Between the covid-19 pandemic, Brexit and food shortages, the UK is struggling to attract foreign tourists. In two years, the number of visitors has fallen by 80%. But the country appears to be an isolated case in Europe -- where tourism growth has picked up this year -- and even in the world.
Tourists have deserted the United Kingdom in 2021. According to figures from the national tourist board Visit Britain, the number of visits fell by 97% compared to 2019. In the first half of 2021, the UK received 471,000 inbound visits, although the figure only counts air entries and excludes tourists who came by ferry or train.
At the time of these tourism figures' publication, the year-end scenario forecasts a total number of 7.7 million visits for 2021. That's a drop of just over 80% in British tourism compared to 2019. In that year, the UK welcomed 40.9 million tourists, and just 11.1 million in 2020.
This decline in appeal for UK visits could be linked to various causes and consequences. First, the covid-19 crisis has slowed down tourist travel. But while the pandemic has been picking up again in Europe since early November, the number of new cases in the UK has not fallen below 20,000 since June 27, 2021. Today, the UK and Germany are the two countries with the highest number of cases in Europe.
But the difficulties facing tourism aren't only due to the pandemic. Brexit could also have its share of responsibility. Since October 1, 2021, European visitors cannot travel to the UK without a passport -- and an ID card is no longer sufficient. Tom Jenkins, CEO of Europe's inbound tourism trade association, ETOA, told CNN that about three quarters of Europeans don't even have passports, since they can travel around Europe with their national ID cards.
The collapse of British tourism could also be linked to other, more political factors, including recent shortages of fuel and food, travel rules that are seen as inconsistent, and a government that is reluctant to spend money on the tourism sector.
The United Kingdom: a special case
All these reasons make the country a unique case in Europe, where the recovery of tourism is well underway. In France, for example, the tourism situation is more encouraging. According to a study by the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), France is expected to see growth of 34.9% in the tourism and travel sector compared to 2020. And in Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey... the other major tourist countries in Europe are also managing to recover from the difficult year they experienced in 2020. In fact, the continent's overall recovery is estimated at +23.9% this year.
The same is true of the United States, where the trend is upward. The reopening of the country's borders with the rest of the world led to an increase in flight bookings in early October. The WTTC forecasts 35.6% growth in the United States in 2021.
In Asia, the borders of some countries are only just reopening to vaccinated people. While India has been accepting vaccinated travelers since November 15, Thailand and Sri Lanka have been accessible since November 1 and early October respectively. Like Thailand, these countries are counting on tourism to boost their economies in 2022.