With the multiple lockdowns implemented in the UK across 2020, travel predictably took a nosedive, both internationally and within the country’s borders. But little by little over the past year, the UK has been opening up. We are gradually beginning to see the sky for the clouds, so to speak.
But are there airplanes soaring across that sky? What has happened to the travel industry in the UK in a year of re-openings but still a lot of chaos? In the rest of this article, we will be diving deep into the statistics surrounding the travel industry in 2021. Plus, we will be looking at what the experts predict for the coming year of 2022.
When it comes to travelers coming to the UK, the industry has begun to show signs of a slow recovery after the record lows of 2020.
The number of visitors traveling to the UK understandably plummeted in 2020 by 73%, going from 40.86 million in 2019 to 11.1 million in 2020.
Tourist spending also decreased from a record high of 28.45 billion GBP in 2019 to only 6.2 billion GBP in 2020, a decrease of 78%.
In the first quarter of 2021, with lockdowns still on the menu, the number of visitors was still very low. It reached a record low of 195,000 compared to nearly 8.3 million in the first quarter of 2019 and nearly 7 million in the first quarter of 2020.
In the second quarter of 2021, the UK received 277,000 visitors. This represents a small increase from the first quarter, but is still 97% lower than the same period in 2019.
From only 6,249 visas issued in the second quarter of 2020, 50,186 were issued in the second quarter of 2021. This is still few compared to 2019, with 792,682 grants issued in the same period.
For Britons crossing the border to other countries, the statistics paint a similar picture. Although we don’t yet have much hard data as the UK was still in lockdown for the first quarter, there are several hints that outbound travel is on the up and up.
In 2020, UK residents made a total of 23.8 million visits abroad, 74% lower than the previous year. On these visits, travelers from the UK spend 13.8 billion GPD, down 78% from 2019.
In the first quarter of 2021, UK residents made 774,000 visits abroad by air, a 94% drop from the previous year. UK residents spent 817 million GBP on their visits abroad in the first quarter of 2021, 90% lower than Quarter 1 of 2020.
With the US having just opened its borders to fully vaccinated UK residents, we can expect an increase in outbound tourism. Among UK residents planning to travel abroad over the coming year, 18% plan to visit the United States.
According to ABTA, a whopping 62% of their members plan to travel overseas in the next 6 months.
Travel within the UK’s borders is already showing more robust signs of recovery in 2021 than international travel. Although change is slow, travel is on the rise once again.
IBISWorld estimates that total domestic tourism expenditure declined by 62.9% across 2020, a projection shared by the national tourist organization Visit Britain.
Although not all data is yet in for 2021, it is predicted that domestic tourism expenditure will have grown 59.8% by the end of the year, to 13.5 billion GBP. This is still less than half of expenditure in 2019, but there is a reason for optimism!
All domestic restrictions related to COVID19 ended in July 2021, suggesting that domestic tourism should increase significantly in the second half of the year.
Hotels and Restaurants
Data on hotels and restaurants paints a more positive picture – although these industries suffered greatly in 2020, they are already showing signs of a strong recovery.
Hotel occupancy rates in 2020 sunk 64% from 2019 levels, particularly in gateway cities such asLondon, Birmingham, and Edinburgh.
Hotel occupancy remained low from March 2020 up until April 2021. Nevertheless, there was a fair amount of change month to month, from a low of 22% occupancy in April 2020, to a brief recovery to 47% in August of the same year.
From May 2021, the hotel industry showed signs of recovery, with hotel occupancy rising to 43%, up from 34% the previous month. Since then, it has continued to increase, reaching 71% in August.
Coastal regions are faring the best, with hotel bookings in Brighton actually exceeding 2019 levels for the month of June.
London is the UK’s most popular city for both domestic and international travel and was also one of the cities hardest hit by the pandemic. While its speed of recovery is slower than many other regions, things are beginning to look up.
In the summer period from July-September in 2019, London had over 2 million visits to tourist attractions. The same period in 2020 saw a massive drop at only 237,000 visits. A modest recovery is evident for 2021, with 648,000 visits.
In 2019, there were 21 million visits to London. In 2020, this shrank to 3.7 million.
In summer of this year, hotel bookings in London stood at around 66% of 2019 levels. This is lower than coastal regions and other cities such as Edinburgh, Bristol and Glasgow.
Nevertheless, London is still the most popular travel destination in the UK.
Forecast for 2022
According to research by PwC it is predicted that hotel occupancy rates will continue to rise in 2022, reaching between 70% and 90% of pre-pandemic levels in London. In more local regions, recovery is set to be even higher, between 87% and 96% of pre-pandemic levels.
Presumably, the difference is due to domestic travel increasing more quickly than inbound international travel. While gateway cities like London suffered the most due to restrictions on international travel, staycations to coastal and leisure destinations provided a buffer to travel in the regions. According to PwC research, 37% of UK residents plan to travel locally in 2022.
London is still the most popular UK travel destination in 2022, but other areas in England such as Devon, Cornwall, Kent, and Manchester, as well as Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, are predicted to have a lot of visitors too.
There is some bad news for hoteliers though – while almost two-thirds of domestic travellers would have opted for a hotel stay before the pandemic, only 41% will consider a hotel as their first choice for accommodation next year. With people still feeling the pandemic pinch, competitive pricing is seen to be key to attracting customers.
UK Travel Statistics at a Glance
41% of overseas visitors to the UK come for a holiday, followed by visiting friends or relatives at 30%. Business accounts for just over one-fifth of travel to the UK.
Premier Inn is the most popular hotel brand in the UK, closely followed by Travelodge and then Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.
The tourist attractions that suffered the most in 2020 were those that are mostly indoors, facing a 76% drop in visitors, compared to 43% for mostly outdoor attractions.
96% of attractions used digital communications during the pandemic to communicate with their audience, and 70% strengthened their digital offerings in 2020.
Spain is currently the most popular travel destination for UK residents, followed by the US, France, Italy, and Greece.
Travel industries around the world suffered a massive blow in 2020 due to the Coronavirus pandemic, and the UK was no exception. But as the country and the world opens up, the industry is beginning to show small but promising signs of recovery.
Having been stuck at home for a year and a half, Britons are itching to get out and about, as are people across the globe. The UK travel industry should be ready to welcome them.