ONS COVID-19 Briefing: Coronavirus and the Impact on UK travel and tourism industry

  • Briefing: 15th February 2021
  • Coronavirus and the impact on the UK travel and tourism industry
  • National (Released: 15th February 2021)

Analysis of how industries related to travel and tourism in the UK have been affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, using data on business performance and the labour market.

Key Points

  • Monthly air passenger arrivals to the UK fell from 6,804,900 in February 2020 to 112,300 in April 2020, a fall of 98.3%.
  • Greater London saw the largest fall in room occupancy of any English region from 2019 to 2020, with just 20% of rooms occupied in July 2020 compared with 90% in the same month in 2019.
  • Accommodation and travel agency businesses saw the sharpest decline in turnover during the first national lockdown, falling to 9.3% of their February levels in May 2020.
  • The proportion of businesses in travel and tourism industries trading peaked at 85% in October 2020, before declining in response to increasing restrictions in November.
  • In the three months to June 2020, employment in accommodation for visitors fell by 21.5% compared with the same three months of 2019.
  • In travel and tourism industries overall, the number of people aged 16 to 24 years saw the largest fall in employment of any age group between Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2019 and Quarter 3 2020.

Context

Passenger numbers

According to estimates, in Quarter 2 2020 overseas residents made 96% fewer visits and spent 97% less than in Quarter 2 2019.

Data from the Civil Aviation Authority show how international passenger traffic at UK airports fell to 1.9% of its February 2020 levels in April, recovering to a peak of 36.7% in August before falling again in response to increased restrictions.

Domestic air passenger traffic followed a similar pattern, although fell at a slower pace after the peak in August, as more international restrictions were imposed. Notably, the two types of passenger traffic have performed similarly in 2020, relative to their levels in February 2020, while in 2019 international passenger traffic was far more seasonal.

International passenger arrivals fell from 6.8 million in February 2020 to 112,300 in April, of which 56.5% were British nationals, an increase of 5.6 percentage points on the proportion in February. British nationals, as a proportion of all arrivals to the UK, fell to a low of 33.6% in June before rising again to 57.0% in August as national restrictions relaxed further.

For Eurotunnel, in April 2020, only 19,862 passenger vehicles travelled, compared with 227,393 in the same month in 2019, a decrease of 91.3%. This includes cars, motorcycles, vehicles with trailers, caravans, camper vans and coaches.

After the partial relaxation of restrictions in both the UK and France, passenger traffic rose to a peak of 267,942 in August, a decrease of 28.2% from the same month in 2019.

Hotel occupancy in England

Occupancy in every English region declined sharply at the start of the pandemic, with room occupancy in the West Midlands at just 17% of available rooms in open accommodation businesses in April 2020, compared with 71% the previous year.

The recovery for different regions has been at different rates. Greater London saw the weakest recovery of hotel room occupancy of any English region in the summer of 2020, with just 20% of rooms occupied in July 2020 compared with 90% in the same month the previous year. This was in contrast to 2019 when Greater London had the highest occupancy rate in every month except for August.

This is a notable reversal and suggests that the loss of international tourism has been felt most severely in the capital.

Business turnover

Turnover in travel and tourism businesses fell to its lowest level in 2020 in May, at just 26.0% of February levels, compared with 73.6% in all other industries. Accommodation and travel agency businesses saw the sharpest decline in turnover during the first national lockdown, falling to 9.3% of their February levels in May.

In every sub-industry except exhibitions and conferences, there was a response to relaxing restrictions in the summer, with the turnover in food and beverage serving industries peaking at 90.0% of February levels in August.

Trading status

The proportion of businesses currently trading increased in most travel and tourism industries in July and August, with the proportion of accommodation and travel agency businesses increasing from 43% trading in early July 2020 to 98% in late August, before declining to 51% in November in response to national lockdown restrictions.

By mid-January 2021, this proportion had declined further, with only 37% of accommodation business trading, likely the result of both seasonality and new government restrictions.

Impact on the labour market in travel and tourism industries

The number of people reporting their main job as being in the travel and tourism industry during Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2020 was 10.8% lower than in the same quarter of 2019. Over the same period, employment in other industries increased by 0.1%.

Of the industries within travel and tourism, accommodation for visitors saw the largest percentage fall in employment (negative 21.5%). Food and beverage serving activities saw smaller percentage falls, but this industry made up 40% of employment in travel and tourism in the three months to March 2020.

Breaking down changes in employment between 2019 and 2020, travel and tourism industries subtracted from overall employment growth in the first three quarters of 2020.

In travel and tourism industries, the number of people aged 25 to 34 years working full-time saw the largest fall, followed by people aged 16 to 24 years working part-time. Over the same period, the number of people employed full-time in other industries increased in all but the youngest age group, while all age groups saw decreases in part-time employment in other industries.