India is forecast to be a GBP 1 billion inbound visitor market by 2024, making it one of the UK’s fastest growing major tourism markets. In 2022, visitors from India spent a record GBP 764 million in the UK, exceeding 2019 levels by 2%. This growth has continued into 2023.
As per the latest available statistics, visitors from India spent a record GBP 349 million from January to June 2023, up 4% compared to 2019. Airline seat capacity from India to the UK also indicates strong recovery and growth. Looking at September 2023, seat capacity was up 53% compared to the same month in 2019.
“In 2022, we had about 516,000 visitors going to Britain and spending GBP 764 million, which was a record from 2019. In 2023, we are looking at 663,000 visitors going in and spending GBP 965 million, which will again be a record,” shared Louise Bryce, Partnerships Director, VisitBritain.
Bryce was in Delhi to lead Destination Britain India, a B2B event organised by VisitBritain, where over a dozen British industry suppliers from across the nations and regions, met up with 75 top buyers from India for business. The three-day trade event saw a series of pre-scheduled one-to-one business meetings. The suppliers who attended the same included hotels, retailers, visitor attractions, tour operators, transport providers and local destinations from across Britain such as West Midlands Growth Company, Marketing Manchester and Visit Cumbria.
“A strong people connect exists between the two countries. Whether it is business, students, leisure or culture, there are a lot of commonalities between the two countries,” said Bryce.
“And while the perception is that people are going just to London, what we have observed is that Indian visitors spend more time in the rest of England than they do in London,” she said.
According to her, an average visitor from India spends about 27 days in the UK. “Of course, London is an important hub because that is where 96% of direct flights land,” she said.
In terms of growth trajectory, India is one of the fastest growing markets with one of the highest spenders, and delivers the most seasonal and regional spread in real term numbers, she said. “India is ranked at about 11th at the moment, given that Europe and Americas are our top markets owing to proximity. But, in time, we feel it will move up quickly and significantly,” she said.
In terms of engagement and growth within India, Bryce said that VisitBritain is now looking at extending its outreach beyond major metros such as Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai, to the tier two cities.
“Whether it is about going to Amritsar, which has a direct flight with Air India to Birmingham, to Trivandrum or even Lucknow, we are reaching out to educate the travel trade and create awareness because that is where we see the next wave of growth coming,” said Bryce. VisitBritain plans to host a series of roadshows in five tier two cities from January to March.
“Our focus would be to create awareness and inspire people to explore the UK beyond the major cities,” said Bryce, adding that inventory – be it hotels or airlines – remains the biggest challenge in group travel.
“So that’s where we come in to say, you plan six months in advance because other markets globally are doing that. If you want inventory for your group departures, you have to think about six to eight months in advance for better rates and cost benefits,” she advised.
MICE has been an important segment for VisitBritain. “We have observed a big movement among the corporates after a long time. A lot of this has to do with the fact that nothing happened for two or three years. UK or London figured majorly in rewards for the incentive groups for the dealers or staff. And the fact that visas have been turning around quickly for the UK has obviously helped us,” she said.
Film tourism is another important segment for VisitBritain and it is planning to launch a film tourism campaign soon. “It will be largely paid activity in the US, Germany and France. But we plan to distribute it across our own channels through the media and through trade as our major theme over the next three years,” she concluded.