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The growing trend of football tourism in the UK

New research from national tourism agency VisitBritain demonstrates the increasing importance of football in driving inbound tourism to the UK and in boosting visitor spending. Its recently-published ‘Football Tourism in the UK’ report shows that overseas visitors who went to a football match spent £1.4 billion across the UK in total during their trip in 2019, up 84% on the £742 million spent in 2011 when the research was last conducted. There were 1.5 million visits to the UK in 2019 that included watching a live football match, up 66% compared to 2011 when there were 909,000 visits. Visitors who attended a football match also spent more and stayed longer, spending £909 per visit on average, 31% more than the global visitor average of £696 in 2019, and staying 10 nights compared to seven. It is not just leisure visitors that enjoyed football matches. Out of the 1.5 million who went to a football match during their stay, 94,000 were international business visitors. Football also took the top spot in 2019 as the most popular live sporting event for international tourists to the UK. Tourism Minister Nigel Huddleston said: “Our national game is a massive draw for visitors that want to come and watch top-class football from some of the best Leagues in the world. Football tourists boost local economies during the off-peak tourism season supporting restaurants, hotels and hospitality venues. I will continue to work closely with VisitBritain, the Premier League and the EFL to keep up this momentum.” VisitBritain Chief Executive Sally Balcombe said: “This research demonstrates the huge draw and increasingly valuable role of live football in attracting international visitors to Britain. It also cements the importance of football in driving regional tourism by encouraging visitors to explore different parts of Britain and its effectiveness in driving growth across the shoulder seasons, boosting local economies. We will continue to harness the global interest in football as international travel reopens, helping drive back demand for travel to Britain, from our long-standing partnership with the Premier League to content partnerships in our overseas markets and global promotion through our digital channels.” And finally, Premier League Chief Executive Richard Masters said: “The Premier League and its clubs provide competitive football, featuring the world’s best players and managers, in front of brilliant fans. We are very proud of the positive impact the League has on both national and local economies. Seeing the competition in action is fantastic and we look forward to welcoming more international visitors to our stadiums in the future.” More than half of visitors who watched football during their trip also took time to see the UK’s famous monuments and buildings and almost three-quarters included a restaurant meal. They were also more likely than other inbound visitors to undertake these activities, underscoring the additional value football visitors bring to the economy. Almost two-thirds of trips took place in either January to March or October to December, cementing football’s importance in driving inbound tourism outside the peak travel seasons. Overseas visitors to the North West of England were the most likely to watch a football match, almost one-in-five, followed by 1-in-14 overseas visitors to the North-East and 1-in-20 to Yorkshire. Looking at visits to specific stadiums, Old Trafford in Manchester and Anfield Stadium in Liverpool attracted the most international visits, 226,000 and 213,000 respectively. The top three source markets for football-watching visitors in 2019 were the Irish Republic with 175,000 visits followed by Germany with 126,000 and the USA with 113,000. VisitBritain has been promoting football tourism to the UK for more than a decade through its ongoing partnership with the Premier League and the UK Government’s GREAT Britain campaign.

Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson is Editor of A Luxury Travel Blog and has worked in the travel industry for more than 30 years. He is Winner of the Innovations in Travel ‘Best Travel Influencer’ Award from WIRED magazine. In addition to other awards, the blog has also been voted “one of the world’s best travel blogs” and “best for luxury” by The Daily Telegraph.

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  1. I’m not sure that football tourism is a new phenomenon. I remember queueing at the old Highbury ground to watch Arsenal around 1972. Behind us was a Dane who announced that he was about to tick off his 50th UK ground. He’d been to watch Hibernian on the Wednesday evening and was planning to see Wrexham the next week.

    1. No, certainly not new… but one that has been growing. I hear of people travelling from the UK to watch Barcelona at the Nou Camp, so I’m sure the opposite must be happening in reverse, especially given that the Premier League is the most watched football league in the world.

  2. When I sat down to watch Liverpool v Man City I was astonished to hear that the match was being shown live in over 180 countries.

    As there is so much interest in the Premier League I can understand how all this interest is driving in-bound tourism.

    1. Wow… that’s quite something given that there’s currently 195 countries on the world. I wonder which countries weren’t showing the game. Tuvalu, perhaps?

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