A senior tourism analyst has described the latest UK economic growth figures as “shocking” and warned there is scant prospect of “business as usual” for the industry.

PricewaterhouseCoopers head of hospitality and leisure research Liz Hall told a Tourism Society debate in London on Tuesday: “The GDP figures are significant.”

Government statistics released yesterday suggest the economy shrank by 0.5% in the final quarter of 2010 – a significant fall, although the figures will be revised in a month, a process which may reveal a shallower decline.

The fall in GDP surprised economists who were predicting UK growth of 0.2%, at worst, and a majority foresaw GDP rising by up to 0.7%.

Hall said: “Maybe the cold weather [in December] played a part.” However, she agreed the pre-Christmas snow could not explain the whole of the decline.

She said: “We cannot say it is business as usual [for the industry]. Uncertainty and risk are the key words. Many things in the world economy are not normal at all.”

Hall added: “The UK public-sector cuts are just setting in. There is a squeeze on consumers. We will all have less money to spend. Holiday travel is discretionary spending , and we are probably going to find out how discretionary it is.”

She said forecasting consumer behaviour had become more difficult than usual. “Consumers are hard to read. They adopted coping mechanisms through the recession and it is difficult to know what behaviour will stick.”