'Draw a Naked Guy' Classes Survive Brexit as Brits Stay on Tour

  • British holiday numbers hold up despite decline in pound
  • Lower air fares may be underpinning tourism, Ryanair CEO says

Brexit hasn’t managed to kill Fergal Quinn’s “Draw a Naked Guy” classes.

The Irish entrepreneur, who organizes bachelor and bachelorette parties in northwest Ireland, feared the worst as the pound plunged after the U.K. voted to exit the European Union last year.

Now his biggest concern is finding enough seats at his Lola Montez nightclub, where hen and stag parties head after a day spent painting nudes or jumping off cliffs into the Atlantic via the package trips Quinn sells. About 60 percent of his customers come from the U.K., mostly from across the border in Northern Ireland, and sales are up about 40 percent this year.

“We were very worried after the Brexit vote but the momentum has continued,” said Quinn, 40, who employs about 80 people across five venues in Sligo. “The weekend was our best ever -- they came by the busload.”

In the wake of the U.K.’s decision to leave the bloc, many countries in the EU, where tourism accounts for 5 percent of the gross domestic product, braced for fewer British visitors as the pound slumped. Yet, there’s little sign of a drop so far. In the first quarter, the numbers traveling abroad from the U.K. rose 3 percent from the same period in 2016.

“It’s surprising,” said Eliderico Viegas, chairman of the Association of Hotels and Resorts in the Algarve, a region in southern Portugal popular with U.K. vacationers. “The depreciation of the pound led us to believe that there would be a slowdown in the number of British tourists to Portugal but that hasn’t happened.”

Britons accounted for a fifth of all overnight stays by non-residents in Portugal in the first quarter, with the number of British overnight stays rising about 6 percent. In Spain, the most popular destination for Brits, U.K. tourist numbers rose 11 percent in the first three months of the year.

Overall, spending by British tourists rose 8 percent in the first quarter, according to the U.K.’s statistics office.

In part, British tourism has been underpinned by falling air fares, according to Michael O’Leary, CEO of Ryanair Holdings Plc, Europe’s biggest discount carrier. Average fares in the year through March dropped by about 8 percent, and ticket costs will fall again next year, he said.

Carriers including Ryanair and Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA are expanding their fleets, amplifying a seat-capacity glut that was already crimping travel prices in Europe.

“All that growth has been driven by low fares,” he told reporters in Dublin. “It is the airlines who are funding all of this. The U.K. is strong by volume, but very weak in terms of pricing.”

There’s no single picture across Europe, with some countries like Turkey and Egypt losing out on security concerns, O’Leary said. Coupled with the pound’s decline, worries about terrorism may help explain why U.K. hotel bookings in France dropped about 9 percent in the first quarter, after attacks in Paris and Nice.

“In February, the British were the only market to show a decline,” said Charles-Henri Boisseau, who oversees economic statistics at the Paris tourism office. “There may be a Brexit effect, as one of the main factors for tourist numbers is exchange rates. It’s more expensive for the British to come to France and Paris, and the entire euro zone.”

Even in Ireland, brimming with tourists, there’s some concern. Excluding Northern Ireland, the number of visitors from the U.K. dropped about 10 percent from a year earlier in February through April, to 855,000, the Irish statistics office said. 

And while the U.K. has notified the EU of its intent to leave the bloc, Brexit hasn’t actually happened yet. With the euro climbing again over the last few weeks, Quinn has been monitoring exchange rates. Just before the referendum, a pound bought than 1.30 euros. Now, it’s about 1.15 euros.

“If it’s parity, that would have a major impact,” Quinn said. “We can’t be complacent.”

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