Falling pound in wake of Brexit a boon for British tourism

Chinese tourists take pictures near the Big Ben clock tower in London, on June 29, 2016.
Chinese tourists take pictures near the Big Ben clock tower in London, on June 29, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - On a sunny afternoon near Big Ben, two weeks since Britain's historic decision to leave the European Union, little has changed for visitors to the capital London except that their visits are now cheaper.

As tourists take selfies at the foot of the British parliament's famous clock tower and at red telephone boxes, there is little talk of what the "Leave" victory in the referendum means for the EU's future.

But the ensuing currency plunge is seen as a plus.

"For my holidays, it's great! They are cheaper every minute," said Robbert de Reus, from Middelburg in the Netherlands, his sunglasses perched on his head.

This is because a plunge in the value of the pound against the dollar and the euro has made holidays in Britain almost 15 per cent cheaper for foreign tourists.

Roberto Serraglia said he had just arrived from Cuneo in north-western Italy with his wife and two children.

"Compared to before the vote, we will save at least 15 per cent, given what the pound has lost," Serraglia said.

"For us it is a very good thing to come to London at this moment, even if it's not something we would have wanted."

Bretton Pyne, a US student in a French football jersey, said that he had gone on a small shopping spree to make the most of the falling pound.

"I was here for the vote and I've bought a lot of stuff to try to take advantage," Pyne said.

Erica Kim, who travelled from South Korea with her husband, regrets having changed money before she left, on a pre-referendum rate.

"I'm quite sad because I change my money before leaving and I've lost 400 pounds," Kim said.

"I have two more days to shop and I will buy more clothes, more toys for my family," she added.

The fall of sterling means that the British tourism industry is one of the country's few industries that will quickly see a post-Brexit boost.

"Tourism has the potential to benefit from the weakened pound against the euro," according to tourism agency VisitBritain.

International flight bookings rose almost 10 per cent in the week after the referendum compared to the same period a year earlier, the agency said, citing data collected by travel industry consultancy ForwardKeys.

Yet, not far from the tourist crowds outside Prime Minister David Cameron's residence at 10 Downing Street, the signs of a boost to tourism are yet to be felt among sceptical souvenir sellers.

"Except the American people who spend more than before, there is nothing special," said Mara Oliveira, head of CGX Accessories.

Surrounded by Big Ben shaped teapots and pictures of Queen Elizabeth II framed by the colours of the Union Jack in a shop called Cool Britannia, Ashik Av forecast nothing but gloom following the Brexit vote.

"We don't see anything positive from the Brexit. Tourists are confused," Av said.