Tourist spending in UK to ‘hit record high in 2020’

UK tourism doesn’t need a trade deal. While Brexit’s effect on Britain’s economy and politics is uncertain, there is more clarity for travelers – certainly those coming to visit these shores. The UK’s national tourism agency VisitBritain says more people are visiting the UK than ever, and their mission is to get those tourists to spend even more.

“Inbound tourism today is the UK’s third largest service export, an industry that needs no trade deals to thrive and that creates jobs and drives growth right across the country,”

British Tourist Authority Chairman Steve Ridgway.

Spending by overseas visitors in the UK is forecast to hit a record £26.6 billion ($34.8 billion) in 2020, according to projections from the country’s national tourism agency – a 6.6 percent increase on expected spending in 2019 of £25 billion ($32.7 billion).

The agency’s Annual Review notes that the number of overseas trips to the UK is also expected to hit a record 39.7 million – a 2.9 percent increase on 2019’s projection of 38.5 million.

Graph of tourist information
“Tourism isn’t just about people coming here to have a great time, though of course they do, it is also a hard headed industry. This is about investment. Britain is great at attracting international investment. We attracted £7 billion of hotel investment last year – that is more than the rest of Europe,”
VisitBritain’s strategy & communications director, Patricia Yates. 

The UK’s national tourism agency wants to make tourism the most successful and productive sector in the UK. They say for every pound spent promoting Britain, £23 is spent by visitors, with the agency also hoping to increase inbound visitor spending to £35 billion ($45.8 billion) with 49 million inbound visits by 2025.

“The UK tourism industry is one of our great success stories and contributes billions to the UK economy each year. I’m delighted it is growing from strength to strength,”
UK Minister for Tourism Helen Whately.
chinese tourists walking on a street in the UK

According to Steve Ridgway, chairman of the British Tourist Authority and former CEO of Virgin Atlantic:

“These figures are testament to Britain’s success in competing for international visitors and their spending. Inbound tourism today is the UK’s third largest service export, an industry that needs no trade deals to thrive and that creates jobs and drives economic growth right across the country.”

Brexit uncertainty hasn’t been great for business confidence, but it has been good for international travelers. The value of the pound against the dollar has fallen, making it much cheaper for Americans to travel to Britain.

No wonder record numbers from the United States – and another crucial long-haul future market, China – came here last year.

“We are thriving and you can see great growth coming from the USA and China. We can look at the forward bookings for the next six months, we know from the US bookings are up around 11 percent and from China up 27 percent. So we have double digit growth from the two greatest tourism markets currently,”
Patricia Yates.

Brits too have been taking more holidays at home, but the European market is slowing with things still fuzzy over what the rules and regulations will be once Britain leaves the European Union.

“The story from China, from the US for British tourism is very good but unfortunately the vast number of visitors for Britain – 71 percent – are from Europe and they simply do not understand what is happening with Brexit. They know that Britain is leaving the European Union but they have no idea what that means in terms of passports, in terms of bureaucracy for visiting the UK and many of them are simply saying let’s not bother,”
Simon Calder, travel editor at The Independent newspaper.

VisitBritain is also looking at the conundrum of implementing sustainable tourism. While the British Tourist Authority’s chairman thinks the UK is a long way from overtourism, he points out that we should be looking into tackling the environmental concerns related to the industry.

“As we begin a new decade, we look forward to working with tourism businesses and the new government to harness the energy and ambition shown by the signing of the Tourism Sector Deal, driving more investment and economic delivery from tourism right across the country and cementing the competitiveness of one of Britain’s great industries,”

Tourism in the UK seems like a potential economic powerhouse – a growth industry attracting international investment that forms a major part of British trade with the scope to fire up regional economies.

The big challenge for the sector in 2020 is to woo Europeans, unsure of the cost and practicalities of travel to Britain after Brexit.


Published /, 22 January 2020