Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Hamish McRae: Signs are the UK tourist industry has had a good summer holiday

So how has the summer been for the tourist industry?

We have no general statistics yet, but there are signs of a pick-up from the serious slump last year in both visits to the UK and visits overseas. In 2009, visits overseas fell from 59 million to 48.6 million, while visits here were down from 31.9 million to 29.9 million. The declines continued in the early part of this year.



These falls may now have been reversed. For example, Heathrow had its best month ever in July; while Eurostar saw its business market recover and ran extra tourist trains this month at weekends. April's ash cloud helped the service but it seems to be down to more than that.



Other evidence? Hotel occupancy rates in London have soared in the first half of the year, according to a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers, with the luxury end of the market recovering and room rates nudging up. There is still a squeeze on, with value-for-money propositions at many restaurants, and prices rising by the smallest amount for a decade. But then restaurants are more dependent on Britons than hotels, which, having more foreign visitors, have benefited from the weaker pound.



Outside London, Edinburgh has had a good year for visitors and what may well turn out to be a record year for the various festival events. And since the pattern of British residents deciding to holiday in the UK, evident in 2009, seems to have been repeated this year, the rest of Britain must have done OK.



One consequence of the stay-at-home mood of last year was a rise in the numbers of second homes, with people regarding them as a source of income as well as somewhere to go themselves. There are no numbers yet for what has happened to the second-home market this year but it would figure if this trend had continued. The tax change on holiday lets coming in next April may, however, choke off growth.



Beyond all this, much will turn on the exchange rate. If the pound continues to rise, next year will see a recovery in foreign visits and less of a bounce in visits to the UK.

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