BER21: The Future of Birmingham’s Visitor Economy

West Midlands Growth Company

This blog post was produced for inclusion in the Birmingham Economic Review for 2021.

The annual Birmingham Economic Review is produced by the University of Birmingham’s City-REDI and the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce. It is an in-depth exploration of the economy of England’s second city and a high-quality resource for informing research, policy and investment decisions.

This post is featured in Chapter 4 of the Birmingham Economic Review for 2021, Connected Places: Foundations for Growth

Click here to read the Review.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic

Since the writing of the West Midlands’ 10-Year Tourism Strategy, the world has seen unprecedented upheaval due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The mid-long-term impacts are still unknown, but the expectation is that tourism will be fundamentally changed. In the short-term:

  • It is widely acknowledged that the travel, tourism, hospitality, events, arts, culture and heritage sectors have been the hardest hit economically (In 2020-21 we estimate that visitor volume and value were down by two thirds at both a national and regional level[1])
  • The majority of businesses within those sectors (public and private) either completely closed, partially closed or pivoting to hybrid business models (90% were temporarily closed at some point during the year and half saw revenue fall by more than 75%[2]) with severe impacts on their staff and supply chains[3].

Future prospects

  • As Covid restrictions are lifted we hope to see a release of pent-up demand, at least in the domestic leisure market, after months of lockdown measures - hopefully underpinning recovery in the latter part of 2021.
  • From 2022 onwards we expect visitor numbers and spend to start to rise year-on-year, returning to pre-covid levels by 2024.[4]

Key drivers and enablers

Growth in the short term is likely to be dampened by a number of factors – for example:

  • At present the greatest domestic growth is at coastal and countryside locations, with cities and urban tourism continuing to see activity well below usual levels.
  • Recovery in the higher value overseas and business conference, event and exhibition segments of the market is expected to be muted:
  • Covid vaccination programmes are taking longer to gain traction in many of the region’s key markets
  • Inbound countries’ own travel advice allows differing degrees of access for their citizens.
  • Awareness of what the West Midlands’ destinations have to offer visitors is low.
  • There is a danger that some of our visitor services may not re-open Research indicates that some 6,000 hospitality businesses across the UK closed in 2020, with Birmingham one of the hardest hit cities in the country, losing 8.5% of its bars, pubs and licensed restaurants or hotels[5].
  • Restrictions, whether mandatory or through risk assessments to keep visitors and staff safe, continue to depress capacity at some venues, and staff shortages through isolation have resulted in temporary reclosure across the tourism and hospitality sector.
  • Those businesses that have re-opened, meanwhile, face significant labour and skills shortages. While 40% have made redundancies and a similar proportion have placed staff on furlough, many workers have decided not to come back into the sector, found work in other industries or, in the case of EU and other foreign workers, returned to their country of origin.

A number of key, once-in-a-lifetime events and activities taking place in the region, however, should add impetus to the recovery. These include:

  • 2021 Coventry City of Culture which is now underway.
  • The Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.
  • The Business and Tourism Programme linked to the games, delivered by the West Midlands Growth Company, VisitBritain and DiT.

Policy responses

The government has launched a review of the Destination Management Organisation landscape across England. Meanwhile, the West Midlands Growth Company will continue to deliver a hub and spoke tourism provision for the region, with collaborative activity to boost the volume and value of tourism and working closely with shareholders to deliver the strategic overview and integration at a sub-regional level.

Immediate term

The West Midlands Board for Tourism, with WMGC, has led on the delivery of a regional tourism recovery plan, which sits alongside the Regional Tourism Strategy and focuses on short term policies under the following three themes:

  • Retain - protecting as many businesses in the sector as possible until the end of Covid-restrictions


  • Rebuild - identify short-term activity to help businesses to maximise opportunities associated with the region’s major events
  • Resilience - embed the legacy benefits of major events and improve the ability of the tourism sector to withstand future shocks

Key initiatives already underway include:

  • Using the WMGC website to showcase tourism businesses which have ‘We’re Good to Go’ accreditation and encouraging businesses yet to take up the accreditation to do so.
  • Support to encourage business to participate in government initiatives such as the £10 million VisitBritain Lottery fund to encourage off season domestic trips this autumn.
  • Frontline staff training development to ensure that the region offers a fully accessible, culturally inclusive visitor welcome.

Medium term

A package of support for the region’s tourism sector is being developed as part of the Business and Tourism Programme and will be rolled out in 2022 and 2023. This includes:

  • A series of marketing campaigns to highlight the region’s visitor offer to domestic tourists and key commonwealth markets such as Australia, Canada and India
  • The development of new tourist itineraries, a digital visitor platform, and staffed pop-up information points across the region.
  • Working with host destinations across the region, VisitBritain and government ministers to rebuild the pipeline of business and major sporting events, with a refreshed ambassador programme focused on the region’s priority sectors.

Andy Phillips, Head of Research and Becky Frall (pictured), Head of Visitor Attraction, West Midlands Growth Company

[1] Visit Britain and WMGC STEAM tourism economic impact model

[2] A collaborative survey run by WMGC in collaboration with Shakespeare’s England together with local authorities and Business Improvement Districts across the region at key points during the year

[3] West Midlands Tourism Recovery Plan, June 2020

[4] WMGC forecasts based on Visit Britain modelling

[5] CGA/AlixPartners Market Recovery Monitor, January 2021