Travel to London is already up as Americans take advantage of the weak British pound.
It has not been even two months since Britain voted to leave the European Union, and already the travel industry is seeing the effects of the decision. While it’s too soon to determine how travel to Britain will be affected in the long term, for the time being, with the exchange rate of the pound at a more than 30-year low compared with the dollar, the region seems to be a more appealing destination for travelers from the United States.
The United States has long been Britain’s most valuable visitor market and one that continues to grow. Visits from the United States to Britain grew 10 percent to 3.3 million people in 2015 compared with 2014, according to VisitBritain, the national tourism agency. These travelers spent 3.3 billion pounds and represent the first time a single visitor market has broken the 3 billion-pound spending mark, said VisitBritain’s executive vice president for the Americas, Paul Gauger.
Since the Brexit vote June 23, there are indications that Britain is increasing in popularity.
According to data from British Airways, for example, in the last week of June, flight searches on ba.com from the United States to Britain increased 138 percent compared with June 17 to 23, and in the two weeks following the Brexit vote, flight searches increased 97 percent compared with the two weeks before.
Expedia.com saw a jump in both searches and sales. A company spokeswoman, Sarah Gavin, said that the site had a 30 percent increase in flight search volume from the United States to Britain in the weeks following the Brexit referendum, compared with the month before. Also, before Brexit, Expedia’s package business, where travelers book their flights and hotels together, from the United States to Britain was growing at 32 percent a year, but in the weeks after the vote, that number grew to 45 percent.
VisitLondon.com, London’s official tourism site, had a 38 percent rise in the number of visitors to its site from the United States in the week after Brexit, said a spokesman, Phil Nettleton. Also, from June 25 to July 20, the site had a 25 percent increase in traffic, compared with the same period last year.
Hotels, too, are seeing an uptick. Paula Fitzherbert, the public relations director for the Maybourne Hotel Group, a group of three luxury properties in London, said that the hotels had gotten more last-minute bookings. “Also, we’ve had more bookings for suites, perhaps because our guests, many of them American, are able to get more value out of the dollar and feel like they can treat themselves,” she said.
This surge of interest from travelers in the United States is expected, said Nadia Popova, the travel project manager for Euromonitor International, a Chicago-based market research company. “Britain, historically, is an expensive vacation destination, and all of a sudden, with the weakened pound, it’s become more affordable, so of course people want to come,” she said.
Some hotels in Britain, especially in London, are trying to capitalize on this interest by luring guests with wallet-friendly packages. Jumeirah Group, a luxury hotel chain, has three hotels in London and introduced a “London for Less” promotion right after Brexit. The offer, exclusively for travelers from the United States, gives guests four nights’ accommodations for the price of three when they book between Aug. 4 and 31 for stays through the end of the year; room prices start at $335 a night.
And though Expedia.com doesn’t offer its own discounts, travelers who buy a flight and hotel package to Britain through the site will pay less than they did last year, Gavin said. “Though hotels may not want to openly admit it, they are definitely discounting more post Brexit, and packages tend to be one of the earliest indicators of this because they allow hotels to discount in a way that keeps the discounted price opaque,” she said.
Recently, a package trip on Expedia.com from the United States to London, including airfare and accommodations, represents a 40 percent savings over a flight and hotel booked separately, compared with 30 percent during the same period last year.
But while a trip to Britain from the United States may be cheaper than it has been in several decades, the opposite is true in Britain, where the weakened pound has made it more expensive for locals to travel internationally.
This is having its own impact on the travel industry.
Airbnb found that the number of bookings in Britain by British residents went up 122 percent in the several weeks since Brexit, compared with the same time the previous year, and indicating that more British are opting for a staycation.
And, post Brexit, Delta made the decision to reduce its U.S.-British flight capacity starting in January because of the decrease in demand of travelers coming to the United States from Britain. The airline currently operates 12 flights a day between the United States and Britain, but from January to March, it will suspend its flight from Kennedy International Airport to Edinburgh Airport, operating five times per week. Also, on the four-times-per-week route from Kennedy to Manchester, England, the airline plans to switch from a 225-seat Boeing 767-300 to a 164-seat Boeing 757-200 aircraft during select off-peak periods.
“The recent currency exchange shifts are affecting demand for travel from the U.K. to the United States, and we have seen a dip in future bookings,” said a Delta spokesman, Anthony Black.
Popova of Euromonitor said that Delta’s reaction isn’t surprising because the Brexit vote has created long-term uncertainty for U.S.-based airlines that operate in Britain. “The EU and the U.S. have an Open Skies Agreement that allows airlines in both countries to fly anywhere between both countries, but now the U.K. will have to negotiate its own agreement with the States, which could be a lengthy and messy process,” she said.