Inbound forecast for the UK:
Update November 29th: the below forecasts were run just before the Omicron COVID variant was discovered. At time of writing the outlook is highly uncertain but it is very likely that the 2021 forecast will be revised downwards slightly and the 2022 forecast revised downwards more significantly in subsequent updates, dependent on the progression and severity of the new variant. We will aim to revise our forecast in early 2022 once the outlook has become clearer.
At time of writing data from the International Passenger Survey is available for the first half of the year (January to June). However, due to COVID restrictions the IPS data was only collected at airports, not at ferry ports or the tunnel. There were 471,000 inbound visits to the UK in the first half of 2021 amongst air passengers (97% down on 2020), with these visitors spending £634 million (down 94%). You can find more detail on the latest 2021 figures here and on 2020 data here.
Our latest central scenario for inbound tourism for the full year 2021 is for 7.7 million visits, a 31% decline on 2020 and 19% of the 2019 level; and £6.9 billion to be spent by inbound tourists, representing growth of 11% on 2020 although still only 24% of the 2019 level. The increase in spend in 2021, despite the fall in visits, is driven by the large increase in spend per visit recorded by IPS data in the first half of the year, a result of a much higher average length of stay. This effect is forecast to ease although not disappear as a more normal visitor pattern emerges in the second half of the year.
Flight bookings data suggests that inbound visitor numbers picked up in the second half of the year, although by year end we still expect total visitor numbers to be less than half of pre-COVID levels.
Our forecast for 2021 is for 5.8 million visits from Europe, 21% of 2019 levels, with these visitors spending £3.7 billion; and 1.9 million visits from long haul markets, 14% of 2019 levels, with these visitors spending £3.2 billion.
Inbound visits are forecast to increase to 24.0 million, and spending to £19.2 billion. These are 59% and 67% respectively of the visits and spend levels seen in 2019.
Visit numbers, relative to pre-COVID baseline levels, are forecast to increase slowly in the spring and more substantially in the summer. The general direction is assumed to be upwards, contingent on travel restrictions not being tightened significantly from current levels, as well as a gradual return of traveller confidence.
By the end of 2022 we are forecasting visits to have recovered to around 68% of pre-COVID levels. We expect that it will take a few years for visit numbers to return to 2019 levels.
Visits from Europe are forecast to recover a little quicker than long haul in the aggregate, 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.
We expect spend per visit to remain higher than the pre-pandemic norm, due to longer average length of stay as well as higher prices.
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 our inbound forecast again throughout 2022.
Domestic forecast 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.