What is tourism’s role after Brexit?

What is tourism’s role after Brexit?

I had planned to write about something else today. I had planned to write about Jordan, a country I have recently visited, a country with one of the richest cultures on earth. A country whose tourism is suffering hugely because of how people wrongly associate it with the tragedies afflicting its neighbours – the likes of Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia. However much this peaceful Islamic country tries to tell the stories of its culture, it can’t get past a story of fear.

But I can’t. That will have to wait a week or two. Because there’s another story of fear that I can’t get past. I have to write something about Brexit. And yet the news is too new and events moving too fast for me to make any real sense of it.

Indeed, to write about tourism in this context can feel trite. To talk of holidays and hotels seems so far removed from what really matters. Then again I know that at 1am on Friday morning, when I realised it was going the way I didn’t want it to, my first act was to panic buy Euros, so my holiday to France this July would be OK.

Since then, I have read many articles about tourism and Brexit. Some say that now is a great time to go to London, because prices will be so cheap. Others worry about the impact on the capital city as a transport hub should visa controls return. Or claim the third runway at Heathrow is ‘dead in the water’.

A few talk of the potential human cost. Of the 70% of jobs in London hotels that are staffed by immigrants from the EU. Or the impact on the likes of Spain, where British tourists make up around 25% of the total number of visitors to the country each year.

All of these narratives will ebb and flow in the months and years to come. However, what really worries me is the impact on how we perceive and treat those foreigners whom we encounter, at home and abroad.

In the days since the referendum there have been stories about a rise in racial abuse of immigrants in the UK. Those dishing out the abuse on the street or in the queue at the newsagent don’t pause to differentiate between second generation resident, recently arrived refugee or holidaying foreigner. If someone looks or sounds ‘different’, they risk becoming a target. Whether England is a country you call home, or one you send your clients to, this should be the greatest cause for concern.

As George Orwell wrote back in 1941, in his essay England your England, “The insularity of the English, their refusal to take foreigners seriously, is a folly that has to be paid for very heavily from time to time. But it plays its part in the English mystique, and the intellectuals who have tried to break it down have generally done more harm than good. At bottom it is the same quality in the English character that repels the tourist and keeps out the invader.”

Our industry relies on openness to, interest in and respect for foreigners. There is much we can do – look for example at those travel companies working to support migrants and refugees that I have written about on this blog before – to promote these values. If responsible tourism ever had a time to be responsible – to live up to its mantra of making better places for people to live, better places for people to visit – it is now. The alternative is too grim to imagine.

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Jeremy Smith is the editor of sustainable tourism news site Travindy.com. His new book, Transforming Travel - realising the potential of sustainable tourism - is published this December by CABI. As well as writing a fortnightly blog for WTM's responsible tourism website, he works with responsible and sustainable travel businesses, developing their communications, brands, marketing and digital & social media strategy. He is co-author of Rough Guides' only guidebook dedicated to responsible tourism, Clean Breaks - 500 New Ways to See the World. Before that he was editor of The Ecologist, the world's longest-running environmental magazine. His own website is www.jmcsmith.co.uk

4 comments

  1. Anula Galewska says:

    Very sad but very good article Jeremy. So what do you suggest tourism industry should do? How it can react to help change the direction to avoid mistrust, fear and anger becoming a standard? Is campaigning a solution, or are there are other tools tourism can use to overcome this social and political impasse Europe is facing now?

  2. Grace says:

    Good article Jeremy. I work in the Spanish tourist industry and obviously all these articles are very interesting for us as we value very much our UK tourists and are wondering how this will affect us all. As a brit living in Spain I have to say I did exactly the same as you and ran out and bought sterling for when I go home for a visit! I think that the main surprise for me in all this has not been about the drop in the pound rate but the way that some migrants are now being treated in the UK. It is saddening and something that really must be addressed now.

  3. Margblenk says:

    I think it is time that the ‘remain’ campaigners accepted the status quo. A majority of voters – a small majority but still a majority – voted to leave the Economic Union NOT EUROPE. It is time to accept this fact and stop preaching gloom and doom. Be positive and get on with the job. You cannot blame Brexit for everything that ever happens – stop talking the country down.

  4. Wikihenry says:

    Why not urge the British travel industry to advertise the importance of migrants in the current economy?
    Most people would have no idea that 70% of London hotels use immigrant labor.

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