Dollar denominated tourism and sterling

As  November  begins,  many,  if  not  most  Caribbean  tourism  ministers,  hoteliers  and  others  in  the   industry,  will  be  heading  to  World  Travel  Market  (WTM)  in  London.    This  is  the very  large  annual   international  trade  fair  at  which  traditionally,  buyers  and  sellers  meet  to  strike  deals  for  the  year   ahead.

The  2016  event  and  its  collateral  industry  discussions  will  be  of  particular  significance  as  the  event   comes  in  the  wake  of  the  UK  electorate’s  June  23  decision  to  leave  the European  Union  (EU),  and  – more  importantly  from  the  perspective  of  the  Caribbean  –  the  recent  and  likely  continuing  collapse   in  the  value  of  sterling.

By  way  of  background,  it  has  become  clear  in  the  last  few  weeks  that  the  UK  government  may  be   heading  for  what  has  become  known  as  a  “hard  Brexit”.  This  means  that  the  UK next  March  may   decide  to  withdraw  from  both  the  EU  and  its  customs  union,  ending  its  free  trade  relationship  with   Europe  while  introducing  controls  on  the  free  movement  of EU nationals  into  and  out  of  the  UK.

Recognising  the  likely  impact  on  UK  economic  growth  and  the  short  to  medium  term  implications  for   the  British  economy,  the  markets  have  responded  by  effectively  devaluing sterling  by  around  17  per   cent  since  the  vote.

The  consequence  has  been,  taking  the  average  UK  bank  rate  for  international  payments,  that  the   pound  has  slid  from  US$1.54  in  mid-­‐October  2015  to  an  average  now  on  the  same date  in  2016  of   US$1.18

This  is  clearly  not  good  news  as  far  as  Caribbean  tourism  is  concerned;  particularly  for  those  nations   that  not  only  have  a  high  dependence  on  UK  visitors  but  have  been  seeing after  a  period  of  slow  or   no  growth  up  to  2014,  significant  increases  in  UK  visitor  arrivals.

According  to  the  Caribbean  Tourism  Organisation  (CTO)  statistics,  the  countries  benefitting  the  most   from  the  1.2m  British  visitors  who  travelled  to  the  region  in  2015  were Barbados,  Jamaica,  the   Dominican  Republic,  Antigua,  Cuba,  St  Lucia,  Trinidad  (presumably  meaning  Tobago),  Grenada,  St   Vincent  and  the  Cayman  Islands  in  that  order.

What  CTO’s  figures  also  suggest  is  that  countries  like  Barbados,  St  Lucia  and  others  in  the  OECS   which  have  not  significantly  diversified  their  markets  or  airlift  and  still  have  a very high  overall   proportion  of  UK  visitors,  may  suffer  more  than  others.

Although  the  industry  suggests  that  forward  UK  bookings  remain  strong  across  this  coming  winter   season  –  when,  typically,  high-­‐end  British  visitors  who  are  less  likely  to  be affected  by  currency   fluctuations  travel  –  there  is  a  sense  that  from  the  spring  of  next  year  onwards,  middle  and  lower   end  UK  visitor  numbers  may  begin  to  decline  if,  as  is likely,  the  value  of  sterling  continues  to  remain   weak.

Although  at  present  anecdotal,  there  is  growing  parallel  evidence  in  the  UK  media  and  from  the  UK   travel  trade  that  there  has  been  a  surge  in  middle-­‐market  staycations  and  in weekend  breaks  in   English  cities  and  the  countryside.

Equally  unscientific,  but  another  probably  reliable  indication  of  a  likely  decline  in  UK  arrivals  is  the   reaction  of  the  price-­‐sensitive  Caribbean  diaspora  in  Britain.  At  a  recent conference  unrelated  to   tourism,  it  became  clear  to  me  that  not  only  was  the  collapse  in  sterling  causing  concern  about  how   frequently  this  important  group  of  visitors  travelled home,  but  if  they  did,  how  long  in  future  they   could  afford  to  stay,  and  what  may  happen  to  air  fares  as  the  input  costs  for  UK  aviation  increase.

Recent  commentaries  from  the  IMF  and  other  international  financial  institutions  suggest  that  in  the   short  to  medium  term  the  outlook  for  the  UK  economy  will  worsen  and  that sterling  may  remain   weak  for  some  years.

For  all  these  reasons,  this  year’s  WTM  will  be  a  litmus  test  of  sorts.

It  will  provide  a  first  medium  term  indication,  when  deals  are  being  struck  between  hoteliers  and  the   airlines  and  tour  operators  for  2017,  and  promotional  incentives  agreed  with governments  and   tourist  boards,  how  those  involved  in  UK  outbound  tourism  are  thinking  about  the  future  demand   for  dollar  related  markets  like  the  Caribbean.