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UK tourism fell sharply due to the pandemic, though data indicates domestic tourism has largely recovered, and VisitBritain expects inbound tourism to recover by the end of 2024.

In 2019, the sector accounted for £74 billion of economic output with domestic spending being higher than spending by overseas visitors. While inbound trips are skewed towards London, domestic trips are more spread throughout the country.

The sector was heavily supported by Government funding during the pandemic but remains fragile. It continues to be affected by issues stemming from Brexit and the increased cost of living. The industry has said that recent Government policies to increase border security have negatively affected inbound tourism.

Overseas tourism

In 2022 overseas residents made 31.2 million visits to the UK, down from the 40.9 million visits in 2019. They spent, in cash terms, £26.5 billion, down from £28.5 billion in 2019.

The most recent international data for the first quarter of 2023 shows the fall in inbound visitor numbers is in line with the average fall across Europe.

Numbers from North America have recovered, while numbers from Europe and the rest of the world are still considerably below 2019 levels.

Over half of visitors to the UK visit London and compared to the pre-pandemic figures, are more likely to be visiting family and friends and taking longer trips (averaging 8.4 nights in 2022 compared to 7.1 nights in 2019).

The number of trips taken by UK residents abroad is also down, at 71.0 million in 2022 compared to 93.2 million in 2019. UK residents spent £58.5 billion abroad in 2022.

UK residents take more trips overseas than overseas residents do to the UK. They also spend, on average, longer abroad per trip, and are more likely to be travelling for a holiday than another reason.

Domestic tourism

In 2022, British residents made 126 million overnight visits within Great Britain, for a total of 383 million nights, and spent £32.9 billion (data for Northern Ireland is not available).

They also made 1.1 billion tourism day visits, spending £45 billion. As such, domestic tourism spending is more valuable than inbound spending.

Domestic tourism is also far more spread out throughout the country, and less focused on London.

Economic impact

In 2019, tourism was estimated to account for £74 billion (3.6%) of economic output. By comparison the EU average was 4.5%.

Tourism was estimated to directly account for the employment of 1.7 million UK workers in 2019, 5.3% of all workers.

Recent issues and Government policy

While the industry continues to recover from Covid-19, and was supported by Government funding during the pandemic, the sector is more fragile than in 2019, with businesses having taken on more debt.

Energy price inflation has also disproportionately affected hospitality businesses, and staff shortages have been a concern following the end of freedom of movement with the EU. Both of these pressures eased somewhat between 2022 and 2023.

Brexit has had various other impacts on foreign travel. The pound has lost value against the euro and dollar since 2016, some of which could be attributed to Brexit, making the UK a more attractive place to holiday for both international and domestic tourists.

However, the Government has ended VAT-free shopping, removed European ID cards as sufficient ID to enter the UK, and is implementing an electronic travel authorisation for visitors who do not require a visa. All of these are seen as barriers to inbound tourism.  

Other key Government policies on tourism include the Tourism Recovery Plan (for England) which aims for inbound tourism to have recovered by the end of 2024, among other things, and a reorganisation of destination management organisations, which market and promote tourism at a local level.

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