Brexit could have drastic impact on Bay Area tourism

- With the pound at its lowest level in 31 years, travel agents say now is the time for American tourists to take a British holiday.

"This really is a great time for people to visit Europe and the UK specifically," said AAA spokesman Mark Jenkins. "The UK has been considered one of the more expensive places for Americans to visit in Europe, but now with the pound losing value, it's going to be really good for Americans to get more for their dollar."

The UK market makes a big impact on the Bay Area. It's one of the top international markets for flights through Tampa International Airport, where 153,000 passengers catch direct flights between TIA and Gatwick each year. About 65-percent of those flights originate in London.

While the weaker pound makes travel more affordable for Americans going to the UK, it's just the opposite for British tourists coming to the U.S. TIA officials, however, said they don't expect to see travel from London slow down.

"Historically we've seen, demand remains consistent, even when the economies are uncertain in other countries. That's due, in part, to the attractiveness of the Tampa-St. Pete market as a destination," said TIA spokeswoman Janet Zink.

Local tourism bureaus hope that holds true. The UK is the top international market targeted by Visit St. Pete-Clearwater. Each year, it invests big bucks in ads aimed at enticing Brits to spend their time and money on our shores.

"When we're looking at UK visitors, just to Pinellas County, it's about 650,000 visitors a year," said CEO David Downing.

According to Downing, that's about 10-percent of the total annual visitors to St. Pete and Clearwater. More importantly, Brits account for about 18-percent of the total economic impact: $1.6 billion annually.

With so many unknowns about what comes next for the UK, Visit Saint Pete-Clearwater is keeping a close eye on the Brexit situation.

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