Passenger arrivals to UK drop by 78.8 million – costing ‘almost £24 billion’

(Image: ANDY RAIN/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

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Visits to Britain plummeted as coronavirus gripped the economy and international travel ground to halt, figures confirmed on Thursday.

Home Office statistics show an estimated 67.2 million passengers arrived in the UK in the year to September 2020, including overseas tourists and returning UK nationals – a 78.8 million fall, or 54%, compared with the previous year.

The dramatic drop was fuelled by “significantly fewer passenger journeys” between April and October, when there was an 87% drop – equivalent to 74 million fewer people – compared with the same period in the previous year.

The plunge was “due to the travel restrictions imposed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic”, the Home Office said – and triggered fresh fears for Britain's tourism industry.

Joss Croft, chief executive of tourism body Ukinbound, said: “Any business that works within the UK’s third largest service export sector, inbound tourism, will tell you they’ve had virtually no international visitors since March this year and these figures show the stark reality of this.

“It’s predicted that in 2020 international visitor numbers to the UK will drop by 74% – equating to a loss to the British economy of almost £24 billion.”

Civil Aviation Authority figures showed the volume of air passengers arriving and leaving the UK was significantly lower in March compared with the same month last year.

Numbers fell further in April to June during the first lockdown, with drops of more than 95% for UK travel to and from most world regions compared with the same months in 2019.

The cost to the UK economy is dramatic

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While arrivals' and departures' numbers rose between July and September when international travel restrictions were eased and travel corridors were introduced, air travel was still significantly lower than before the pandemic.

About 1.7 million passengers arrived in the UK by air in October – 82% lower than the 9.8 million arrivals in October last year.

Airlines UK chief executive Tim Alderslade said: “The majority of overseas visitors to the UK arrive by air, and these figures show just how damaging the pandemic has been for airlines who saw passengers numbers collapse in April and never recover.

“Supporting UK carriers over the winter and getting people flying again is now the priority.

“The introduction of a testing regime to reduce quarantine from December will provide a real boost, and positive news around vaccines holds out the prospect that 2021 can be a genuine year of recovery, but first we need to work with the Government to bed-in the testing regime and move as quickly as possible to a system of pre-departure or rapid UK testing that can get rid of the quarantine altogether.”

Meanwhile, the Office of National Statistics has suspended its International Passenger Survey, which it uses to calculate annual net migration, because of the pandemic.

Analysts were due to publish their latest quarterly update on Thursday.

The ONS said it was “in the process of developing international migration statistics based on alternative administrative data sources”.

It added: “These new migration estimates are in development.”

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