2021 tourism forecast

The annual VisitBritain forecast for the volume and value of inbound tourism to the UK is issued in December each year. We are updating this page more regularly at the present time to reflect the impact of COVID-19 on inbound tourism to the UK, as well as an estimate of impact on domestic tourism. (Last updated for inbound January 28th; for domestic December 14th.)


Inbound forecast for the UK in 2020 and 2021 (last updated January 28th):

2020 forecast: Official inbound tourism statistics from the Office for National Statistics have only been published up to June 2020, and detailed statistics only up to March 2020. However, a number of other data sources are available which allow us to assess the state of inbound tourism to the UK.

VisitBritain’s latest central scenario forecast for inbound tourism to the UK in 2020 is for a decline of 76% in visits to 9.7 million and a decline of 80% in spending to £5.7 billion. This would represent a loss vs the pre-COVID forecast of 32.3 million visits and £24.7 billion spending.

From mid-March to mid-July, COVID-19 triggered a near-total shutdown in international tourism to/from the UK with a few specific exceptions. Since then, available evidence suggests that there was an increase in visitor numbers from this low point, although they remained very low, and dipped again towards the end of the year.

2021 forecast: Our revised central scenario for inbound tourism in 2021 is for 11.7 million visits, up 21% on 2020 but only 29% of the 2019 level; and £6.6 billion to be spent by inbound tourists, up 16% on 2020 but only 23% of the 2019 level. This is a significant downgrade from the original forecast for 2021, which was run in early December.

We expect inbound tourism to remain at a very low level the early months of the year. The forecast assumes the start of a recovery from May from some European markets, albeit slow at first and with inbound tourism remaining at a fraction of its usual level, followed by a gradual recovery in the summer and autumn. However, this is contingent on the progression of vaccine rollouts and in the level of COVID cases, in both the UK and key inbound markets, enabling international travel to re-open. By the end of 2021 we still do not expect inbound tourism to be back to, or even close to, normal levels.

In general, European inbound markets are forecast to recover quicker than long haul markets. However, there will be variations within each of Europe and long haul. There are forecast to be 9.3 million visits from Europe in 2021, 34% of the 2019 level; and 2.5 million visits from long haul markets, 18% of the 2019 level. The value of visitor spending in 2021 is forecast to be £3.5 billion and £3.1 billion from European and long haul visitors respectively.

There are a number of assumptions behind, and significant risks to, this forecast. The most crucial drivers will be the progression of COVID-19 and any new variants and of vaccinations, both in the UK and in our key inbound markets. It is assumed that in the UK and most advanced markets, the majority of the adult population will be vaccinated in 2021 and that by the end of the year COVID-19 will be endemic and controlled rather than pandemic.

The market composition effect (Europe recovering faster than long haul) is likely to push down average spend per visit but it is assumed that the net effect of other factors (such as changes in average length of stay and average spend per night) is neutral. The forecast does not specifically model journey purpose but assumes that visits to friends and relatives are likely to recover faster than average; business trips (excluding those delivering goods) are likely to recover slower than average; and holiday visits are likely to recover at a rate in between.

A number of other factors are likely to prevent inbound tourism recovery to pre-COVID levels even beyond 2021. These include the economic situation in each market, with demand hit by unemployment and possible fiscal tightening; new behavioural habits affecting leisure and business travel, both short and long term; potential loss of supply.

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. 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. VisitBritain’s central scenario forecasts therefore reflect a snapshot in time based on current understanding and a set of assumptions. Subsequent developments could change the outlook. We will revise this forecast a number of times during 2021.




Domestic outlook for Britain in 2020 and 2021 (last updated December 14th):

VisitBritain have also run a domestic tourism forecast. As with our inbound forecast, this represents a snapshot in time and makes a number of assumptions to provide an estimate of impact. Subsequent developments could change the outlook.

The forecast models each of the four journey purposes for overnight tourism (holidays, business, visiting friends and relatives and miscellaneous journeys), and 17 categories of spending for leisure day trips, separately.

2020 forecast: We have forecast a central scenario for Britain of £34.4 billion in domestic tourism spending in 2020, down 62% compared to 2019 when spending by domestic tourists in Britain was £91.6bn. This comprises £9.9bn from overnight tourism, down from £24.7bn in 2019, and £24.6bn from day trips, down from £67.0bn in 2019. In total, this represents a loss of £57.2bn (£14.7bn from overnights and £42.4bn from leisure day trips). The 2020 forecast is for a decline of 60% for overnights and 63% for leisure day trips, although with different pattern of recovery. While some categories of day trips started to recover first, others were still very limited.

2021 forecast: Our forecast is for a recovery to £61.7bn in domestic tourism spending in 2021; this is up 79% compared to 2020 but still only 67% of the level of spending seen in 2019. We are forecasting £18.0bn in domestic overnight tourism spending (82% growth on 2020 but 73% of the 2019 level) and £44.6bn in leisure day trip spending (82% growth on 2020 and 67% of the 2019 level).

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 forecast assumes a slow recovery in early 2021 before a step change in the spring as restrictions ease and confidence returns, followed by a gradual recovery throughout the rest of the year and beyond. Medical assumptions are as per the inbound forecast. By the end of 2021 we do not expect that we will be back to pre-COVID levels of spending in any domestic tourism journey purpose or activity type, although we are forecasting that by the end of the year the value of spending will be back to 84% of 2019 levels.