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UK tourism industry in 2019

The last 12 months in the UK have been dominated by political and economic uncertainty meaning hotels alongside others in hospitality have had to stay at the top of their game to ensure success.

But despite concerns over the potential impact of the Brexit deadlock and associated uncertainty across the whole economy, figures so far suggest UK tourism performed well throughout 2019 with holidays remaining a spending priority, according to ABTA.

Here are the key takeaways from 2019:

1) Tourism spending recovers

UK tourism bounced back in 2019 with overseas visitor numbers and spending increasing after a dip the previous year, early figures suggest.

The value of inbound visitor spending rose 9.1% to £25bn based on ONS figures up to August. This will be a new record for spending, beating the £24.5bn achieved in 2017.

The number of overseas visits has also recovered increasing 1.7% to 38.5million visits – still slightly below the 2017 peak of 39.2 million.

Forward flight bookings to the UK from December 2019 to May 2020 are up 5% compared to the same period last year, data from ForwardKeys shows. Bookings to the UK from China and South Asia are particularly strong, up 33% and 22% respectively.

Tourism is worth £127 billion to the UK economy and is a major job creator – for every 22 inbound visits from China, one tourism job is created.

2) Tourism trends seen in 2019

There have been a number of notable tourism trends that have continued to gain momentum in the last 12 months. Here are three of the key ones:

Adventure travel: This is not new but its continued popularity showed no signs of abating in 2019. This means many more hotels and travel operators are tailoring their offering to meet the rising demand for holidays involving some sort of outdoors activity, from cycling and trekking to canoeing or wild swimming. Hotels based in wilder rural areas are particularly well placed to capitalise on the popularity of adventure travel but all hotels can proactively market the many activities available near them and help guests book and arrange any adventures they seek.

Healthy holidays: From yoga retreats to spa breaks, there is a huge rise in people seeking a health boosting holiday. Again, hoteliers have risen to meet this challenge with a huge number of hotels building new spas in the last few years and introducing a range of exercise classes such as yoga and pilates. With the Instagram generation as obsessed with health and fitness as ever, and many people seeking new ways to destress and reboot away from their sedentary office bound jobs, this trend is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

Rise of the solo traveler: Many more people are now choosing to travel on their own, free of the restraints and compromises that come from being in a couple or group. Double the number of Britons travel alone today than in 2011, according to ABTA – a trend that is being seen all over the world. Hotels can make themselves more appealing to this growing market by ensuring they offer single rooms at reasonable prices as traditionally people on their own have often been forced to pay for a double room when travelling solo.

3) The most popular UK destinations in 2019

London remains the most visited place in the UK by a large margin but tourism is seeing a major boost across the regions in particular in Scotland and the north of England, according to Expedia figures.

The highest year on year growth in visitor numbers was seen in the Scottish Islands, then South Wales, then West Scotland, the research showed. The North West, North East, Lake District and Cumbria and Scottish Highlands and Scottish Borders were also all listed in the top 10 for year on year visitor rises.

The destinations which attracted the most visitors in the first half of 2019 were revealed as:
1. London
2. Manchester
3. Edinburgh
4. Birmingham
5. East Midlands
6. Glasgow
7. West Midlands
8. Yorkshire
9. Liverpool
10. Hampshire

This is good news for the hotel industry as it suggests tourists are exploring further afield enabling hoteliers in more remote parts of the country to build successful businesses – as we have seen with so many of our hotel clients.

So the general picture is one of continued growth for UK tourism. Hotels must focus on making the most of this by offering guests unforgettable experiences that make them want to return time and again.