More than one in ten private businesses in the travel and leisure sector are so-called ‘zombie firms’ – companies under sustained financial strain that are threatening to cause a significant drag-effect on the UK economy.

Sixty per cent of around 21,000 private companies analysed by KPMG displayed one or more of the symptoms associated with ‘zombies’, while just 8% showed three or more.

The worst affected industries were travel and leisure (12%), real estate (11%), professional services (10%) and financial services (10%).

KPMG global head of leisure and tourism, Will Hawkley, said: “The news that 12% of privately owned UK leisure and tourism companies are classed as ‘zombies’ is concerning, but not entirely surprising.

“With leisure proprietors experiencing cost hikes across all major areas such as wages and business rates as well as constrained consumer spending, it is clear that the industry is suffering from factors outside of its control.

“However, with inflation this month showing that the cost of living is rising at a slower rate than real wages, operators may be comforted by the prospect that customers could soon have more disposable income at their disposal to spend on leisure activities.

“The key to maximising this spend is to understand customer’s needs and provide an ever greater level of customer experience.”

KPMG UK chief economist Yael Selfin said: “The threat that zombie companies pose to the wider economy is very real, regardless of what the post-Brexit environment looks like.

“Many unproductive businesses have been able to stumble on in recent times, generating just enough profits to continue trading but without the innovation, dynamism or investment necessary to sustain bottom-line growth.

“This has, and will continue to, create a drag on UK productivity, which continues to lag our peers in the G7 and much of Europe.”