UK tourism draws £34 million, but suffers from safety fears

13 October 2017 4 min. read
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The UK remains a major beneficiary of global tourism, drawing 34 million international travellers in 2016, generating 3.7% of the national GDP. While the UK scores well from cultural resources and business travel, however, security standards have declined, and health and safety remains a barrier to further growth in the tourist sector.

Tourism remains a key driver for economies around the globe. Attracting tourists provides countries with boosts to their growth, employment, development and cultural exchange. Globally, around $7.6 trillion in GDP is created by the tourism industry, representing 10.2% of total global GDP. The industry generated around 292 million jobs in 2016, while international arrivals increased by 46 million in 2016 to 1.2 billion. The high value of the industry means that countries are increasingly vying to attract people to their shores. The industry is expecting to see around 1.8 billion tourists by 2030, which is in turn boosting aircraft demand and exposing travel sector skillset shortages.


To better understand how countries globally attract and manage tourists, the World Economic Forum releases a yearly ‘Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report’ index, ranking countries along a range of key economic, environmental and social categories. The index is developed from 4 pillars, enabling conditions, T&C policies, infrastructure and natural and cultural environment, and various sub-indices for 136 countries.

According to this year’s Index, the tourist industry in the UK is one of world’s most vibrant, attracting more than 34 million people every year, with visitors providing around $45 billion in inbound receipts. The economic output generated by tourism to the UK equates to around $103 billion, or 3.7% of total GDP. The sector also remains important in terms of employment, generating almost 1.8 million jobs, or 5.3% of the working population.

Performance overview

In terms of its global rank on the Tourism and Travel Index, the UK ranks 5th. The country is particularly strong in terms of business environment, scoring 4th globally, as well as being well placed in terms of cultural resources and business travel (7th), tourist services infrastructure (7th) and air transport infrastructure (8th).

Room for improvement

Not all areas are equally well placed, with the country being seen as one of the world’s most expensive places to travel to (135th) – although this is a minor improvement of 5 spots on the previous survey –with relatively poor safety and security standards, for which the country fell by 15 spots on the previous survey to 78th. The UK also fared poorly in health and hygiene (49th) and environmental sustainability (24th), which saw a decline of seven spots on the previous survey.

Travel and tourism competitive index

While the UK performs well in terms of tourism, it will need to see those areas of concern improve if it is to catch its neighbours and closest rivals on the continent. Europe as a whole remains one of the most visited regions in the world, attracting 640 million people last year alone.

Spain was found to be number one globally, with a relatively strong enabling environment, in terms of both safety and security and health and safety, although the country’s strong performance on the Index generally stems from its natural resources and cultural heritage – as well as its industrial focus on the tourism industry, with governmental spending on infrastructure relating to this traditionally treated as a priority.

France meanwhile takes the number two spot globally and regionally – boasting high levels of cultural resources and business travel as well as a robust natural environment and strong health and safety regulations. Germany rounds off the top three globally, backed by strong enabling conditions, with additionally a strong performance in cultural resources and business travel.