Brexit has made marketing Britain overseas “difficult” despite nothing changing in UK relations with the EU this year.
Overseas tourism promotion body VisitBritain insisted yesterday: “There is a real dialogue between industry and government as we try to get businesses through this period.
But VisitBritain director of strategy and communications Patricia Yates told the UKinbound convention in Bristol: “We’ve seen real confusion about what will change when we come out of the EU.”
She said: “We want to reassure people they will be welcome when they come.
“[But] we can only give reassurance when we’re sure what the government is going to do. The messaging has been difficult.”
Yates told inbound tourism leaders: “We issued a message of reassurance last week and had the press team on TV [across Europe] saying ‘Things won’t change in 2020’.”
She declined to talk about preparations for 2021, arguing: “Now we can promote the message that nothing will change this year.”
Yates insisted: “The government understands we need clarity as soon as possible so we can give certainty in these [source] markets.
“We’re working with the Home Office very closely, but policy is decided at government level. We try to promote it as clearly as possible, [but] we don’t decide policy.
She added: “We’re focused on markets that appear more worried such as Germany where there is concern about the welcome [people will receive in the UK].”
Separately, VisitEngland board member Fiona Pollard told the convention: “Bookings from Germany are markedly down.”
Yates conceded: “We expect to see highs and lows.”
But she argued: “There is still an appetite to travel to Britain. There is going be a lot of to and fro this year [and] our role is to keep confidence up.”
The VisitBritain chief downplayed the impact of a rise in the value of the pound since the general election in December which settled the immediate issue of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.
She said: “Britain is not seen as a cheap destination however low the pound is. The pound is not really a motivation for first-time visitors. People have to want to come.”
Yates suggested the size of Britain’s outbound market to Europe and its importance to EU destinations would bolster the case for tourism.
She said: “We’ll continue to send visitors overseas and the EU needs our visitors as much as we need theirs.”