Liverpool visitor economy recovers to hit £3.58bn

In the year before COVID-19 the Liverpool city region visitor economy was worth £5bn and after plummeting in 2020, the recovery is now under way. Tony McDonough reports

River of Light was most popular free event in Liverpool in 2021. Picture by Ant Clausen


Badly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic there are now signs the Liverpool city region visitor economy is regaining its previous momentum.

Latest figures from Growth Platform, the city region’s economic development agency, reveal 42.15m people visited in 2021. This is below the 2019 pre-pandemic figure of 66.27m but significantly higher than the 26.14m visitors in 2020.

In the year prior to the pandemic the city region’s visitor economy was worth an estimated £5bn a year and employed 55,703 people. In 2020 this plunged to £2.1bn with employee numbers falling to 24,000.

However, in 2021 the value of the sector had increased to £3.58bn with employee numbers climbing back up to 38,000. Hotel occupancy was much improved from the 38.3% in 2020 to 55.2% in 2021. However this was still way below the 2019 figure of 78.4%.

In 2021 the most popular free event was the Liverpool River of light trail which attracted 170,000 people. Top paid-for events were British Musical Fireworks and Cream on the waterfront, each attracting 30,000 people. Liverpool’s World Museum was the most popular free attraction with 330,620 while Knowsley Safari was top paid-for with 582,326.

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Throughout the pandemic Growth Platform worked with business support organisations and local authority partners to help thousands of businesses to access Government schemes.

These included small business grants specifically for hospitality and leisure. It also included the initiative Liverpool Without Walls, which enabled venues to trade outside during the pandemic.

Laura Pye, chair of the Visitor Economy Board for the city region, said: “It has been wonderful seeing visitors back on our streets, enjoying the incredible array of attractions Liverpool city region has to offer.


Beatles statue
Statue of The Beatles at the Pier Head is always a hit with visitors. Picture by Tony McDonough
Knowsley Safari
Knowsley Safari is home to more than 750 animals, including giraffes


“There is still work to be done to get back to our pre-pandemic numbers but it is very encouraging to see these ‘green shoots’ in the latest data. We should be really proud of the ingenuity and creativity we have within the region that have got us to this point and will keep the momentum of growth going.”

A report from Growth Platform, published in February this year, said international visitor numbers are not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels before 2025. It added the business events sector may not fully recover before 2028.

As part of the continuing recovery efforts Growth Platform worked closely with the visitor economy network to develop a two-year recovery plan. This began last year and runs until March 2023.

READ MORE: Liverpool hotels set room rate record

The plan focuses on the importance of the sector to the city region and the priorities for supporting businesses and protecting jobs, it covers a range of initiatives including skills training, business support and destination marketing.

Visitor economy figures are published by the STEAM (Scarborough Tourism Economic Activity Monitor) model. This is used throughout the UK tourism industry to measure economic impact of the visitor economy. Hotel occupancy data is provided by STR Global.

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