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UK set to be a travel hotspot in 2023 as business trips bounce back, China re-opens and travellers spend on experiences

Last Updated on: 22nd November 2023, 06:50 pm

The UK is set to become one of the most popular global travel destinations in 2023, new insights from the Mastercard Economics Institute reveals. The Travel Industry Trends 2023 report analyses economic trends through Mastercard spending data around the world.

Key findings:

Business travel bounces back, especially where workers have returned to the office. Leisure and business travel are growing at the same pace. In the second half of 2022 into early 2023, corporate flight bookings caught up to leisure flight bookings, driven by regions with a strong return to office culture. In these regions, corporate flight bookings are up 83% in 2023 so far compared to 2019, while countries with a strong work-from-home labour market are up 37%. Global leisure travel remains robust, with flight bookings up roughly 31% in March 2023 compared to the same month in 2019*. Our insights show demand for in-person meetings, with the most significant growth in commercial travel and entertainment expenses being led by Asia Pacific and Europe up 64% and 42%, respectively, between January-March 2023.**

The UK will be the number one travel hotspot for European and Middle Eastern travellers in 2023. The UK is predicted to be the number 1 destination for travellers from Europe and the Middle East and is in the top 10 travel destinations for travellers from every region around the world. As well as the UK, Europeans are predicted to head to Spain, Italy and the US, highlighting a desire to venture across the pond, as well as a weaker dollar compared to last year.

Tourists continue to prioritise spending on experiences over things. Whether influenced by social media or their favourite TV show, travellers are demanding unique travel experiences. Travellers are spending on experiences like restaurants, bars and events, rather than shopping. As of March 2023, global spending on experiences was up 65% while spending on things is up 12% compared to 2019.*** In the UK, inbound tourism spend on experiences in March 2023 was up 27.2% compared to 2019, with spending on things down 11.7% for the same period.

Mainland China’s reopening benefits global tourism and boosts spending in the UK. Flight bookings in the Asia Pacific region are surging as strict mobility restrictions for three years have led to high pent-up demand for travel. Economies in the Asia Pacific region are beneficiaries of China’s opening, given their strong ties to international trade, tourism, and geographical proximity. But the UK is also poised to benefit: in March, spending by Chinese visitors on experiences in London was 2.9 times higher compared to the same month in 2019. London’s luxury goods market is already benefiting, with spending 2.8 times higher than March 2019.

“After a strong recovery last year, pent-up desire to travel is set to boost global growth again in 2023“, comments Natalia Lechmanova, Senior Economist, Europe at Mastercard. “Global airline leisure and business bookings were over 30% above pre-pandemic levels in March. The UK, as a top global destination for travellers from all corners of the world is set to benefit from this trend. The services sector is particularly well placed as travellers continue to prioritise spending on experiences over spending on things.”

You can view the full Travel Industry Trends 2023 report here. Other reports and insights from the Mastercard Economics Institute can be found here.


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