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 this week 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 added: “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.

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. 

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