VisitBritain inbound tourism forecast for 2021 predicts first signs of slow recovery

12 December 2020

VisitBritain’s inbound tourism forecast for 2021 is predicting the first signs of a slow recovery for overseas visits to the UK. 

Its forecast published today shows a gradual increase in the value of inbound tourism during January to March 2021 with a step-change heading into Easter and the spring, if national restrictions are eased as expected, particularly from short-haul European markets.

Overall, VisitBritain is forecasting 16.9 million inbound visits in 2021. While this is an increase of 73% on this year, it is less than half of the 40.9 million visits the UK saw in 2019.

Inbound visitor spending is forecast to reach £9.0 billion in 2021. Although up 59% on 2020, it is less than a third of the all-time spending high of £28.4 billion seen in 2019.

Tourism Minister Nigel Huddleston said:

"This forecast shows our tourism industry can look ahead to 2021 with renewed optimism for recovery. With the announcement of our 'Test to Release' international travel scheme, the backing of the Global Travel Taskforce report, and the Covid-19 vaccine rollout, we are committed to bringing the inbound tourism sector back to full strength. Let there be no doubt about this Government's support for tourism."

VisitBritain Director Patricia Yates said:

“UK tourism businesses usually welcome tens of millions of overseas visitors each year with those visitors spending billions, supporting jobs and local economies right across the country. This year of course has been very different with international travel largely at a standstill and businesses having lost months of vital trading. Beginning to see signs of some green shoots is encouraging news for the industry and the economy as we look to 2021 and beyond.

“Tourism is also a fiercely competitive global industry and the key to success will be attracting visitors, those who can travel now, stimulating demand and bookings to drive the quickest return of international tourism spend.”

Visits from short-haul European markets are forecast to recover quicker than long-haul, although still expected to be half, 13.6 million, of the 27.3 million seen in 2019. VisitBritain is set to launch a campaign early next year across its major European markets including Germany and France, its third and fourth most valuable tourism source markets respectively, to drive future bookings highlighting messages of welcome and reassurance.

For long-haul markets, the forecast is for 3.3 million inbound visits to the UK in 2021, less than a quarter, 24%, of the 13.6 million in 2019.

VisitBritain’s latest inbound consumer sentiment research showed that a third of international travellers surveyed state they are ‘in the mood’ for travelling abroad in 2021. More than a quarter surveyed expect to have time and the means to travel abroad but not to book far in advance. One in five had not chosen their destination for 2021, with a similar proportion having postponed plans from 2020 to 2021.

VisitBritain welcomed the UK Government’s ‘test to release for international travel’ scheme as a boost for the industry in the run up to the festive period and beyond. The Government has also backed the Global Travel Taskforce report recommendations, highlighting the importance of inbound tourism including a flagship overseas marketing campaign to promote the UK as an attractive and safe place to visit.

The ‘We’re Good To Go’ industry standard, launched by VisitEngland in partnership with the national tourism organisations of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, is supporting domestic and international visitors to book with confidence. The scheme demonstrates that tourism businesses are adhering to the respective Government and public health guidance, have carried out a COVID-19 risk assessment and checked that they have the required processes in place.

Tourism is usually worth £127 billion annually to the UK economy. The industry is also a job creator, for every 22 inbound visits from China for example, one job is created in Britain’s tourism industry. 

Notes to editors:

  • For more information on VisitBritain’s inbound tourism forecast for 2021 see:
  • When looking at 2020 overall VisitBritain has forecast 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 versus VisitBritain’s pre-COVID forecast of 32.3 million visits and £24.7 billion spending.


What’s on in Britain in 2021:

Celebrations, anniversaries, major events:


Gardens and the Great Outdoors:

  • Wales celebrates its Year of Outdoors highlighting outdoor pursuits, sports and adventure, wellbeing and mindfulness – promoting the 870-mile Coastal Path (a continuous walking path around its entire coastline); its three national parks; 600 castles; its Outstanding Areas of Natural Beauty and Dark Sky Reserves.
  • Scotland continues its ‘Year of Coasts & Waters’ into 2021, highlighting its stunning shorelines, lochs and coastal traditions.
  • 2021 is set to see the completion of the full England Coast Path, the longest continuous coastal walking path in the world (around 2,700 miles). Discover which areas of the National Trail are open on its website. England’s Coast has also dedicated 2021 to the ‘Year of the Coast’ – and expanded the programme across three years to 2023.
  • The RHS Garden Bridgewater, the largest gardening project in Europe, is set to open in May 2021, with a new spectacular 154-acre garden, transforming the historic grounds of Worsley New Hall in Salford into a beautiful green place for the local community and visitors to enjoy all year-round.
  • England’s Creative Coast - a new cultural travel experience for 2021 featuring seven new site-specific artworks  by leading contemporary artists and the world’s first ever art digital GeoTour will connect and celebrate the distinct, creative coastline across Kent, Essex and Sussex.
  • The Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors National Parks are running a joint Dark Skies Festival from 12 to 28 February 2021. The South Downs National Park is also hosting a celestial festival from 12 to 28 February 2021, and Exmoor is hosting a celestial festival in October 2021, with exact dates still to be confirmed.


Exhibitions, Festivals and Heritage:

  • Following expansion and restoration work, Nottingham Castle, along with the Ducal Palace and the sprawling cave system below, is due to reopen in 2021 after a £29.4 million investment, symbolising a renovation of almost 1,000 years of British history.
  • The new Archway Project in Bath is due to open in 2021, converting the former Victorian spa buildings close to the Roman Baths. The new renovations will create new learning spaces for groups and schools and a World Heritage Centre exploring the historic city.
  • The Imperial War Museum opens its new Second World War and Holocaust galleries with a £30.5 million expansion.
  • The Illuminated River project, which is transforming some of London’s iconic bridges with colourful lighting, is due to be completed in spring 2021. Displays will appear across Blackfriars Bridge, Waterloo Bridge, the Golden Jubilee Footbridges, Westminster Bridge and Lambeth Bridge.
  • The Broadway hit, Moulin Rouge! The Musical, an opulent jukebox production based on the film starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor, is set to arrive in London’s West End in autumn 2021.
  • The Glasgow International Comedy Festival, will be going ahead in March 2021, after rescheduling some of the cancelled acts from the 2020 programme. Regularly one of the largest events of its kind in Europe, this comedy extravaganza features a line-up of both big league players and emerging talent from around Britain and beyond, performing in venues throughout the city.
  • Rye Harbour Discover Centre, Sussex. Enjoy one of the most biodiverse areas for wildlife in the UK with a visit to the Rye Harbour Discovery Centre opening in April 2021. The new centre will transform the way visitors engage with the 110-acre reserve, which inhabits 4,200 plant and animal species including more than 200 rare or endangered birds and mammals.

See more information on What’s on in 2021’.