VisitBritain is forecasting fewer than 17 million tourists will arrive in the UK next year, less than half the 2019 total, but says signs of a recovery are emerging.
The tourism body predicts 16.9 arrivals next year, an increase of 73% on 2020, but far short of the 40.9 million visits recorded in 2019.
Similarly, inbound spend is forecast to reach £9 billion next year, up 59% on 2020, but less than a third of the all-time high of £28.4 billion reached in 2019.
VisitBritain director Patricia Yates said the figures were proof of an upturn for inbound tourism.
“Beginning to see signs of some green shoots is encouraging news for the industry and the economy as we look to 2021 and beyond,” she said.
“Tourism is also a fiercely competitive global industry and the key to success will be attracting visitors, those who can travel now, stimulating demand and bookings to drive the quickest return of international tourism spend.”
Visits from short-haul European markets are forecast to recover quicker than long-haul, although short-haul is still expected to be half of the 27.3 million seen in 2019.
In long-haul, the forecast is for 3.3 million inbound visits to the UK in 2021, less than a quarter of the 13.6 million in 2019.
VisitBritain is set to launch a campaign in early 2021 across major European markets including Germany and France – the third and fourth most valuable tourism source markets – to drive future bookings by highlighting messages of welcome and reassurance.
VisitBritain’s latest inbound consumer sentiment research showed a third of international travellers surveyed stated they were “in the mood” for travelling abroad in 2021.
More than a quarter expected to have the time and the means to travel abroad but not to book far in advance. One in five had not chosen their destination for 2021, with a similar proportion having postponed plans from 2020 to 2021.