West Midlands leads UK’s COVID recovery with record visitor numbers in 2022

The West Midlands welcomed an unprecedented 141.2 million visitors in 2022, smashing the previous record set before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The figures represent a 38% increase on tourist numbers in 2021, and a 5% rise compared to 2019 data, which was the last research to be carried out before the tourist industry was severely impacted by the global pandemic.

With the UK government’s aim to recover both domestic and inbound visitor numbers to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2023, the West Midlands is leading the country’s Covid recovery 12 months ahead of schedule.

Spending by visitors to the West Midlands in 2022 rose to £14.1 billion, up by £4 billion (39%) from 2021 and £1 billion (7%) more than pre-Covid figures in 2019. Tourists spent most on the West Midlands’ retail (41%), food and drink (21%) and recreational (15%) offer, when visiting the region.

The findings were revealed by the West Midlands Growth Company – the region’s economic development agency – and independent tourism research body Global Tourism Solutions.

Neil Rami, chief executive of the West Midlands Growth Company, said:
“The West Midlands was the place to be in 2022, reflected by record visitor numbers to our region’s tourism and hospitality settings, accommodation venues and public spaces.

“The past 12 months have reinforced the value of attracting and hosting major international sporting events and festivals. Not only do they significantly boost the West Midlands’ visitor economy, but they also leave a positive, lasting impression with tourists.

“Our three-year global Business and Tourism Programme capitalised on the halo effect of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, targeting UK, Australian, Canadian and Indian visitors. By delivering more than 400 travel trade meetings and developing new travel trade bookable products, we have raised the profile of the West Midlands’ tourism destinations. Evidence has shown that our activity has positively changed how the region is perceived domestically and overseas.”

The Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games gave the West Midlands its time to shine on the international stage, presenting the UK with a cause for celebration and drawing crowds from across the world. A record 1.5 million spectators bought tickets for events, making it the most popular Commonwealth Games ever to be hosted in the UK. More than five million people came to Birmingham city centre during Games-time – a 200% increase on the same period 12 months earlier.

Hotel occupancy in Birmingham averaged 90% during the 12-day Commonwealth Games period, with an unprecedented 95% peak on Saturday 6 August. West Midlands hotels received an additional £19.4 million in room revenue compared to the same period in 2019.

Other major events enticing crowds to the West Midlands in 2022 included the Birmingham 2022 Festival (March – September); the British Art Show 9 in Wolverhampton (January – April); Coventry UK City of Culture (until May); the Sandwell & Birmingham Mela (August); and the Rugby League World Cup in Coventry (October).

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, added:
“After what no one could dispute has been a challenging time for the world’s tourism industry, it’s great news to see that our region has defied national predictions to bounce back more rapidly than expected.

“The relative strength and resilience of our tourism sector is why I remain hopeful that we can get more local people into tourism related jobs in the months and years ahead – something I know is a priority for our regional Tourism & Hospitality Advisory Board.”

For the first time, the West Midlands’ annual visitor economy report includes short-term letting and peer accommodation data, analysing information supplied by Airbnb to incorporate new visits, visitor nights and expenditure to the region.

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