2021 inbound estimate for UK:
At time of writing, data from the International Passenger Survey is available for the first nine months of the year (January to September). However, due to COVID restrictions for most of this period the IPS data was only collected at airports, not at ferry ports or the tunnel. There were 1.8 million inbound visits to the UK in the first nine months of 2021 amongst air passengers (93% down on 2019), with these visitors spending £1.8 billion (down 90%). You can find more detail on the latest 2021 figures here:
Our latest estimate of total inbound tourism, across all modes of transport, for the full year 2021 is for 7.4 million visits, 33% down on 2020 and 18% of the 2019 level; and £5.5 billion to be spent by inbound tourists, 11% down on 2020 and 19% of the 2019 level. There has been an increase in spend per visit in 2021 compared to the pre-COVID, a result of a higher average length of stay, with this effect particularly noticeable in the first half of the year due to the unusual visitor pattern.
Available data on flight bookings and transport mode use suggests that inbound visitor numbers continued to pick up into October and November, before falling back in December due to the impact of the Omicron variant.
Our estimate for 2021 is for 5.8 million visits from Europe, 21% of 2019 levels, with these visitors spending £2.9 billion; and 1.6 million visits from long haul markets, 12% of 2019 levels, with these visitors spending £2.6 billion.
2022 inbound forecast for UK:
For the full calendar year, inbound visits are forecast to increase to 21.1 million, and spending to £16.9 billion. These are 52% and 59% respectively of the visits and spend levels seen in 2019.
This is a downgrade on our previous forecast, made in mid-November, due to the impact of the Omicron variant. The visits forecast has been downgraded by 2.9 million and spend by £2.3 billion.
Visit numbers fell sharply in January but data showing recent improvements in flight bookings suggests visits are due to start to increase from late February onwards.
We are then forecasting a gradual pickup in inbound volume and value throughout the rest of 2022. The general direction is assumed to be upwards, contingent on travel restrictions not tightening from current levels, as well as a return of traveller confidence. We are due to publish a fresh wave of our international COVID sentiment research to measure the latter in April.
By summer we forecast that around half of pre-COVID inbound visitor volume will have returned. By the end of 2022 we are forecasting visits to have recovered to around two thirds of pre-COVID levels. We expect that it will take a few years for visit numbers to return to 2019 levels.
In the aggregate, visits from Europe and from long haul markets are forecast to recover at similar paces, relative to 2019, for most of the year, although there will significant variation within long haul markets in particular; strong booking numbers have been seen recently from some long haul regions (e.g. North America and Middle East) while some other regions will lag (e.g. East Asia).
We expect spend per visit to remain higher than the pre-pandemic norm, due to longer average length of stay as well as inflation.
Forecasting at this time remains difficult, given the fast-moving situation and the unique circumstances. Events have been 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. In particular, we assume that no new variant will significantly disrupt travel behaviours or trigger a re-tightening of borders and restrictions. VisitBritain’s central scenario forecasts therefore reflect a snapshot in time based on current knowledge.
We will revise our inbound forecast again during 2022.
For more insights on inbound tourism prospects please refer to our consumer sentiment tracker.
Domestic estimate for Britain (2021):
We 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. Due to the uncertainty over the Omicron variant, the forecast has just been run for 2021 at present.
The official domestic tourism statistics are suspended at time of writing due to a change in methodology. For more information please go here.
The domestic forecast inputted modelled recovery rates for domestic tourism spending for 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. In the absence of the official domestic tourism monitors, a wide variety of data sources was consulted to estimate levels of spending.
Our central scenario forecast for 2021 is for a recovery to £56.2bn in domestic tourism spending in Britain in 2021; this is up 65% compared to 2020 but still only 61% of the level of spending seen in 2019. This is an upgrade from our previous forecast run in the middle of 2021, due to outbound tourism recovering slower than anticipated. We are forecasting £16.0bn in domestic overnight tourism spending (64% growth on 2020 and 65% of the 2019 level) and £41.0bn in leisure day trip spending (69% growth on 2020 and 61% of the 2019 level).
As with our inbound forecast, this involves many assumptions and simplifications due to the uncertain situation and is subject to revision. The forecast assumes a step change in mid-May as restrictions eased, followed by a continued recovery in the summer and autumn; towards the end of the year there was a dip from late November, intensifying in December, due to the Omicron variant.
Different journey purposes and trip types will have recovered at different rates, and there will have been very different patterns of recovery by region and destination. Although we have not estimated an immediate return to pre-COVID levels of spending at the aggregate level, evidence strongly suggests that for some regions and trip/activity types, spending levels were ahead of 2019 for part of the year.
For more insights on domestic tourism prospects please refer to our consumer sentiment tracker.