In 2018, it is estimated that the UK will host 39.8 million overnight visitors, with tourism directly contributing £76.7bn to national GDP. The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) predicts these metrics will grow considerably over the next decade (Figure 1), driven principally by international inbound visitors and the leisure travel segment. With momentum building behind the ‘experience economy’, one can see how these predictions could become reality and the growth trajectory continue beyond the forecasted period to 2027.
Over the next twenty-plus years, the UK will see the outbound travel potential of the world’s emerging economies unleashed. The UK ranks fifth in the global Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index, and is therefore well positioned to capture mushrooming worldwide demand for overseas travel. According to the Index, cultural resources, business environment, tourist infrastructure and air infrastructure are the principal drivers behind the UK’s sustained and future success in the global travel market.
Figure 1: UK Tourism Demand Index – 1995 to 2028F, local currency, real prices (2017 = 100)
London, Edinburgh, Manchester and Birmingham, given their international appeal, airport capacity and long-haul connectivity, will be the obvious entry points for the expected surge of inbound travellers. Improved road and rail infrastructure, along with destination marketing and city branding, will be critical in facilitating tourist travel to the rest of the UK.
Burgeoning tourist numbers will inevitably fuel a requirement for accommodation. By 2040, the age-old fundamentals of a bed and a shower are likely to remain, but how will hotels otherwise look and feel? The last decade has witnessed a great evolution in hotel concepts, driven by rapidly evolving consumer trends. Industry disruptors, such as AirBnB, have warned hoteliers of the dangers in standing still. Hotel design has most recently adapted to the millennial urge for authenticity and interaction by slimming down the bedroom and beefing up the social space; using the lobby as an all-day destination for locals and guests, relaxing and working.
By 2040, the highest earners (and most valuable demographic to the tourism industry) will exhibit an even greater desire for authenticity and be turned cold by ‘cookie-cutter’ hotel brands. Customisation will be key. However, the investment in technology necessary to enable hoteliers to engage with, and meet the expectations of, their customer base will be too burdensome for many independent providers. The international hotel companies will therefore dominate the supply landscape in 2040, albeit under the guise of an indecipherable number of softer brands.
Tomorrow’s hotel guest will interact mainly through tech, so the emphasis of innovation will shift back to a room-focussed hotel product. In fact, by 2040, the ability to check-in and access one’s bedroom with an electronic device will have rendered the traditional reception desk and lobby redundant. Hotel development will become highly flexible regarding location, with a substantially lower floorplate requirement, especially at ground floor level.
Coupled with a traveller need for instant gratification, which will increase the demand for accommodation at the heart of the action, there will be many more hotels in prime town or city centre locations. By 2040 these will have been instrumental in maintaining engagement with the traditional high street, especially if they drive the provision of more leisure and restaurant facilities nearby.