As we approach the winter solstice and the start of the days lengthening once again, it seems right that, Janus-like, we look both forward and backwards.
And what a year it has been!
In a terribly British fashion I think we should start by looking at the weather. With a very balmy start to the year, the Beast from the East rushed in and wreaked its havoc, followed by a long hot summer with record temperatures. If you were lucky enough to holiday in the UK you will have been spoilt – I was fortunate enough to have a week’s stay on Lindisfarne in North-East England and was moved by its beauty, its mysticism and Northumbrian spirit.
In sport, England surprised everyone by not getting knocked out in the first round of the FIFA World Cup; and wearing waistcoats became (albeit thankfully for only a short time) fashionable; and Lewis Hamilton won the Formula 1 Championship – again. A Brit won the best actor at the Oscars, and the Royal Wedding had the eyes of the world looking on at the UK in all its pomp, and a modern young couple clearly in love.
Tourism was as ever a mixed picture. Following a record 2017, this year was always going to be a challenge. Latest official figures suggest that in the 12 months to the end of June 2018, the UK received 3% less leisure visitors than a year before, with total visitation at 37.9m, and spending remaining constant at £23.9bn. Worryingly, visitors from the EU (who make up over 65% of all our visitors) were down by 5% in the same period. We know from our November Business Barometer that confidence looking forward, among our membership, is as low as it has been since we reintroduced the Barometer 4 years ago, so there is much work to do together.
On a personal level, re-joining the travel industry and becoming CEO of your Association has been the real highlight of 2018 for me. And the Association has had a very strong year. Our membership team have worked hard to not just increase the number of members we have but also the variety and breadth of membership so that our Association is representing the very latest tourism product and industry trends.
I hope that as many of you as possible have been able to attend at least one of our events throughout the year and we were particularly pleased with our new stand at the Arabian Travel Market and also our stand at World Travel Market which seems to get bigger and better every year! Our policy and communications team have also been busy this year working hard to represent your interests to Parliamentarians during the Brexit negotiations (more of which later) and launching our new website which has made life a lot easier so that members have improved access to information and better control over your Directory profiles, and even the less technical members of our team can upload content quickly and easily!
And looking forward to 2019, for sports fans, England and Wales will host the ICC Cricket World Cup, welcoming teams and fans from countries as diverse as Afghanistan and Bangladesh, shortly followed by the Ashes – I hope you had more success in getting tickets than I had! And the home nations and Ireland will be in Japan for the Rugby World Cup – and all with a good chance. And yes – that nation-branding gift that keeps on giving – a royal baby is due in April – I am however guessing that Joss won’t be his or her name!
And, of course, I could hardly not mention the 500-pound gorilla in the room – Brexit. Businesses need and deserve clarity – and currently it’s just not there. The risks of a disorderly Brexit are manifest – the potential threat to our open skies and visa free travel, and the menace of a harder immigration policy will all have a massive negative impact, but you should rest assured that UKinbound will continue to lobby and make the views of the tourism industry (worth 10% of national GVA) heard loud and clear. Government has expressed its commitment to the industry, and the proposed Tourism Sector Deal as part of the Industrial Strategy will be very welcome.
We have our Annual Convention in the wonderful city of Glasgow in February which will be a highlight (you can still get your tickets here) we will be expanding our programme of visits and networking events across the UK, and want to do more to bring tangible benefit for new, potential and existing members both in and outside London. Our advocacy work will inform and influence key government policies in Whitehall and across the devolved governments. Our business focus will be on developing our programme of activity to deliver commercial outcomes for you, our members.
I would very much like to thank Deirdre Wells for her huge contribution as the previous CEO, and also to express special gratitude to our Chairman, Mark McVay, whose steady hand on the tiller in the interregnum has kept us sailing in the right direction, as well as providing me with counsel and guidance as I start my new role. We have a new Board and Chairman starting in February, who will bring new experience, passion and skills – thanks also are due to the outgoing Board. I would also like to thank each and every one of our valued members for your support this year and next. And of course, thanks to my new, but very obviously, wonderful team – we could simply never achieve all we do without the dedication and hard work of my small band of brothers and sisters: Antony, Matt, Antonia, Cindy, Temi, Quang, Sara and Karen! You are all stars!
I’ll finish on a positive and, I hope, a seasonally appropriate note – when I worked in Madrid for VisitBritain nearly 15 years ago, looking behind a filing cabinet in the office, I came across an old crest that the British Tourist Authority had used in the 1970’s – rather grand (if a little cracked and broken) its motto was “Peace Through Travel” – our industry is a force for good – creating jobs in the thousands and economic growth across the UK. Inbound travel also possesses the power to bring better understanding and tolerance across our cultures – and I wish you all a very merry Christmas and a successful and prosperous 2019.
– Joss Croft, CEO UKinbound