Following the relaxation of travel rules for inbound international visitors, leaders from across the north of England’s visitor economy have written to the UK Government requesting support to restore the region’s high-spending international visitor markets and the investment opportunities that depend on direct flight connectivity. 

A letter was sent to the Prime Minister’s office from GMLEP board member and IMAB Chair, Mike Blackburn with support from Manchester Airport Group and Greater Manchester’s Tourism International Emergency Response group. A second letter was also sent from leaders of the 11 Destination Management Organisations across the north of England’s visitor economy, addressed to Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps MP and Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Nadine Dorries MP.  

Both letters requested support to restore the region’s high-spending international visitor markets and the investment opportunities that depend on direct flight connectivity.  

The north of England had 5.31 million inbound tourists in 2019, up 2.3% on 2018, creating a combined total expenditure of £2.63 billion, up 2.9% on the previous year. Furthermore, over the last decade, international connections into regional hubs including Manchester Airport, Liverpool John Lennon Airport, Newcastle International Airport and Leeds/Bradford Airport have grown significantly with new and expanded routes from Europe, the USA, China, and India. 

However, international visitors to the north of England have barely returned to a fraction of 2019 levels, and after the introduction of pre-departure and PCR testing in November passenger numbers at airports such as those managed by Manchester Airports Group dropped by 13% week-on-week. 

The removal of these restrictions, which takes effect from today (Friday 7 January), is expected to provide a boost to consumer confidence, and Northern DMOs are now asking for Government to recognise the impact of the remaining restrictions on the inbound travel sector and the knock-on effects for the wider visitor economies in destinations across the North. They also ask that Government: 

  • Use the January Review of the international travel framework to implement fundamental change and create and communicate a clear system and roadmap, so inbound passengers have the confidence to book international travel in advance.
  • Provide support to promote that the UK is fully open for business and welcomes international visitors through all of its Gateways.
  • Respond to the long-term damage that has been inflicted on the travel sector by providing direct, targeted support to recover our inbound markets through our Gateway airports, inbound travel operators and DMOs.


Mike Blackburn, GMLEP board member and IMAB chair, comments:

As we welcome back customers to Greater Manchester, we must now focus on those vital markets that are still yet to return. Of particular concern are the inbound, high-spending international visitor markets and the investment in our city that depends on direct flight connectivity. Manchester is England’s second most visited city by international visitors. In 2019, 1.9million international visitors spent £850million in the Greater Manchester economy.

“We are missing a huge opportunity to fast track our economic recovery. Global competition is fierce, and we now face an up-hill battle to restore and grow our inbound visitor markets due to the impact of the pandemic; Brexit and associated negative perceptions.”


Sheona Southern, Managing Director at Marketing Manchester, comments:

“Every day that restrictions remain in place represents another dent in consumer and business confidence, along with damaging the long-term recovery of the inbound tourism market at what is a vital time of year for forward bookings.

“Tourism as a sector has doubled globally between 2010 and 2020, yet even in this period the UK tourism sector grew at a slower pace and has continued to lose market share, especially as competition from new destinations has increased with support from their respective Governments.

“Now, following the Covid-19 pandemic, the UK and destinations like Greater Manchester must act now to encouraging an uplift in international arrivals in 2022.”

Both letters highlight the example of China in terms of the importance of inbound markets. In the two years of direct inbound flights from Beijing to Manchester, the number of Chinese tourists to the north of England grew by 38%, with related spend within the visitor economy up by 120% in the same period. In addition, inbound tourists from USA to Manchester Airport increased on average 10% year on year from 2014 to 2019. 


Karen Smart, Managing Director at Manchester Airport, adds:

“Manchester Airport is the global gateway to the North and the recovery of the aviation and inbound tourism sectors will underpin the wider economic recovery of our region.

“The relaxation of testing and isolation requirements for fully-vaccinated travellers is therefore very welcome. We are glad that Government has recognised that restrictions should not remain in place once they are no longer serving any purpose.

“We fully support calls from our region’s Destination Marketing Organisations to set out a framework for lifting the remaining restrictions, including testing on arrival, which will do a great deal to restore consumer confidence.”


One letter to the Government has been coordinated by Mike Blackburn chair of the Greater Manchester International & Marketing Advisory Board and co-signed by members of the Greater Manchester Tourism Industry Emergency Response Group and Marketing Manchester Premium Partners.  

The other, has been coordinated by Marketing Manchester and co-signed by leaders from Welcome to Yorkshire, Marketing Cheshire, Cumbria Tourism, Marketing Peak District and Derbyshire, Marketing Lancashire, Visit County Durham, Visit Leeds, Make it York, Marketing Liverpool, Newcastle/Gateshead Initiative and Northumbria Tourism.