Outbound travel from the UK is accelerating, indicating that travellers are not planning to travel any less than they did before the Covid crisis. Jenny Southan reports

GlobalData predicts that by 2024, there will be 86.9 million UK departures, surpassing the 84.7 million figure recorded in 2019, despite the economic decline in Europe. This shows a shift away from the “fly less, stay longer” trend of 2021.

GlobalData’s latest report, “United Kingdom (UK) Source Tourism Insight, 2022 Update”, notes that the recovery in outbound tourism follows a weak 2020 and 2021, where lower traveller confidence and strict COVID-19 measures saw the UK’s outbound tourism numbers shrink to a fraction of what they were in 2019.

Megan Cross, a travel and tourism analyst at GlobalData, says: “The Covid-19 pandemic had a huge impact on international travel from the UK with the outbound tourism numbers witnessing a 78.2 per cent year-on-year (year-on-year) decline from 84.7 million in 2019 to 18.5 million in 2020, before a further decline in 2021 (-11.7 per cent year-on-year) to a mere 16.3 million.

“With restrictions now eased, and confidence returning, projections for 2022 and beyond are much brighter. This recovery will be a great boost, as the UK is an important source market on the global stage.”

With rising prices causing budgets to be re-assessed, British travellers are increasingly looking for budget-friendly options. A survey by GlobalData found that 48% of British respondents cite “affordability” as a main factor in deciding where to go on holiday.

Cross continues: “The periods of high inflation will typically see severely dampened demand for international travel. However, as seen from multiple stories about queues at European airports, the demand is still intact.

“Many European travelers keen on keeping their holiday plans may simply cut the amount they spend on products and services both before and during their trips. For example, travellers who usually stay in midscale hotels may now lean towards budget forms of accommodation to keep the costs down. This will certainly play into the hands of companies that already target budget travellers.”

Spain remains the number-one outbound destination for British tourists due to easy, direct travel routes between the two countries. The UK was consistently Spain’s largest inbound tourist demographic before the pandemic, but the scale of inbound tourism fell dramatically, from 18 million British tourists in 2019, to second largest (3.2 million) in 2020 and third largest (3.5 million) in 2021, amid the start of international travel recovery.

With concerns and restrictions lessening, the influx of British tourists anticipated by Spain will provide a welcome boost to the recovery of its tourism industry, with 18.7 million British tourists expected by 2024.

Cross concludes: “The absence of British tourists during the pandemic impacted many countries, especially in Europe. Destinations that can cater to British travelers’ specific needs will see their recovery timelines shortened in the coming years.”