International tourism to the UK lower than in 2020, as school trips from EU also decline

This article was first published by NMDC.

New VisitBritain forecasts predict that the UK will have attracted fewer international visitors in 2021 than during the first flush of the pandemic in 2020. It found that:

  • In 2019, the UK received 40.9m visitors, dropping to 11.1m (27%) in 2020, and an estimated 7.7m in 2021 (19%).
  • The UK also performed poorly compared to nearby countries, including France – which grew its tourism by 34.9% between 2020 and 2021, and Greece, which achieved 86% of its pre-pandemic tourist numbers over the summer.
  • VisitBritain is estimating 2022 international visitor figures at 24 million, 59% of 2019 figures.
  • The Financial Times reports that school trips to the UK from Europe have ‘collapsed’ now that group passports are no longer valid, and non-EU students need expensive individual visas.

Industry insiders told CNN that a mixture of factors is driving lower visits, including growing Covid infections in the UK over the summer when they were declining elsewhere in Europe and inconsistent travel rules. Brexit is also a major factor for the 75% of EU citizens who don’t have passports, because they can travel within the EU on their ID cards. Now they would need to buy passports to enter the UK. CEO of EOTA Tom Jenkins said “for a family of four, the logistical and cost implications of traveling to the UK become really prohibitive.” Prior to new Omicron restrictions, widespread abandonment of facemasks in England may also have been deterring cautious tourists from countries where mask-wearing is common or mandatory. One previously regular Italian visitor told CNN “I miss the UK so much but it sounds a little scary.” Deputy CEO of VisitBritain, Patricia Yates said “I think we have to make our message of reassurance explicit. I’ve been asked for my vaccination certificate going to theatres and events, but I’m not sure international visitors realise there are still requirements here. I’m not sure we’re telling that story.” Meanwhile journalist Rajan Datar says that international campaigns promoting Britain present a monoculture dotted by castles and palaces and give little sign that it is a multicultural society.

For further reading: