The British tourism model´s days are numbered
The UK needs to focus on quality tourism, become energy efficient and leave behind an obsolete tourism model
The future is uncertain and no one knows how the present economic climate will evolve in the coming months. In the West, we have lived a kind of dream, immersed in luxury. Until recently, it was common to see luxury hotels promoting themselves with stunning imagery on social media accounts, showing their followers the seemingly impossible opulence of exclusive locations.
As a travel writer, my main mission has been to tell my readers what it is like to stay in these temples of luxury, showing how the other half live. Climate change and sustainability remained exotic terms for us in the industry for some time.
Shortly before the pandemic, I launched the book España Exclusiva, a tour of charming boutique hotels. The book collects my experiences of some 20 magnificent hotels that stood out for their capacity for innovation, the care with which they treated the traveller and, especially, for their commitment to personalizing all aspects of a guest’s stay. In these places, exquisite attention is given to excellent lodging, gastronomy, architecture, decoration, wellbeing treatments, and the like.
In this tour of unique hotels, I concentrated on the things that marked out experiences of the highest quality, such as location, customer service, and the many small gestures and examples of attention to detail in which great hotels excel, but which cannot be assessed simply with a star rating.
In my opinion, a luxury destination is not only made by an expensive hotel or a Michelin star restaurant. There must be a complex and cohesive tourist offer, which encompasses all the necessary services for an authentic luxury experience from the moment the traveller leaves his or her home until they return.
Tourism has been important for the UK. As well as creating jobs, tourism helps develop bonds between societies. Pre-Covid, tourism was one of the UK´s most valuable sectors, and it was growing faster than many others. Generating a total annual revenue of £127 billion, the UK´s tourism industry represented 9 per cent of GDP and supported 10 per cent of all jobs.
We can not forget that tourism is a diverse sector with multiple needs; it requires targeted support at all levels to remain competitive in the face of increased competition from destinations outside the UK.
Boosting investment, supporting SMEs, exploiting the opportunities of the digital and collaborative economies, and equipping tourism professionals with the right skills are only some of the areas that the UK Government should be focusing on. Understanding the potential of UK tourism, along with its challenges and trends, is indispensable in shaping appropriate and forward-looking policies in a continuously changing environment.
But if we take a closer look at UK tourism as is currently is, we see that neither government nor business has succeeded in building a cohesive tourism model, focusing more on macro figures than on promoting a quality tourism offer.
Changes in the sector
The pandemic altered the rules of the game and caused the tourism world to undergo a profound change. Moreover, the large hotel chains have had to rethink their entire business strategy. I personally believe that whenever there is a crisis, the need to innovate is discussed again, as people’s visions of the world and their orders of priority are put into question. On the one hand, sustainability has become the new cornerstone for tourism. Those operators that are not sustainable will tend to see a reduction in market share in coming years. On the other hand, the tourism sector has become highly vulnerable to climate change and its catastrophic effects worldwide.
As the world faces a climate emergency, the UK´s tourism industry must lead adaptation, sustainability and the transition to net zero growth. Meanwhile, the sector must overcome some the greatest challenges in its history.
According to the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that the United Nations has sent to all governments around the world, scientists are observing changes in the Earth´s climate in every region and across the world’s whole ecosystem. Many of these changes are unprecedented, or not seen for millennia, and some of them are unavoidable.
The report provides new estimates of the chances that average global temperatures will exceed pre-industrial levels by more than 1.5 degrees in coming decades, and predicts that the European continent will be one of the most affected by climate change and the global warming . The rise in temperatures will cause droughts, fires, a rise in sea levels and increasingly frequent heatwaves in the Mediterranean region.
In the UK, people and nature are already vulnerable to a range of adverse climate events and these will only become more common as our climate continues to change.
These circumstances have made the UK and other European governments start betting on qualitative tourism that leaves more money in the economy and has a lower impact in terms of CO2 emissions.
In this way, luxury tourism, combined with government policies that are committed to energy efficiency and reduced CO2 emissions, represents an opportunity that could bring innumerable benefits to the tourism sector and the economy.
This, combined with greater investment in innovation, technology and diversification, can ensure that the UK will depend less and less on an obsolete tourism model. Not only that: it can be of great help in the face of the daunting problems that we will undoubtedly have to confront in coming years.
Gustavo Egusquiza is author of the book España Exclusiva, and was named by Forbes Magazine as one of the most influential experts in the luxury tourism industry.