The collapse of London Tourism 2020 – 72.7% fewer arrivals at Heathrow Airport
The collapse of London Tourism 2020 –  72.7% fewer arrivals at Heathrow Airport
Last updated: Dec 20, 2023 · 5 min read

Just how bad did COVID-19 affect tourism in London?

After three lockdowns and a long period of insecurity, London recently opened its doors to visitors. You can once again enjoy theme parks, attractions, a few outdoor events, non-essential shops, bookshops, etc. Life gradually resumed its course. However, 2020 had a huge effect on the beautiful London we know, and things might never be the same…


2020 London Tourism Arrivals – 72.7% fewer arrivals at Heathrow 


    • The number of passengers at London Heathrow Airport fell by almost three quarters in 2020.
    • Heathrow handled only 22.1 million passengers in 2020 compared to 80.9 million in 2019.
    • In 2019, Heathrow handled almost 19 million passengers on North American routes, while in 2020 the airport handled just under 4 million.


From 2002 to 2019, the traffic at London Heathrow Airport continued to increase and handled an average of 70.5 million passengers. The number of passengers at London Heathrow Airport fell by almost three quarters in 2020 compared to 2019. Indeed, London was in lockdown from March until early summer. No international and domestic travel was allowed. And again, the country was confined during the months of November and December. In 2020, travel opportunities were very limited.

New impact on air traffic contributed to an overall collapse of 72.7% of the number of passengers at Heathrow for the calendar year. Heathrow handled only 22.1 million passengers in 2020, compared to 80.9 million in 2019

In 2019, Heathrow handled almost 19 million passengers on North American routes, while in 2020, the airport handled just under 4 million.

The same pattern occurred in December, when London Heathrow was able to handle only 1.1 million passengers. This represents a decrease of about 82.9% compared to December 2019. In terms of context, the UK was facing a new outbreak because of the new COVID variant. London was already subject to restrictions and had moved to Level 4 High Alert. And so, travel restrictions were imposed.


Summer tourism in London 2020


  • July 2019 had 832,000 visits, while July 2020 had only 31,000 – 96% decrease.
  • August 2019 had 858,000 visits, August 2020 only 120,000 – 86% decrease.
  • September 2019 had 556,000 visits, September 2020 only 75,000 – 86.5% decrease.


The entire year of 2020 was influenced by the COVID pandemic. This has had an impact not only on the total number of visitors, but also on visiting habits. Pre-COVID showed no abnormalities, meaning January and February were normal, and visits to attractions even increased by 9.7%.

But starting in March, the impact of COVID began to take hold. Very quickly in mid-March, the impact of the first lockdown was felt, until June. The months of April and May were the worst of the year, with attractions being closed, so no visits could be made. In total, from April to June visits have dropped by 100% compared to 2019.

With the arrival of the summer and the reopening of the country, some attractions remained closed. But the activity was able to resume a bit thanks to those attractions that opened their doors. But because of the rules of social distancing, the activity was considerably reduced.

Summer of 2020:

  • 226,000 visits, while in 2019 there were about 2.25 million
  • decrease of about 90% in activity.

In mid-October, London announced a second national lockdown from Nov. 5 to Dec. 2, which had an additional impact on the tourist flow.



Attractions in London 2020


London visits

*Only showing museums in London

Before the first confinement and during the summer until November, some attractions were able to open their doors to visitors. In terms of global attractions in 2020, those that attracted the most crowds were The Tower of London, a historic fortress on the North Bank of the Thames next to Tower Bridge; and The Barbican, Europe’s largest performing arts center. The center hosts classical and contemporary concerts, theatrical performances, film screenings and art exhibitions.

The Art Newspaper published the top 100 most-visited art museums in the world in 2020. London has 10 museums in this list, including the British Museum which is fifth on the list, and the National Gallery, which is eighth. The Tate Modern is third, with just over 1.43 million visitors in 2020

On average, attendance at the 10 London museums on this list dropped by 76.1%, and they had to close their doors to visitors for an average of 177 days because of the pandemic.

  • Tate Modern most visited museum in London with 1.43 million visits in 2020.
  • Attendance dropped by 76.1% in 2020.
  • Imperial War Museum least visited from the top 10.


How coronavirus affects your trip to London now

Today, visitors must have a negative COVID test and quarantine for 10 days before they can enjoy the beautiful city of London. 

In 2020, the tourism sector was significantly impacted by the Covid-19 health crisis. For some countries, tourism is essential for the economic functioning of a country. In England, the activity employs more than 1.5 million people, or 7% of the jobs in England, and welcomes more than 35 million international tourists each year.

For more than a year, the attractions of London have seen their doors closed and opened according to the confinements, so the economy of tourism has been greatly affected.

So how has London responded to the waves of COVID-19. How complicated was the year 2020 for tourism in the British capital? 


What can we expect for summer 2021?

Currently London is in phase two of reopening the country. Many shops have been able to reopen and some events can resume, but some restrictions are still in effect, such as the rules for meeting in the street. 

On May 17, the country will be in phase 3 of reopening and it is hoped that the citizens of London can meet with fewer restrictions and that restaurants and bars can accommodate guests inside. 

Currently, phase 4, the final phase of reopening the country, is estimated for June 21. From this date, Londoners could meet whenever and with whom they want, participate in major events and nightlife could resume its course. 

We can hope for this summer a return to normal life. You should be able to travel to London and enjoy the attractions within social distancing measures.

The dynamic London we know is not the same as before, but it is up to us to see how much we can help it recover by following the necessary measures and remembering to visit when it is safe.

We are hopeful that things are getting better, and with more of us being vaccinated, London could again become the dynamic tourist destination it used to be.


Plan your trip to London

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