About VisitBritain:

The BTA (British Tourist Authority) is the national tourism agency, operating as a non-departmental public body funded by DCMS. VisitBritain promotes Britain overseas and is a delivery partner of the Cabinet Office’s GREAT campaign., We have offices in 19 countries across the globe, representing over 70% of the inbound value to Britain, and are often co-located with FCDO colleagues.

Our role is to drive immediate tourism recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic by building back visitor spend as quickly as possible and supporting the industry.

As well as international marketing, we support the wider visitor economy by ensuring Britain is sold in international markets - connecting trade partners, hosting events to connect buyers and suppliers, and promoting positive stories of Britain to the international media and using our social and digital channels. We also have a business events team that pitches for events in key sectors from AI to life sciences be hosted in the UK.

VisitEngland’s role is to focus on domestic tourism promotion and the relationship with Destination Management Organisations (DMOs), and also offers support to the industry through the Business Advice Hub. Between 2015-2020 VisitEngland administered the £50m Discover England Fund which saw the establishment of bookable product across the country.

The BTA also has a statutory duty to advise Government on tourism policy, to do this we draw on our expertise, industry engagement, and detailed research.

Key Points:

Context: Scale of the inbound UK visitor economy, and impact of COVID-19.

Both domestic and inbound tourism contribute approximately £127bn a year to the UK economy, worth 9% of GDP. Inbound tourism is the 3rd largest service export, and pre-pandemic was one of the fastest growing of all DCMS sectors, with the UK attracting more than a 3rd of all hotel investment in Europe.

  • In 2019 there were 40.9m inbound visits to the UK, up 1% on 2018 and 34% on 2009 figures.
  • These inbound visitors spent £28bn in the UK economy during their trips, a figure which has also risen significantly over the past 10 years (+62%).

The industry supports 3.2m jobs in every part of the UK, and incorporates over 200,000 SMEs, making it a natural delivery agent of the Government’s levelling up agenda.

Throughout the pandemic, we have provided updated forecasts in order to predict the scale of impact on the sector. We estimate that £294 million was lost to the economy every day in 2020 alone from the loss of tourism spend.

Our latest inbound forecast for 2021 finds;

  • There will be an estimated 7.7m inbound visits in 2021, which is just 19% of visits seen in 2019.
  • Inbound visitors are forecast to spend £6.9m in 2021, down 76% on 2019 levels.

For 2022, Inbound visits are forecast to increase to 24.0 million, and spending to £19.2 billion. These are 59% and 67% respectively of the visits and spend levels seen in 2019. Please note, these figures were forecast pre-Omicron variant.

VisitBritain/Oxford Economics forecasts find that we are not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2025.


What needs to be done to re-establish the UK as a holiday destination for international travellers? 

What should Government and the tourism boards be doing to support the inbound tourism industry in its recovery? 

  1. During the Pandemic, VisitBritain and VisitEngland have worked within its powers and Grant-In-Aid allocations to support the tourism industry, to prepare it for recovery.
    1. We acted as the interface between Industry and Government, providing timely and relevant comms, insight and data. Our research and insights were used to ensure that the economic impacts on the tourism industry were understood and that Government policy matched the scale of the response needed.
    2. We had a key role to play in supporting industry as a trusted voice. A COVID-19 information for businesses page was established on our website, and regular communications were shared with industry through our e-news bulletins. Tips and advice to help businesses during coronavirus were also available on our Business Support Hub.
    3. Our marketing and in-market teams ensured that Britain was kept top of mind as a destination, once it was possible to travel again. They did this through engaging potential visitors through our organic social media channels.
    4. As restrictions on relaxed over the Summers of 2020 we shifted to domestic consumer marketing, through our ‘Know Before You Go’ campaign – highlighting the need to abide by local restrictions. This was followed by the ‘Escape the Everyday Campaign’ to encourage domestic travel.
    5. Businesses and destinations facing consumer hesitancy were supported by the establishment of the ‘We’re Good to Go’ industry standard, businesses could display the mark if they demonstrated they had followed (or gone beyond) the Government guidelines. More than 50,000 businesses signed up to this scheme.
    6. We re-directed £1.3m worth of funds to ensure Destination Management Organisations (DMOs) could continue their vital work in supporting local tourism businesses.
    7. Our data and research continued throughout the pandemic, with new domestic and international consumer insight surveys added in order to inform the sector’s response and our own policy advice.


  1. As we have entered the recovery phase of the pandemic in 2021, we have shifted focus and adapted activity to support the wider sector in its recovery.
    1. Throughout 2020 and 2021 we have run our ‘Escape the Everyday’ campaign, which sought to drive domestic visits into the autumn period – with the intention of supporting business’ cash flow by extending the traditional season into the colder months. This campaign generated £18.7m additional tourism spend.
    2. In order to capture the pent up demand we are seeing for international travel our team has spent autumn developing creative for our first post-pandemic international marketing campaign. The £7m media campaign will focus on the ‘experience seeker’ segment in the US and Europe – markets we expect to recover quickest – and is due to launch in January (subject to restrictions).
    3. The Destination Management Company (DMC) and Inbound Tour Operator Amplification and Distribution Fund was launched in December 2021. Open to eligible DMCs and inbound tour operators, the grant funding will support the struggling inbound operator sector, whilst simultaneously marketing tourism to Britain during 2022. Funding for this programme is however limited.


  1. We support and welcome the publication of the Tourism Recovery Plan (TRP) in 2021, which sets out a clear vision for the recovery of the sector. It remains, however, unfunded.
    1. If we would like to realise the ambitions set out in the Tourism Recovery Plan, such as spend recovering one year earlier than predicted, the sector must be resourced to do so.
    2. The BTA is yet to receive its final settlement as part of the CSR, and therefore cannot yet plan campaigns and activity for the next financial year. Every indication is that we will receive a flat settlement or even a real terms reduction. These two factors make it unlikely that we will be able to adequately play our part in delivering the activity asked of us by the TRP (see point 9).


  1. Our international consumer sentiment tracker has helped us to monitor changing attitudes to travel during the pandemic. This data enables us to identify challenges in delivering recovery, keep industry informed of the latest trends, and shape consumer messaging accordingly. [Note: research conducted Aug/Sep 21].
    1. There is still an opportunity to shape the choices of those intending to travel – with just 13% having already booked travel/accommodation for their next trip. 32% are thinking about their next trip but have not decided on a destination.
    2. Travel intention amongst older age groups lags behind that of younger travellers – 87% of 18-34 year olds are probably or definitely intending to travel internationally in the next 12 months, compared to 75% of over 55s. This links closely with our decision to target ‘experience seekers’ in our new campaign (see point 2b).
    3. Despite a desire to travel, we still face some challenge in encouraging visitors to choose Britain over their home countries for trips, with 61% of respondents saying their will favour local destinations, while 71% of inbound visitors are looking for less crowded places to visit.
    4. International travellers are thinking more about the environmental impacts of their holidays (64%), and comfort in using public transport whilst away has improved since December 2020 (51% to 61%).
    5. The top activators for travel to Britain for international visitors are; money back guarantees, decreases in covid cases, and removal of quarantine policies.
    6. The top reasons travellers have for not wanting to visit Britain are; lack of interest in destination, high COVID-19 rate, and preference for other destinations.
    7. This data demonstrates the need for international marketing to inform visitors of the attractions and destinations on offer in Britain (especially in 2022), as well as the advantage that competitive policies can provide to British destinations (see point 14).


  1. In order to reassure consumers, and attract them back to Britain, consistent and reassuring messaging is required. Clarity on restrictions and entry requirements are a key part of this.
    1. As the world reacted to the Omicron variant, and we were warned of a ‘tidal wave’ of cases, we saw many countries closing their borders to Britain - creating further uncertainty and a knock to consumer confidence. This will need to be addressed.

What will the impact on the UK’s hospitality, cultural and heritage sectors be if inbound tourism is slow to recover to pre-pandemic levels?

  1. We estimate that £294 million was lost to the economy every day in 2020 alone from the loss of tourism spend. Loss of tourism has a big impact on the wider UK economy.
    1. ONS estimates a total loss of 29.8 million inbound visits and £22.2 billion in inbound visitor spending in 2020 when compared to 2019.


  1. Tourism is a sector that underpins many others, without international visitors we risk the viability of many businesses across the UK economy, as well as cultural institutions funded by Government.
    1. City based attractions and accommodation have been particularly impacted by the lack of international visitors. Usually, the top 4 UK cities for inbound spend (London, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Manchester) account for 63% of all inbound visitor spending, London alone accounts for 55% (£15.7bn). VisitEngland’s visitor attraction survey for 2020 found urban attractions saw a 74% decline in visitors, compared to 47% for rural attractions.
    2. There were an estimated 24.2 million overseas visits to DCMS-sponsored museums in 2019/20, accounting for 51.1% of all visits. More than 58% of the visitors to the Royal Museums Greenwich, the National Gallery, and the British Museum were international in 2019/20.
    3. During trips to Britain, tourists support a huge number of sub-sectors and their supply chains - from transport and retail, to accommodation and cultural attractions.
    4. Those who have visited Britain are 16% more likely to invest and do business here. Today’s visitors underpin the business opportunities and inward investment of tomorrow.


  1. We must however not be complacent that visitors will naturally return to Britain post-pandemic. Competitor destinations are already spending to ensure they capture the market as borders reopen.
    1. New York City have launched a $30m campaign, the Irish Government announced a further €39m for an ‘enhanced tourism marketing and product development’ pot, and France’s tourism board has been granted €20m to ‘reaffirm France’s place as benchmark destination’, as part of a €1.9bn ‘Destination France Plan’.
    2. Staycations alone won’t compensate for the loss in inbound revenue, as competitor destinations have identified, we must attract international visitors to support the sector. The sector also anticipates that a large proportion of the UK domestic market will also have pent up demand for overseas travel, which they will exercise once travel restrictions relax.
    3. International visitors won’t return immediately, with many potential travellers having not yet made up their minds on a destination (see point 4a), but we can incentivise them to choose Britain now through eye-catching communications that present the unexpected side of Britain and the events of 2022. This must however be backed up by clear and detailed travel guidance, and a strong product offering.
    4. Other destinations are recovering faster than the UK. Greece’s summer inbound flight bookings were 85% of their 2019 figures, compared to the UK whose bookings were just 14% of 2019 levels in the same period.
    5. While sector support from the UK Government has been welcomed, it has mainly focused on the supply side, we need to revive the demand side in order to support the sector in reducing its reliance on Government financing. The events of 2022 (Queens Jubilee, Unboxed Festival, and Commonwealth Games) present an opportunity to do so.

Does the Tourism Recovery Plan go far enough to support the industry’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic?  

What are the biggest challenges to delivering the plan? 

  1. As noted in point 3, while we welcome the ambitions and narrative presented in the TRP, we are currently not funded to deliver its asks of us.
    1. VisitBritain’s core budget has seen a 35% decrease since 2010, whilst the Tourism Recovery Plan wants to ensure that tourism value is rebuilt more quickly than current predictions.
    2. We have calculated that in order to deliver the ask of returning international value and volume to 2019 levels a year early, VisitBritain would need a marketing budget of c.£200m. Our international marketing campaign for Jan-Apr 2022 has a media budget of just £7m. We are hugely outspent by competitor destinations who have prioritised rebuilding tourism (such as the US, France, Spain and Ireland)
    3. The DMO review, which was also outlined as part of the Tourism Recovery Plan and was published later in 2021, also makes an ask of VisitEngland to manage a £15-20m per annum fund to ensure that Government priorities for tourism such as levelling up, are delivered at a local level. The Government has not yet responded to the review and we do not know if there is to be any funding for its delivery VisitEngland’s entire budget for 2021/22 was £7.1m and due to the need to focus on business support, we will not have the funding to deliver large scale domestic marketing campaigns
    4. We are still waiting for final confirmation of our budget for the next three years following the 2021 Spending Review, we expect to receive our allocation in late January. The settlement will determine our ability to deliver on the asks laid out in the TRP.


  1. A further challenge to the implementation of the Tourism Recovery Plan, and tourism policy development more widely, is the distribution of policy levers across multiple Government departments.
    1. For example, inbound tourists may require visas and travel guidance (Home Office/FCDO), pass through airports/ports, and use public transport to get to their destination (DfT). During their trip they might shop on our high streets (DLUHC), visit National Parks (DEFRA), and spend in our hospitality sector (BEIS). The sector employs millions of people, often at the beginning of their careers (DWP), and in 2019 produced £12.0bn in tax take (HMT).
    2. The visitor economy sector can support the delivery of the departmental priorities across Whitehall. The Department for International Trade for example, want to see the UK’s relationship with the life sciences, automotive, or digital sectors strengthened - something that the business visits and events sector can facilitate by winning and staging events here in the UK.
    3. Tourism is also a natural deliverer of the Government’s Levelling up agenda, spreading inward investment to destinations across the country and creating jobs.
    4. Tourism is a powerful soft power tool, building relationships and common cultural experiences between nations. VisitBritain/VisitEngland also play a role in spearheading Britain’s image overseas, shaping the positive public perceptions that form the basis of the Global Britain strategy. The people to people connections that our sector facilitates were recognised in the Government’s ‘Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy’.
    5. The proposed establishment of an inter-ministerial working group on tourism is a welcome step to address this concern, as it will bring relevant ministers together to discuss tourism policy specifically. We hope this will enable tourism policy to move up the Government’s wider policy agenda.
    6. We also welcome tourism’s inclusion on the recently launched Export Strategy ‘Made in the UK, Sold to the World’, and look forward to working more closely with DiT in delivering the ambitions it set out.


  1. Changing restrictions, both domestically and at the border create an uncertain environment in which to market Britain and deliver on the recovery plan.
    1. Industry has made it clear that the reintroduction of testing and the associated added complexity and cost for international travellers hit consumer confidence in the run-up to the critical festive season.
    2. Looking at the run-up to Christmas, inbound flight bookings to the UK made between 6th-13th December were down 76% when compared to the same week in 2019, and a fall from -49% four weeks before. This demonstrates both a fall in new bookings and an increase in cancellations since news of the Omicron variant broke.  We calculate that the fall in bookings over the first 4 weeks of Omicron equates to an estimated initial loss of £726 million in inbound tourism spending in the UK.
    3. See point 14.

What should the UK be doing to maintain its status as a ‘soft power superpower’ and further promote its culture and heritage on the global stage?  

How can the UK capitalise on its exit from the European Union? 

  1. The BTA’s expertise and connections help British destinations win events. These events not only facilitate trade and business investment within the Government’s priority sectors (from life sciences to automotive), but also provide skilled employment in towns and cities across the UK.
    1. Exhibitions, trade fairs, business meetings, conferences and other related activities provide a super-marketing platform for leading UK sectors, such as life science and finance, to showcase their products and latest innovations
    2. Prior to COVID-19, the UK business events industry was worth over £31.2 billion annually in direct visitor spending by event attendees and it employed an estimated 700,000 people across a wide range of creative, logistical, marketing, technical and organisational jobs
    3. A further £165 billion was transacted at events (e.g. boat sales at the Southampton Boat Show) which provide platforms for business-to-business and business-to-consumer engagement, sales and growth.
    4. As we establish Britain’s image and standing in the world post-Brexit, we should seize the opportunity to establish ourselves as the world’s meeting place.

What are the biggest threats to the status of ‘soft power superpower’?

  1. Establishing Britain as an ‘open and welcoming’ place to visit is vital to attract return visits, perception matters.
    1. Whilst most travellers (72%) continue to see Britain as a welcoming destination, we have seen a decline in sentiment amongst some of our biggest inbound markets. Just 65% of German and 61% of Spanish survey respondents think of Britain as welcoming to visitors.
    2. European markets are incredibly important for Britain’s tourism sector; we must ensure visitors continue to view us as a welcoming destination – this includes retaining language skills within the tourism and hospitality front line.
    3. Britain is also perceived as an expensive destination to visit. Just 50% of our survey respondents think it is ‘value for money’. Amongst Germans this is as low as 34%, Italy 39% and the USA 58%.
    4. The UK ranked 5th overall in the 2021 Nation Brands Index (which surveys 50 countries on their perceptions of others), behind Germany, Canada, Japan and Italy. This was the lowest rank the UK has received in the history of NBI. The UK’s Tourism ranking within the NBI has slipped two places to 6th.


  1. Policy changes that put us at a competitive disadvantage risk visitors choosing neighbouring destinations.
    1. 55% of inbound visitors go shopping whilst on their visit to Britain, reaching highs of 73% amongst GCC markets. Differences in the cost of products, or additional requirements to ship products home rather than fly with them, as a result of the decision to removal of tax free shopping, have the potential to act as a disincentive for travel to the UK. When visitors choose alternative shopping destinations (i.e Paris/Milan) for their trips, this harms the wider UK visitor economy and supply chains they would have accessed during their stay.
    2. Removing the ability of European visitors to use ID cards upon entry is having an impact on our attractiveness as a destination, especially amongst school groups. Exemptions for under 18s, or expansion of the collective passport schemes would help to mitigate this impact.
    3. Ensuring visit visas are kept at a competitive price, with short turnaround times, also incentivises visitors to choose Britain over other destinations. Such flexibility also helps us to demonstrate we are open for Business - for example the US has a 10-year visitor visa as standard for Chinese visitors


  1. The colleagues that make up the tourism and hospitality industry are an important part of providing a positive experience to inbound visitors, encouraging them to return, but the sector is facing a recruitment crisis.
    1. We are a sector that can support the Government’s aims to reduce unemployment - third of all new UK jobs created between 2010 and 2012 were in tourism.
    2. There were 196,000 vacancies in the accommodation, food, arts, entertainment, and recreation sectors between August-October 2021, a more than 83% increase on the same period in 2020.


Latest international consumer sentiment research - https://www.visitbritain.org/sites/default/files/vb-corporate/international_covid-19_sentiment_research_wave_3_report_final.pdf