Money Observer: What the travel industry tells us about the state of globalisation

Many UK-listed companies reported profits this year, but certain businesses did not: notably travel and leisure sector firms such as Easyjet.

After six consecutive years, Easyjet’s growth success story has stalled, because it has been unable to reduce its costs in the face of lower revenues. Brexit is part of the story of course. With the pound weakening, more Brits are opting for ‘staycations’.

The US travel industry has also been hit. It has been estimated that the industry has lost out on as much as $185 million (£148 million) in revenue since Donald Trump took office.

I have just returned from a trip to Vienna flying with Easyjet. My family lives in various countries, so I travel often. If my trip was more expensive than usual, I didn’t notice: a coffee and cake in one of Vienna’s famous cafes has never been a bargain.

International travel has been increasing in volume for decades. But now that populism is gaining momentum across the West, travel – a core aspect of the cosmopolitan imagination and pillar of globalisation – might be at stake.

I say ‘might’ because, despite the challenges, international tourist arrivals grew by 3.9 per cent to 1,235 million last year, according to the latest UN World Tourism Barometer. Some 46 million more tourists travelled internationally last year compared with 2015.

Asia Pacific (up 8 per cent) led the growth in international tourist arrivals in 2016, and Africa (also up 8 per cent) rebounded strongly after two weaker years. It seems some people are becoming more inward-looking – but others are on the move.

This column was published as part of Marina’s Imaginary Millions in the March 2017 issue of Money Observer.

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