2020 tourism forecast

The VisitBritain forecast for the volume and value of inbound tourism to the UK is issued in December each year. We have updated this page in April 2020 to reflect the impact of COVID-19 on inbound tourism, as well as an estimate of impact on domestic tourism within Britain. (Last updated April 23rd.)


From 22 May we will be working to update all of the data and documents on this page following the Office of National Statistics (ONS) revision of the International Passenger Survey (IPS) data for 2009-2018 and the released detailed 2019 data. Please be patient as we update these pages or contact the VisitBritain research team if you have any questions- VB/VEResearch@visitbritain.org. Thank you.

Original inbound forecast for the UK in 2020:

Our initial forecast for 2020, released in December 2019, was for inbound visits to the UK to grow by 2.9% to 39.7m and for spending by inbound visitors to grow by 6.6% to £26.6bn, setting new records in each case.

Since then, provisional International Passenger Survey data from the Office for National Statistics for full year 2019 was released: 38.9m visits and £25.5bn in visitor spend, a little ahead of expectations for both measures. (These estimates are subject to revision when final 2019 data is released in late May 2020.)


Revised inbound outlook for the UK in 2020:

Since March, COVID-19 has triggered a near-total shutdown in international tourism to/from the UK. Forecasting at this time is difficult, given the fast-moving situation and the unique circumstances. Events are moving fast during the COVID-19 pandemic. The outlook can change daily. Our new central scenario below therefore reflects a snapshot in time (mid-April) based on current understanding and a set of assumptions. Subsequent developments could change the outlook.

We have modelled a range of several scenarios of the short-term impact on inbound tourism, reflecting the tremendous uncertainty about prospects for tourism. The main difference between these scenarios is the length of the near-shutdown in international travel. The hit to inbound tourism in 2020 in these scenarios ranges from £8.1bn and 12.1m visits in the most optimistic case to £22.3bn and 32.1m visits (compared to the pre-COVID forecast) in the pessimistic scenario.

Our central scenario for inbound tourism to the UK in 2020, as of mid-April, is for a decline of 54% in visits to 17.8m and 55% in spend to £11.6bn. This would represent a loss vs the pre-COVID forecast of 21.9m visits and £15.1bn spend.

We stress that this central scenario is merely one possible outturn and involves many assumptions and simplifications due to the fast-moving and uncertain situation; it is therefore subject to revision as the situation develops. Crucially, the central scenario assumes that recovery in inbound tourism starts in August, although is a gradual process taking some months for international tourism to return to more normal levels.

This is a short-term outlook; the longer-term impact and path to recovery depends on wider demand (especially economic) and supply factors.


Domestic outlook for Britain in 2020:

VisitBritain have also run a domestic impact model for 2020. As with our inbound forecast, this represents a snapshot in time (forecast run mid-April) and makes a number of assumptions to provide an early estimate of impact. Subsequent developments could change the outlook.

For this analysis, we assume a ten-week lockdown that ends at the start of June. We then assume a period in June-August when the tourism sector starts to open although social distancing remains in place and tourism spend remains well below baseline (pre-COVID) levels. Finally, we assume a bounceback period in the last four months of the year when many categories of leisure tourism benefit from pent-up demand. Each of these phases will affect different components of domestic tourism and categories of tourism spending differently.

We have forecast a central scenario of £69.5bn in domestic tourism spend in Britain in 2020, down 24% on 2019 when spending by domestic tourists in Britain was £91.6bn. This comprises £16.7bn from overnight tourism (down 32% on the £24.7bn seen in 2019) and £52.8bn from day trips (down 21% compared to £67.0bn).

This represents a loss of £22.1bn (£7.9bn from overnights and £14.1bn from day trips) – greater than the loss from inbound tourism in absolute value terms, although lower in percentage terms.

As with our inbound forecast, this is a short-term forecast that describes one possible outturn and involves many assumptions and simplifications due to the fast-moving and uncertain situation; it is therefore subject to revision. The longer-term impact depends on wider demand and supply factors.