2020 tourism forecast

The annual VisitBritain forecast for the volume and value of inbound tourism to the UK is issued in December each year. We have updated this page to reflect the impact of COVID-19 on inbound tourism to the UK, as well as an estimate of impact on domestic tourism within England. (Last updated for inbound June 3rd; for domestic July 29th.)


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% and for spending by inbound visitors to grow by 6.6%, setting new records in each case.

Since then, final International Passenger Survey data from the Office for National Statistics for full year 2019 has been released. This data also revised inbound and outbound tourism estimates back to 2009. The final IPS figures showed that there were 40.9 million visits to the UK in 2019, with these visitors spending £28.4 billion. The above forecast therefore implied 42.1m visits and £30.3bn spending in 2020 in a counterfactual no-COVID scenario.


Revised inbound outlook for the UK in 2020 (last updated June 3rd):

Since mid-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 and the outlook can change daily. Our new central scenario below therefore reflects a snapshot in time based on current understanding and a set of assumptions. Subsequent developments could change the outlook.

Our central scenario for inbound tourism to the UK in 2020, as of June 3rd, is for a decline of 59% in visits to 16.8m and 63% in spend to £10.6bn. This would represent a loss vs the pre-COVID forecast of 25.3m visits and £19.7bn spend.

This central scenario assumes that the quarantine period (which is for all international arrivals to the UK, except for those from the Republic of Ireland and for those in a short list of exemptions, to be required to self-isolate for 14 days) will last for a period of three weeks starting June 8th. The model therefore assumes international travel will resume from July although will be initially at a low level. Tourism numbers are forecast to gradually rise throughout the remainder of 2020 although are still very likely to be well below normal levels by the end of the year.

We stress that this central scenario is merely one possible outturn and involves several assumptions and simplifications due to the fast-moving and uncertain situation; it is therefore subject to revision as the situation develops. The model specifically assumes that there is no second wave of the virus, or if there is that it would not be severe enough to necessitate going back into lockdown/quarantine. Risks to the forecast are weighted to the downside.

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 (last updated July 29th):

VisitBritain have also run a domestic impact model for 2020. As with our inbound forecast, this represents a snapshot in time and will be reviewed throughout the year. The forecast makes a number of assumptions to provide an estimate of impact. Subsequent developments could change the outlook.

For this update, we have taken into account the re-opening of the hospitality sector in England from July 4th and for Scotland and Wales from mid-July. The forecast modelled each of the four journey purposes for overnight tourism (holidays, business, visiting friends and relatives and miscellaneous journeys), and 17 categories of spending for day trips, separately.

We have forecast a central scenario for Britain of £46.8bn in domestic tourism spending in 2020, down 49% compared to 2019 when spending by domestic tourists in Britain was £91.6bn. This comprises £12.6bn from overnight tourism, down from £24.7bn in 2019, and £34.2bn from day trips, down from £67.0bn in 2019. 

This is a decline of 49% for both overnights and leisure day trips, although the pattern of the recovery will be different. While some categories of day trips started to recover first, others will be very limited for some months to come.

This represents a loss of £44.9bn (£12.1bn from overnights and £32.8bn 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. Two specific assumptions made are: (1) No major second wave of the virus that would necessitate a renewed national lockdown; (2) By early 2021 we are unlikely to be back to baseline (pre-COVID) levels in any purpose/category. This is due to economic factors, supply loss, some continued level of social distancing, and traveller sentiment.

The longer-term impact depends on wider demand and supply factors.