UK inbound travel from the EU is far more robust post-Brexit than the other way around.

UK/EUROPE.UK travellers have put off travel plans to European Union markets in the likely post-Brexit period, possibly because they are worried about issues over flight services and border control after 29 March (when the UK is currently set to exit the bloc). That’s according to the latest findings from seat analyst ForwardKeys.

Based on advanced seat bookings, outbound forward travel to the EU from the UK from April to September 2019 shows a 4.5% decline versus the same period in 2018. This is a substantial decrease considering that, this year, the six-month period to September includes the Easter holidays (last year the lead-up to Easter was in March).

The downturn is also an anomaly given that travel over the same period is up everywhere else: departures from the UK to world destinations are up by 2.4%, and to nearer non-EU destinations, the rise is a very strong 12.9%.

A ForwardKeys spokesperson told The Moodie Davitt Report: “The eyebrow-raising thing about this data is the contrast in forward bookings for the summer season between EU versus non-EU destinations. Non-EU bookings are running well ahead, whereas EU bookings are currently 4.5% behind where they were at the same point last year.”

This suggests that holiday trips to Spain, for example – where British travellers are a core shopping nationality (albeit non- duty free) at Spanish airport stores run by Dufry – are potentially being substituted by North African destinations or Turkey.

The caution from UK travellers comes despite the EU having announced a temporary air services proposal in December for flights between the UK to the EU which maintains basic air connectivity even in the case of a no-deal Brexit.

Inbound bonanza

While travel retailers in the EU may have to brace for fewer UK travellers, British operators look set to benefit from strong interest in the UK as a destination, post-Brexit. For the April to September period, seat bookings from EU nationals are 11.8% ahead, while global international demand is up 13.0%, and from non-EU countries it is even higher at 13.5%. With the Pound Sterling projected to fall further, especially in the event of a hard Brexit, that could provide a sharp boost for UK-based retailers.

UK tourism body VisitBritain has predicted 483,000 visits from China in 2019, up 43% on 2017. Any UK gains in 2019 will help to offset a downward trend in inbound travel seen in 2018. Total inbound visitors fell by 5% to 37.6 million in the rolling 12 months to September (Source: Office for National Statistics).