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Inbound tourist visits to the United Kingdom (UK) 2002-2021

International tourism to the United Kingdom is expected to fall dramatically in 2020 due to the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Current forecasts suggest the number of tourist visits made to the UK from overseas could drop by 76 percent, down to 9.7 million in 2020. This is from a peak of 40.9 million overseas visits in 2019. Forecasts for 2021 show that the number of overseas visits to the UK is expected to rise to 16.9 million, a 73 percent increase on 2020 visits, but still a significant drop over 2019.

Number of overseas resident visits to the United Kingdom (UK) from 2002 to 2019, with a forecast for 2020 and 2021

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Sources

Release date

December 2020

Region

United Kingdom

Survey time period

2002 to 2019

Method of interview

Face-to-face interview

Supplementary notes

Estimates based on the International Passenger Survey (IPS). Interviews are conducted with passengers arriving and departing from the country and include visits for all purposes, including for vacation, business, study, visiting friends and family, and other leisure purposes. The full year (non-forecast results) are as reported in the Travel Trends reports.

*The 2020 and 2021 data are forecasts as of December 11, 2020 by Visit Britain, based on the IPS data and a central scenario. They add the following information regarding the methodology:
"We expect a small increase in inbound tourism during the early part of the year, although still at a very low level, followed by a recovery in the second quarter of the calendar year as restrictions start to ease, and then a gradual increase throughout the rest of the year. However, by the end of 2021 we do not expect inbound tourism to be back to, or even close to, normal levels.

There are a number of assumptions behind this forecast. The most crucial drivers will be the progression of COVID-19 and vaccinations, both in the UK and in our key inbound markets. It is assumed that in most advanced markets vaccinations begin in December 2020 / early 2021; that the majority within the most vulnerable groups will be able to be vaccinated in Q1 (Jan-Mar); but that it will take several months before the majority of the population is vaccinated. It is assumed that by the end of 2021 COVID-19 will be endemic and controlled rather than pandemic. In emerging markets, the forecast assumes that the population of international travellers is vaccinated at a similar rate to the general population in advanced markets.

The market composition effect (Europe recovering faster than long haul) is likely to push down average spend per visit but it is assumed that the net effect of other factors (such as changes in average length of stay and average spend per night) is neutral. The forecast does not specifically model journey purpose but assumes that visits to friends and relatives are likely to recover faster than average; business trips (excluding those delivering goods) are likely to recover slower than average; and holiday visits are likely to recover at a rate in between.

There are downside risks in the early part of the year, including a no-deal Brexit. Risks to the second half of the year are judged to be to the upside – for example, if vaccinations proceed quickly and confidence in international travel returns faster than expected. However, constraints on travel, for example closed borders, might persist for several months.

A number of other factors are likely to prevent inbound tourism recovery to pre-COVID levels even by the end of 2021. These include the economic situation, with demand hit by unemployment and fiscal tightening; new behavioural habits affecting leisure and business travel, both short and long term; potential loss of supply.

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 new central scenario forecasts above for full year 2020 and 2021 therefore reflect a snapshot in time based on current understanding and a set of assumptions. Subsequent developments could change the outlook. We will revise this forecast a number of times during 2021".

The data for 2019 was produced using a new improved estimation method. Figures from 2009 to 2018 shown here have been revised according to the new method. The impact of the improved methodology can be viewed here.

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Statistics on "Inbound tourism in the United Kingdom (UK)"

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