Drop in tourism could wipe £22bn from UK economy, says WTTC

The UK is forecast to lose £22bn in spending as international tourism plummets, putting almost 3m jobs at risk, according to a report.

The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) said the continuing uncertainty around travel restrictions designed to halt a resurgence in coronavirus cases is causing millions of overseas travellers and tourists to opt for staycations in their home countries instead.

An impact assessment on the UK economy by the organisation estimates that the drop in international tourist numbers could result in the amount spent dropping by as much as 78%, or £420m a week.

In a “worst-case” scenario mapped out by the WTTC, almost 3m jobs in the UK that rely on, or are supported by, the travel and tourism industry are at risk of being lost.

“The lack of international travel caused by the pandemic could wipe out more than £22bn from the UK economy alone, a loss of £60m a day, from which it could take years to recover,” said Gloria Guevara, the president and chief executive of the WTTC. “It could also threaten London’s position as one of the world’s premier hubs for business and leisure travel, which could see other destinations take over.”

The WTTC’s 2020 economic impact report estimates that the travel and tourism industry is responsible for almost 4m jobs, 11% of the country’s total workforce, and generates almost £200bn annually, 9% of the UK economy.

Guevara criticised the UK government’s “stop-start” quarantine measures and lack of test and trace at international entry points. Last month the chief executive of Heathrow accused the government of playing “quarantine roulette” as the UK’s biggest airport reported a £1bn loss, with passenger numbers slumping by 96%.

“We urgently need to replace stop-start quarantine measures with rapid, comprehensive and cost-effective test and trace programmes at departure points across the country,” Guevara said. “This investment will be significantly less than the impact of blunt quarantines, which have devastating and far-reaching social-economic consequences. Targeted test and tracing will also rebuild consumer confidence to travel.”

The WTTC said that international travel spending in the UK hit £28bn last year, accounting for 17% of the total tourism spend in the UK. Between 2016 and 2018, the largest markets for travellers to the UK were from the US, France, Germany, Ireland and Spain. The report said London is particularly dependent on international tourism, which accounts for 85% of all tourism spending in the city.

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