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 both inbound and domestic December 2020.)


Inbound forecast for the UK in 2020 and 2021 (last updated December 11th):

2020 forecast: VisitBritain’s latest central scenario forecast for inbound tourism to the UK in 2020, as of December 11th, 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.

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 has issued a number of updates to its inbound forecast during 2020.

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 has been increase in visitor numbers from this low point, although they remain at a fraction of their usual level, and dipped again in November.

2021 forecast: Our central scenario for inbound tourism in 2021 is for 16.9 million visits, up 73% on 2020 but only 41% of the 2019 level; and £9.0 billion to be spent by inbound tourists, up 59% on 2020 but only 32% of the 2019 level.

We expect a small increase in inbound tourism during the early part of the year, although still at a very low level, followed by a recovery in the second quarter of the calendar year as restrictions start to ease, and then a gradual increase throughout the rest of the year. However, by the end of 2021 we 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 13.6 million visits from Europe in 2021, 50% of the 2019 level; and 3.3 million visits from long haul markets, 24% of the 2019 level. The value of visitor spending in 2021 is forecast to be £5.0 billion and £4.0 billion from European and long haul visitors respectively.

There are a number of assumptions behind this forecast. The most crucial drivers will be the progression of COVID-19 and vaccinations, both in the UK and in our key inbound markets. It is assumed that in most advanced markets vaccinations begin in December 2020 / early 2021; that the majority within the most vulnerable groups will be able to be vaccinated in Q1 (Jan-Mar); but that it will take several months before the majority of the population is vaccinated. It is assumed that by the end of 2021 COVID-19 will be endemic and controlled rather than pandemic. In emerging markets, the forecast assumes that the population of international travellers is vaccinated at a similar rate to the general population in advanced markets.

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.

There are downside risks in the early part of the year, including a no-deal Brexit. Risks to the second half of the year are judged to be to the upside – for example, if vaccinations proceed quickly and confidence in international travel returns faster than expected. However, constraints on travel, for example closed borders, might persist for several months.

A number of other factors are likely to prevent inbound tourism recovery to pre-COVID levels even by the end of 2021. These include the economic situation, with demand hit by unemployment and 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 new central scenario forecasts above for full year 2020 and 2021 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.