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Turmoil in the travel sector – what does it mean for UK trains?


Events seem to be moving at such a pace now that identifying the impact of a single one (Brexit or anything else) will be difficult if not impossible. The delays at Dover this weekend may or may not be Brexit related but they are another influencer on holiday behaviour and future planning. The continued apparently random terrorism may well influence behaviour but where previously it was potentially pushing people away from big cities/big gatherings, the latest attack might adjust that trend.

The impact of the exchange rate movements along with the increase in terrorist activity is having a massive effect on the international travel sector. We are seeing trends in bookings across various traditional destinations changing dramatically. Spain and Portugal have seen double-digit increase in bookings mirroring the bookings drops seen in Turkey and Egypt. Tunisia remains effectively closed as a package holiday destination.

For domestic travel and tourism though there is a counter-opportunity. As more people rethink their holiday plans, choosing more carefully who to travel with and where to go, we are also seeing an increase in people planning to stay in the UK with 40% of domestic travellers saying they will now avoid certain destinations. So at least a short term uplift in domestic holidays and leisure trips is anticipated.

Inbound tourism can also increase. With the weak pound the UK has become a cheaper destination for tourists coming to us and when they are here they will likely spend more as their dollar/Yen/Yuan will go further.

All I think we can say for sure is that current events are impacting society and will, without doubt impact the way in which people plan and book their travel. The extent to which it has a lasting impact on actual booking figures overall and by destination remains to be seen. However, I do still think that the opportunity for the domestic market is currently strong and all the major events happening will certainly not reduce the appeal of staying in UK for holidays and short breaks.

This means an opportunity exists for the UK rail network. An increase in leisure travellers is an opportunity to increase passenger numbers in particular for off-peak services. This extends far beyond the obvious uplift from the main points of entry into major cities, but also routes to tourist destinations and resorts.

For TOCs realising that potential opportunity will be key and there are a variety of ways to do that. Tactical advertising and promotion at points of entry, tourist organisations and destinations will inform inbound tourists. Domestic leisure travellers may be tempted to the train by messaging around convenience, speed and comfort. Shared promotions with destinations, tourist attractions and associated, relevant products may entice them to the train. Ticketing offers can motivate them still further.

For both internal travellers and inbound tourists it is important to also reassure, promoting trust and confidence in the safety and security of travelling with a respected train company.