2021 inbound estimate for UK:
Please note that the Office for National Statistics have revised the International Passenger Survey data for 2021. The VisitBritain modelling outlined here was based on the old data; we will update it to reflect the new data.
Details of the revised data can be found here. The IPS data recorded 6.4 million visits, with these visitors spending £5.6 billion. This compares to their initial estimate of 6.2 million visits to the UK in 2021 and spending of £5.8 billion.
During 2021, the IPS restarted at the majority of ports but did not operate at Dover until Q3 and there were no interviews on the Eurotunnel through the entirety of 2021 due to COVID-19 restrictions. Therefore, the IPS data does not represent the total inbound market for 2021 and is not directly comparable with historical UK total data, unless you compare just those modes of travel where the IPS was fully operational throughout 2021.
VisitBritain has modelled an estimate of the full inbound tourism market in 2021 which is therefore higher than the IPS figures. Our estimate is 7.1 million visits, with these visitors spending £6.1 billion. This is a decline on 2020, which saw 11.1 million visits and £6.2 billion. The 2021 visits and spend estimates are 17% and 21% respectively of 2019 levels.
2022 inbound forecast for UK:
For the full calendar year, inbound visits are forecast to increase to 26.7 million and spending to £21.6 billion. These are 65% and 76% respectively of the visits and spend levels seen in 2019.
This is an upgrade on our previous forecast, made in February, due to a stronger than expected start to the year. The previous forecast was 21.1 million visits, and spending of £16.9 billion.
The Office for National Statistics has released data for the first four months of the year. The UK received 5.9 million visits in the first 4 months of 2022. Inbound visitors spent £4.3bn from January to April 2022.
Inbound visits and spend were sharply down in December and January from their November level due to the impact of the Omicron variant. Visits and spend then picked up quickly from February to April.
However, recent data on flight bookings shows that bookings have fallen significantly from their April/May high point, when they were running at more than three quarters of 2019 levels, to less than two thirds of 2019 levels. Disruption to ports and flight cancellations, as well as growing cost of living pressures, have dampened short term prospects. Recent data at time of writing suggests that the bookings picture has stabilised.
The forecast assumes that the bookings picture will improve a little from its current level although will not return to its high point in April/May for the rest of this year. By year end we are forecasting inbound visits to be around 69% of 2019 levels and inbound spending around 78%.
We expect spend per visit to remain higher than the pre-pandemic norm, due to longer average length of stay as well as inflation.
In the aggregate, visits from Europe recovered faster, relative to 2019, than from long haul markets in the early part of the year. By late 2022 they are forecast to be recovering at similar paces, 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) while some other regions will lag (e.g. East Asia).
Forecasting at this time remains difficult, given the fast-moving situation and the unique circumstances. Events have been moving fast, not just due to the COVID situation but more recently to port problems and flight cancellations, and a global cost of living crisis. 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 knowledge.
We will revise our inbound forecast again later in 2022.
You can find more detail on the latest 2022 figures here.
For broader insights on inbound travellers please refer to our recent MIDAS research.