Brexit: The Travel Agent Community Reacts
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The travel agent community registered a range of reactions to Britons’ historic vote to leave the European Union. While most thought it’s too early to tell what effect the so-called Brexit will ultimately have on travel and tourism—as well as business—they said that, at the least, the development is causing extreme uncertainty plus financial market disruption in both Europe and the U.S.
The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) also weighed in with its perspective for the industry as a whole.
“We are entering a period of market uncertainty which will undoubtedly put pressure on travel and tourism businesses, however we know that our sector is resilient and we expect business and leisure travel to hold up in the face of these challenges,” said David Scowsill, president and CEO of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC).
And in a WTTC statement, the organization said, “The World Travel & Tourism Council emphasizes that travel to, from and within the E.U. and U.K. will not be affected in the short term.”
The WTTC also noted that, “The process set out by the Lisbon Treaty allows for a two-year period of negotiation once the U.K. formally states its intention to leave the E.U., and this period could even be extended by agreement of all the parties. During this period the legislation around travel and tourism will remain unchanged.”
At Virtuoso, Chairman and CEO Matthew Upchurch, stressed the importance of the travel industry around the globe. “The self-determination and sovereignty of nations is undeniable, however, it is our belief that travel and tourism, and the freedom to travel, are key for the world’s economy and understanding between peoples,” he said.
READ MORE: Brexit and the Travel and Tourism Industry
Agents themselves echoed the theme of uncertainty and disruption and at least one has already heard from clients.
“Brexit has caused an immediate influx of requests from clients about values in the U.K. and Europe,” reported Keith Waldon, founder and director of the Departure Lounge in Austin, Tex. “Some savvy travelers want to take advantage of the deflated British pound and Euro.
“For travelers who have found five-star rates a bit too rich in recent years, the stronger U.S. dollar makes the best hotels and restaurants an immediate better value for Americans,” said Waldon.
Eric Goldring of Colts Neck, N.J.-based Goldring Travel, however, said, “I am not sure how great this effect will be on the luxury market as same can be impacted differently, with hard assets and significant savings/investments still being more than sufficient to support their travel desires.”
But it’s too early to tell what the effects will be either short- or long-term “as unintended consequences cannot be determined until the shock and emotion subside,” Goldring added.
“While there is, for the moment, a significant shift in the GBP vs. USD exchange rate—making immediate travel in the U.K. less expensive for U.S. travelers—that same exchange rate difference will shortly be corrected by changes in hotel, cruise, tour, restaurant, etc. rates. That is because items purchased outside the U.K. used for those services will cost more in GBP.
“I do anticipate a bit of a chilling effect on travel by U.K. residents due to the uncertainty of their financial position more so than the exchange rate,” Goldring said. “As they are significant travelers to most European countries, there will probably be a bit of a lag in an already somewhat soft travel market.”
READ MORE: Tour Operators Take a Reckoning on Brexit
While other agents expressed some concern, there are also those who think the Brexit vote will not have much of an effect in the long run.
“While I’m extremely concerned about the U.S. and global economy, I’m hoping my clients see it as a wonderful opportunity to visit Britain at record low pricing,” said Judy Nidetz, of Travel Experts in Northbrook, Ill. “
“I have actually had a very busy summer of selling travel for bookings to Europe,” Nidetz said. “This is due to the very strong U.S. dollar against the Euro and general well-being in our economy up until today. I had one or two wary customers thinking about canceling when the Paris attacks occurred but in the end most decided to continue on with their plans and have had trips of a lifetime at great values."
But Adamarie King, of Chicago -based Connoisseur’s Travel, said, “I don’t think the Brexit vote means much in the long run to the travel industry and travelers.”
“We will still travel to Britain, and while the pound did drop a bit, it is already moving back up,” King added. “For now, it is certainly a financial advantage for the dollar-based traveler. I imagine the division with Scotland will be exacerbated, but again I don’t think that will really affect the traveler.
ASTA will keep an eye on “this evolving story,” according to Mark Meader, vice president of industry affairs. “Like all in the industry, ASTA is monitoring the evolving story out of the U.K. in order to best understand the implications to our overall industry, and more specifically both short- and long-term implications to our U.S. travel agency members.”
“ASTA continues to monitor the situation and its potential ripple effect and will continue to advocate for and keep our members informed where warranted.”
Regardless of their take on the effects of Brexit, agents pointed to the uncertain nature of what many politicians and leaders are called a shocking development.
“What a crazy ride this is going to be!” said Trish Gastineau of Simply Europe Travel in Montgomery, Ala. “Clients traveling to the U.K. right now are going to enjoy the drastic drop in the GBP, so their dollar is going to stretch so much further.
“On the other hand, I think we may be in for a bumpy few months as the E.U. loses some of the stability that the U.K. provided. We are already seeing that pan out in the currency devaluation as well as the drop in the European markets.
“I think the best thing for us to do is reassure our clients that we are here to help them and keep them in the loop,” said Gastineau. “And most importantly, stay in touch with our trusted travel partners, because they will be able to give us accurate updates on how things are going in their markets.”
Appearing on CBSNews before the Brexit vote was taken, TravelPulse Founder Mark Murphy laid out some of the issues that could face travelers, both to Europe and to the UK;
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