The tourism industry is one of the UK’s great success stories. There were 41 million inbound visits in 2019 and domestic overnight trips in England looked set in 2020 to hit 100 million. Travel was the UK’s third largest service export, a catalyst for trade, an engine for growth, a creator of jobs across the length and breadth of the country and a key component of Britain’s enviable soft power ranking.
Tourism is an economic, social and cultural asset. The sector is a major contributor to jobs and growth in the UK, indirectly employing 4 million people and making a direct economic contribution of £75 billion a year pre-pandemic. The sector connects people to the UK’s history, showcases the UK’s innovation, and will have a key role to play in reviving the spirits of the nation as the country emerges from the pandemic.
In 2019, tourism made a direct economic contribution of £74.5 billion to the UK economy, representing around 4% of the UK’s total gross value added.8 There were approximately 4 million people indirectly employed in jobs serving tourists, with high numbers of young people and women employed in the sector. Figures show that there were 230,000 diverse businesses distributed across the length and breadth of the country – from tea shops to theme parks, hotels to campsites, canals to museums, National Landscapes to beaches and coaches to airports.
41 million visitors came to the UK for business or leisure in 2019, 10 million more than in 2010. They spent over £28 billion whilst here (contributing an estimated £4.5 billion in tax revenue), putting the UK in the top 5 countries globally for inbound visitor spending. On the domestic side, England looked set to hit 100 million domestic overnight trips.
When asked, inbound consumers say that Britain’s cultural attractions are the top motivation for visiting, followed by the variety of places on offer and the fact that it is somewhere new. The UK has world class museums and attractions, breathtaking and diverse natural landscapes, a thriving cultural and arts sector, a world-famous festival scene, unrivalled expertise in staging and organising business and sporting events a renowned heritage offer, great transport connections, first-class food and drink and much more. If the tourism sector is successful, then many other sectors – like arts, culture, hospitality, air, maritime, rail, coach, and business travel – are successful too.
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. Every industry has at least one major show or annual event. 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. 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.
Whether visiting friends or relatives in another part of the country, having a long weekend away, or booking a long holiday, tourism can have positive impacts on physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Furthermore, experiencing the UK first hand as an international visitor adds to the UK’s soft power, building the UK’s global reputation and promoting the UK’s values. This in turn generates a familiarity with, and an affection for, the UK that encourages shared alliances, inward investment, repeat visits and international trade.
The tourism sector covers inbound, outbound and domestic travel. It includes travel for both leisure – including holidays and visiting friends and relatives – and business purposes. In 2019, the sector encompassed a diverse range of 230,000 businesses, mostly small and medium sized enterprises. The sector covers:
Transport businesses including: airlines, ports/terminals, rail, cruise, coach, taxi, ferries, barges and buses;
Accommodation providers including: hotels, B&Bs, self-catering, hostels, camping, caravanning, riverboats, cruises, resorts and holiday parks;
Attractions including: indoor and outdoor events (sports, music, festivals, business events, fairs etc.), heritage, parks and gardens, theme parks, casinos, theatres, retail, food and drink, and experiences (spas, tours etc.);
Facilitators including: Destination Management Organisations, tour operators, tour guides, travel agents, travel management companies, travel insurance, FX bureaus and tourist information centres;
Suppliers including: event organisers, security, maintenance, food and drink manufacturers, florists and English Language Schools.
Domestic tourism: In 2019, Britons took 99.1 million overnight trips (all purposes) in England, totalling an expenditure of £19.5 billion. Domestic tourism policy is led by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, who are responsible for many aspects of the country’s tourism offer, including heritage, arts, theatres and museums. VisitEngland also plays an important role, working with VisitScotland, VisitWales and Tourism Northern Ireland, as do other departments, such as the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (which leads on the hospitality sector and weddings), the Department for the Environment and Rural Affairs (which leads on National Landscapes, zoos, and waterways) and the Department for Transport (which leads on coaches and rail).
Business events: Business visits accounted for 21% of all inbound visits in 2019, with 8.7 million such visits, and contributed £4.8 billion in spend. Business tourism policy is led by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, but it touches on all government departments; all economic sectors are uplifted by business events and business travel.
Outbound: Each year, UK residents take more than 70 million trips abroad, with British travellers being the fourth biggest spenders in the world.
Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport