UK tourism spending ‘worth just half of pre-pandemic level

Britain’s tourism industry is a huge driver of our economy but has faced many challenges over the past year,” said tourism minister Nigel Huddleston.

UK tourism is set for a slow recovery from the pandemic, with spending by holidaymakers this year expected to be just half the level of 2019.

Forecasts by the VisitBritain agency indicate that domestic tourism will be worth £51.4bn in 2021, down from £91.6bn two years ago.

Its forecast for spending by foreign tourists in the UK is £6.2bn, less than a quarter of the £28.4bn in 2019.

The predictions come as UK tourism chiefs prepare for a summit on Tuesday.

VisitBritain and VisitEngland are bringing industry leaders together – some in person, some virtually – to discuss priorities for helping the sector to recover and rebuild. 

Last year, the domestic tourism industry shrank by about two-thirds as coronavirus restrictions forced the cancellation or postponement of millions of people’s travel plans. According to the tourism industry, that represented a £58bn loss to the economy. 

Despite the gloomy forecasts for this year, tourism analysts have predicted that demand for UK holidays is likely to outstrip supply this summer, with many holidaymakers unable or unwilling to brave foreign travel amid continuing restrictions.

“We’re offering a shadow of what we normally would and we’ll struggle to break even,” says Christine Thomas.

This is usually peak season at Elterwater Hostel in Cumbria, which she and her husband, Alan, own. They’re in the heart of the Lake District and they would normally be close to fully booked, with fell-runners, walkers and school groups, not to mention overseas visitors.

Now they’re only about a third full. Even if more people want to come, Covid rules mean they can’t fill all their 38 beds. People from different groups aren’t allowed to share bathroom facilities and the hostel only has five showers.

They still provide hearty home-cooked meals, but you can’t mingle with other visitors, like hostel guests often do. And the self-catering kitchen is closed.

The past year feels like a “write-off” they say. Hotels that can offer en suite rooms, or self-contained self-catering places are probably managing better, says Christine. 

And if the rules are eased further after 21 June, that could make a big difference.

“Hostels are basically social places. It’s about people meeting each other and exchanging experiences,” she says.

Last week, the tourism agency launched a £5m campaign entitled Escape the Everyday – Enjoy the UK this Summer.

The campaign is aimed at boosting domestic demand, with a focus on cities and city visitor attractions, as well as on areas that have been particularly hard hit by the lack of international visitors.

“Britain’s tourism industry is a huge driver of our economy but has faced many challenges over the past year,” said tourism minister Nigel Huddleston.

“We’ve provided more than £25bn in support, and I have been impressed by VisitBritain/VisitEngland and the wider sector for its agile and innovative response, coming up with new ways to provide hospitality and entertainment while maintaining social distancing and protecting people’s safety.”

British Tourist Authority chairman Lord Patrick McLoughlin said the sector had faced “an unprecedented challenge” during the pandemic.

“Tourism is a critical industry for our country, delivering jobs and economic growth across the nations and regions and strengthening our place on the world stage,” he added.

Lord McLoughlin said that government’s support measures, including the furlough scheme, the VAT cut for hospitality businesses and the business rates holiday, had been “a lifeline”, helping many businesses survive and keeping people in jobs. 

“We will continue to work with the UK government as it sets out its recovery plan and ambitions for tourism, and across the industry, to cement the recovery and the future of one of this country’s greatest industries,” he added.

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