UK tourism crisis as visitors steer clear

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UK tourism crisis

Reports of a UK tourism crisis have emerged, painting a gloomy picture for the year ahead.

The UK is a country that has endured national fuel shortages, isolated food shortages, raw sewage being dumped on its famous coastlines and the second highest number of COVID-19 cases in the world. So why would anyone want to visit Britain?

According to the national tourist board (Visit Britain), not many. Forecasts show even less visitors are expected this year than in 2020 when restrictions were at their highest. Visitor numbers are expected to fall by 82% in comparison to 2019 (73% in 2020).

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By comparison neighbouring France has experienced a 34.9% growth whilst Spain has recovered to 64% of their 2019 numbers.

According to Kurt Janson, director of the UK’s Tourism Alliance “some of the problems are government-inflicted as well as Covid-inflicted”. Industry insiders agree describing the situation as a perfect storm with low government spending on tourism, inconsistent travel rules, high COVID-19 figures, Brexit and negative news stories all playing their part.

Causes of the UK tourism crisis

Firstly, the pandemic. While the UK was quick off the mark with vaccinations it now trails many other countries. But this is not the only problem. Most tourist-heavy countries have continued mask mandates while the UK has made a big noise about its dropping of restrictions. While the relaxation of the rules was intended to open the UK up, those outside are seeing it in a different way. “Safety is the number one concern for Chinese visitors. We’re more sensitive and more careful than other countries,” says Marcus Lee, CEO of China Travel Online.


Secondly, Europeans are being locked out. According to Tom Jenkins, CEO of the ETOA (the trade association for inbound tourism to Europe) around three quarters of Europeans don’t have passports, since they can travel around Europe with their ID cards. That means the UK following Brexit is no longer an option in particular hitting families and school trips.

Thirdly, on January 1, 2021, the government abolished the VAT Retail Export Scheme, which allowed tax-free shopping in the UK for non-EU citizens. That makes the UK the only European country not offering tax-free shopping to visitors from outside the EU. A government spokesperson told CNN: “Around 92% of non-EU visitors to the UK didn’t use the VAT Retail Export Scheme and extending it to the EU would have substantially increased the costs of the scheme.”

Fourthly, “there’s a widespread perception that the UK is struggling to maintain its service economy,” says Jenkins. Press coverage and stories of fuel and food shortages, and staffing problems give the impression that this is a good holiday destination. After all there are many alternative options that are far easier to access and who’s reputation has not been tarnished.


Finally, stricter rules for foreigners entering the country than locals could also be having an effect travel industry experts say. Although the UK’s traffic light system and the quarantine hotels are a thing of the past, vaccination and testing requirements after arrival are off putting.

There is some good news. The recent announcement allowing Americans once again to travel to the UK is good news for the tourist industry. Bookings are up 62% and there are many events that are traditionally popular with Americans on the horizon.

However, Janson says the UK needs a decent marketing campaign to take advantage of the situation. Many countries around the world have increased their spending to attract tourists willing to travel. At the same time the UK is cutting back with Visit Britain’s core budget having been reduced by 35% in real terms over the past decade as reported by CNN.


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