The West Midlands welcomed an unprecedented 141.2 million visitors in 2022, smashing the previous record set before the COVID-19 pandemic.
The figures represent a 38% increase on tourist numbers in 2021, and a 5% rise compared to 2019 data, which was the last research to be carried out before the tourist industry was severely impacted by the global pandemic.
With the UK government’s aim to recover both domestic and inbound visitor numbers to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2023, the West Midlands is leading the country’s Covid recovery 12 months ahead of schedule.
Spending by visitors to the West Midlands in 2022 rose to £14.1 billion, up by £4 billion (39%) from 2021 and £1 billion (7%) more than pre-Covid figures in 2019. Tourists spent most on the West Midlands’ retail (41%), food and drink (21%) and recreational (15%) offer, when visiting the region.
The findings were revealed by the West Midlands Growth Company – the region’s economic development agency – and independent tourism research body Global Tourism Solutions.
Neil Rami, Chief Executive of the West Midlands Growth Company, said:
“The West Midlands was the place to be in 2022, reflected by record visitor numbers to our region’s tourism and hospitality settings, accommodation venues and public spaces.
“The past 12 months have reinforced the value of attracting and hosting major international sporting events and festivals. Not only do they significantly boost the West Midlands’ visitor economy, but they also leave a positive, lasting impression with tourists.
“Our three-year global Business and Tourism Programme capitalised on the halo effect of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, targeting UK, Australian, Canadian and Indian visitors. By delivering more than 400 travel trade meetings and developing new travel trade bookable products, we have raised the profile of the West Midlands’ tourism destinations. Evidence has shown that our activity has positively changed how the region is perceived domestically and overseas.”
The Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games gave the West Midlands its time to shine on the international stage, presenting the UK with a cause for celebration and drawing crowds from across the world. A record 1.5 million spectators bought tickets for events, making it the most popular Commonwealth Games ever to be hosted in the UK. More than five million people came to Birmingham city centre during Games-time – a 200% increase on the same period 12 months earlier.
Hotel occupancy in Birmingham averaged 90% during the 12-day Commonwealth Games period, with an unprecedented 95% peak on Saturday 6 August. West Midlands hotels received an additional £19.4 million in room revenue compared to the same period in 2019.
Other major events enticing crowds to the West Midlands in 2022 included the Birmingham 2022 Festival (March – September); the British Art Show 9 in Wolverhampton (January – April); Coventry UK City of Culture (until May); the Sandwell & Birmingham Mela (August); and the Rugby League World Cup in Coventry (October).
Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, added:
“After what no one could dispute has been a challenging time for the world’s tourism industry, it’s great news to see that our region has defied national predictions to bounce back more rapidly than expected.
“The relative strength and resilience of our tourism sector is why I remain hopeful that we can get more local people into tourism related jobs in the months and years ahead – something I know is a priority for our regional Tourism & Hospitality Advisory Board.”
For the first time, the West Midlands’ annual visitor economy report includes short-term letting and peer accommodation data, analysing information supplied by Airbnb to incorporate new visits, visitor nights and expenditure to the region.
Amanda Cupples, General Manager for Northern Europe at Airbnb, said:
“People travelling on Airbnb flocked to the West Midlands last year, with local Hosts supporting an extra one million visitor nights and increasing the region’s economic value by over £120 million.
“Home sharing spreads the benefits of tourism beyond hotel districts to communities that guests might otherwise have missed, and we are excited to be working with the West Midlands to showcase the region and unlock new economic opportunities for local families battling a cost of living crisis.”
Separate research carried out by Transport Intelligence for VisitBritain/VisitEngland shows that Birmingham’s popularity as a short-term rental destination has significantly increased. The city has climbed four places in the list of most popular UK destinations for short-term rents, from 10th in 2019 to 6th in 2022, thanks to major events such as the Commonwealth Games. The West Midlands also experienced the second largest increase of all UK regions for reserved nights (up 138% compared to 2019), behind the North East (194%).
Cllr John Cotton, Leader of Birmingham City Council, said:
"The Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games shone a global spotlight on our city and the wider West Midlands, as we really made the most of a once in a generation opportunity.
"We welcomed over 5 million visitors - many from right across the Commonwealth - and I'm confident many of our Games visitors will be back, because they experienced at first-hand that our warm, friendly city region is a world class destination for business and leisure tourism, with award-winning museums and galleries, world class cultural institutions and festivals, major sporting events, family friendly attractions, amazing parks, and scenic waterways.”
Councillor Kerrie Carmichael, Leader of Sandwell Council, said:
“2022 was a record-breaking year for events in Sandwell, with around 270,000 people attending council-run events across Sandwell.
“We also hosted an international sporting event at the new Sandwell Aquatics Centre in Smethwick for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. This opportunity was fantastic for Sandwell and the region, boosting tourism and giving us the global spotlight to shine, with thousands of spectators, athletes and volunteers visiting the borough for the Games competitions. The Aquatics Centre has been a catalyst for further investment in 66 strategically significant infrastructure projects with £2.3bn value over the next five years as part of the council’s Regeneration Pipeline.
“Sandwell boasts 1,200 hectares of award-winning parks and green open spaces, which are perfect for hosting festivals and events. We also have interesting historic buildings and are long-known for our industrial heritage as part of the Black Country. This, along with our close proximity and excellent travel links to the rest of the region, means we are ideally placed and easily accessible to host major events and attract more visitors to the region.
“Building on the success of 2022, Sandwell Council is working on building a portfolio of events that will include something for everyone, including community events in libraries and museums, showcasing young talent at the SHAPE Summer Festival, as well as the music festivals. Putting on events not only supports the visitor economy for Sandwell, but also showcases our borough and the wider region.”
Councillor Patrick Harley, West Midlands Combined Authority Portfolio Lead for Culture & Digital and leader of Dudley Council, said:
“2022 was a bumper year for the West Midlands. The Commonwealth Games brought people to the region in record numbers and showed the world what it has to offer.
“In Dudley, we were so proud to welcome international cycling athletes to our streets as part of the Games and we look forward to welcoming the return of elite cyclists to Dudley this summer in the Dudley Grand Prix circuit race event. This event is being held as part of our Black Country festival celebrations and is very much built on the success and legacy of the Games.”
City of Wolverhampton Council Cabinet Member for Visitor City, Councillor Bhupinder Gakhal, said:
“Wolverhampton is a fantastic place to visit, and we want people to visit and enjoy our city centre from the moment they arrive.“The recent reopening of The Halls Wolverhampton kicks off a whole host of major city centre events which use our new public spaces, boost footfall and offer a real variety of things for visitors to see and do, including artisan markets, Krazy Races and Wolverhampton Pride.
“We continue to look forward to working together to deliver real, tangible benefits for visitors, businesses and residents to our city centre.”
Councillor Karen Grinsell, Tourism Strategy, Development & Delivery and Deputy Leader at Solihull Council, said:
“It’s fabulous news that we attracted a record 5.8 million visitors in 2022 (post-pandemic) which was a 4% increase compared to 2019 (pre-pandemic). We are looking to build on this success by working with the Local Visitor Economy Partnership which will help us enhance our offer and attract even more visitors in the future.
“The fact that our visitor economy is worth £1.1 billion shows how important tourism is to the local economy.”
To find out more about the West Midlands’ visitor offer, including the region’s festivals and events calendar, log on to visitbirmingham.com.