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Travel and tourism in the United Kingdom - statistics & facts

The travel and tourism industry contributes significantly to the economy in the United Kingdom (UK). In 2019, an estimated 237 billion British pounds was contributed by travel and tourism to the UK’s GDP, though this number fell by over half during 2020 as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Due to the health crisis, the contribution of travel and tourism to the UK’s job market also experienced a decline as these industries accounted for over four million jobs in 2019 and just under four million in 2020. During and prior to the pandemic, travel and tourism spending in the UK was dominated by leisure spending, which increased in 2020 as business spending declined.

Tourism in the UK during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of international tourists worldwide shrunk. In 2020, international tourist arrivals in the UK fell by 73 percent year-over-year. As forecast, tourist arrivals are not yet expected to recover to their previous levels in 2021, with arrivals predicted to number just over 11 million that year, when prior to the pandemic they added up to over 40 million. Meanwhile, outbound travel from the UK dropped by roughly 74 percent in 2020 compared to the year before.

In addition to limiting international travel, the pandemic also affected domestic travel as stay-at-home orders were enacted to control the spread of the virus. In the UK, this can be seen in the large drop in British domestic tourism expenditure in 2020, which fell by 63 percent to a low of roughly 34 billion British pounds. Domestic day trips recorded the highest decrease in spending, and the share of Britons who reported taking no holidays at all increased over the course of the pandemic.

Outlook for tourism in the UK

Despite the steep costs to the travel industry in the UK in 2020, forecasts for travel in 2021 and beyond predict growth, which could be impacted by such measures as COVID-19 vaccines or the surge in popularity of travelers taking domestic staycations in the UK rather than going abroad. According to Statista’s Mobility Market Outlook, the growth in revenue of the UK’s travel and tourism market across all sectors was forecast to increase again in 2021, with revenue values expected to reach pre-pandemic levels after 2023. As vaccines become more widespread and mitigate the advance of the pandemic, travelers are becoming hopeful that they will again be able to plan international holidays. In fact, according to a 2021 survey of European opinions regarding a COVID-19 vaccine, roughly seven in 10 surveyed Britons supported COVID-19 vaccines for international trips.


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