ITC considers the impact of tourism on transport

How will rising levels of tourism influence UK transport?

The Occasion 

Tourism has been described as the fastest growing sector of the British economy, providing almost 10% of UK jobs, and is estimated to generate over £257 billion to the UK economy by 2025. Britain is also an increasingly attractive destination for international travellers, welcoming more than 36 million visitors in 2015: a number that could rise over the years ahead aided by a growing and more mobile middle class in emerging markets and the fall in the value of the pound since the EU referendum. What do these rising levels of tourism mean for UK transport, and how can we accommodate the needs of visitors? Are there currently barriers that visitors face when travelling in Britain, and how can we ensure that users of our transport networks find them convenient and easy to use?

To debate these important issues the ITC was delighted to welcome a distinguished panel of senior experts from the industry to our Winter Discussion Evening on 21 February 2017. Chaired by ITC Commissioner and social research expert Kris Beuret OBE, over 60 senior guests attended and the subject was introduced through speeches from a panel comprising: Derek Robbins, Senior Lecturer in Tourism at Bournemouth University; Jay Parmar, Director of Policy at the BVRLA; and Patricia Yates, the Director of Strategy and Communications at VisitBritain.

Delegates are welcomed to the event


Tourism and transport – key issues raised by the speakers:

  • Derek Robbins identified the opportunities that rising tourism offers transport operators. With over 36 million visits from abroad to the UK (including 18.6 million to London) in 2015, he stressed the significant contribution that tourism makes to public transport revenue, and to the use of spare capacity in off-peak hours. He observed that, unfortunately, data on the travel behavior of overseas visitors was generally poor, but in London it was known that a very high percentage used the Underground. There was an opportunity, he suggested, for encouraging greater regional travel by overseas visitors, since only a third of those visiting London currently ventured outside the capital, and regional airports would have an important role to play here. By contrast, domestic tourism was dominated by car travel, although this varied significantly by location. Mr Robbins criticised the disconnect that existed between transport and tourism policy and explained that there needed to be much greater integration of these in order to serve the needs of visitors. He also called for more attention to be paid to the travel behavior of tourists in transport modelling, appraisal and policy.
  • Jay Parmar explained the contribution of car rental to UK tourism. He observed that car rental and leasing was an important enabler of regional tourism, and noted that tourists renting cars tended to spend more time and money in the UK than those who did not. However, various perceptions held by international visitors were hampering car use, with many fearful to travel outside London, nervous of driving on the left and of different road signage, or confused by the lack of co-ordination between UK transport systems. Bold transport solutions were required, he argued, particularly if these included the development of personalised services with dynamic journey management, as part of Mobility as a Service (MaaS). If cars and car hire were included as part of an integrated transport system, the benefits could include more seamless journeys, simpler travel plans, fewer delays and less congestion as a result of managing the systems to match capacity. He concluded by pointing out that both cities and travellers could thereby make savings, resulting in a more attractive experience for visitors.

Jay Parmar from BVRLA address delegates

  • Patricia Yates considered the barriers faced by international visitors to the UK. She explained that visitors were often unsure and unconfident about how to use public transport outside London. Visitors often found transport too expensive and overestimated the distances between places in Britain. To address these issues VisitBritain is working to develop a Tourism Action Plan. Initiatives include integrating visitor attractions with transport options, encouraging ‘last mile’ travel solutions, updating comprehensive rail and coach passes with digital versions, and developing integrated travel itineraries that can be promoted to visitors and booked as a whole. Work was also underway with the DfT and RSSB to improve data collection on tourism patterns and the attitudes of visitors.

Key themes raised in the discussion:

  • Tourism is crucial for the UK economy. Delegates observed that familiarity with a country or region reaped dividends later in terms of investment in those places from international businesspeople. It was also pointed out that tourism supports a large proportion of the economy directly and indirectly. This includes the supply chains to hotels, restaurants and visitor attractions: the freight transport impacts of which must not be forgotten. Other delegates noted that we need a better understanding of how tourists travel: for instance, many visitors come on tours and therefore will move about in large groups.
  • We need to achieve better integration of transport and services for overseas visitors. Several guests pointed out that improved integration of transport services could encourage visitors to travel more and give them a better experience in the UK. We need to consider the end-to-end journey and what the experience of this is for travellers. A variety of modes should be considered as part of the travel package for visitors, depending on the location. There was debate over the value of bus travel, which was seen by some as a service used by low-spending visitors, and was not frequent or accessible in many rural areas. Some guests argued for walking and cycling solutions to be more heavily promoted to overseas visitors, particularly for urban and ‘last mile’ travel to attractions.

ITC Commissioner Kris Beuret OBE moderates the discussion

  • The UK should develop a digital strategy for attracting international visitors. A number of delegates suggested that tourists would benefit from digital solutions to help them understand their travel options. Apps could be developed so visitors can plan their journeys, see how easy it is to access transport solutions, and assess the appeal of tourist destinations across the UK. Insights from the Olympics on the use of real-time information, and the provision of digital travel advice, should be used. Some noted that the use of technology to link public transport timetables across modes, for example, could make the visitor travel experience easier and more seamless. However, this is not merely the responsibility of transport and tourist operators – the IT industry and digital companies have an important role to play in this integration process.
  • Travel solutions for visitors should be multi-modal and geographically appropriate. Transport operators need to consider all the stages of a journey for tourists, since lack of co-ordination between journey stages introduces added confusion for the tourist. Policy makers should identify where the market might be failing, and take steps to promote integrated solutions. Lessons from the London Olympics could be learned in terms of shifting travel behaviour and avoiding overcrowding. Many delegates felt that public transport operators were not terribly interested in tourist travel, and needed to give this a higher priority. Others noted that integrated policies should be future proofed by considering how to incorporate changing travel opportunities such as car sharing and driverless vehicles.
  • A balance is needed between national and local travel policies for visitors. There were calls for a national tourism strategy to help identify where government interventions were necessary. However, others recognised that some travel solutions for tourists needed to be managed and delivered at a local level. In urban areas, for example, tensions sometimes existed between residents and tourists, and managing the needs of both were often issues best solved by local policy makers. Some guests noted that local authorities would be best placed to strike the right balance for the needs of their region, and that devolution and appropriate funding to support them in that mission would be crucial for delivering good outcomes for visitors. London was cited as a model for other cities and regions to follow.