price now that exchange rates have changed so dramatically.
Travelers can also score deals on airfare. In fact, the day after the Brexit vote, airfares to London on Virgin Atlantic and other airlines for fall travel fell to around $500 roundtrip.
“With their currencies weaker, fewer British and Europeans will visit the U.S.,” Hobica said. “That will result in lower airfares for U.S. visitors. Europeans generally pay less to fly to the U.S. than we pay to fly to Europe. One reason that airfares from the U.S. to Europe have gone down so much this year is because they are not coming over here. Now, fewer Europeans and Brits will visit the U.S. than ever. So expect airfares from the U.S. to Europe and Britain to go even lower.”
The longer-term effects are harder to play out, mostly because it is still unclear whether Great Britain will actually end up leaving the EU. That still remains to be seen. However, if it does leave, different border controls might be put into place, according to Hobica.
“If Scotland, which voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, becomes a separate country, you will need to go through border controls and show a passport between London and Edinburgh,” Hobica said. “Because Ireland will remain a part of Europe, but Northern Ireland won’t, travel between, say, Dublin and Belfast will also require going through passport control.”
The decision to leave also calls into question Great Britain’s overall outlook on foreigners, setting off concern as to how visitors will be received. But VisitBritain’s Balcombe reassures that Britain continues to remain open and welcoming to all people.
“We are, always have been and always will be a very welcoming country,” she relayed in her video message. “We want you to come. Nothing of that changes. Thirty-six million people came to visit us last year, and we’re on track to beat that this year. There are so many good reasons to come to Britain this year.”