UK travel bounces back as pent-up demand drives global leisure and business flight bookings past 2019 levels

May 19, 2022 | London
  • Mastercard Economics Institute finds flight bookings in UK grew to 40% above 2019 levels in space of six weeks.
  • UK travel spending growth each month in 2022 more than doubled compared to 2019 levels, currently 140% for April.
  • UK tops list of most visited destinations, along with the US and Switzerland.

After a turbulent two years, new research from the Mastercard Economics Institute reveals that global leisure and business flight bookings1 have surpassed pre-pandemic levels. In the UK, from the moment restrictions on inbound travelers started to be relaxed, flight bookings grew from -59% below 2019 levels to +40% above 2019 levels in the span of roughly six weeks. Spending growth by international tourists has also rapidly increased in the UK, with each month in 2022 more than double compared to 2019 levels, currently 140% for April.

Released today, Travel 2022: Trends and Transitions delivers critical insights across 37 markets about the global state of travel in a post-vaccine and less restricted chapter of the pandemic era. According to the Mastercard Economics Institute analysis, if flight booking trends continue at their current pace, an estimated 550 million more passengers in Europe – and 1.5 billion globally - will fly in 2022 compared to last year.

Drawing on a unique analysis of publicly available travel data2, as well as aggregated and anonymised sales activity in the Mastercard network3, the report dives into key elements of the traveler journey. Key findings through April 2022 include:  

  • Travel spending shifts back to experiences4 over things: For the better part of a year, international tourists spent more on experiences instead of souvenirs when in destination. Experiential spending is now 34% above 2019 levels globally; the areas seeing the largest spending increases are bars and nightclubs (72%) and amusement parks, museums, concerts, and other recreational activities (35%).
  • Leisure and business flights surpass pre-pandemic levels: Travel recovery has been a largely consumer story for much of the pandemic, but business flights are starting to recover. By the end of April, global leisure flight bookings surpassed 2019 levels by 25%; short-and medium-haul leisure flight bookings were up 25% and 27%, respectively. Global business flight bookings exceeded pre-pandemic levels for the first time in March, with long-haul specifically growing double-digits in April. The return to office was an important driver.
  • Hard-hit transportation industries see spending rebound: Recent spending levels point to greater comfort with group travel. Global spending on cruises gained 62 percentage points from January to the end of April, though remains below 2019 levels. Buses are back at pre-pandemic levels, while passenger rail spend remains 7% below. Meanwhile, car road trips maintain their appeal, with spending on tolls and auto rentals up nearly 19% and 12%, respectively.
  • Loosening of restrictions recalibrates tourism map for 2022: Not surprisingly, the ability and convenience of travel has been a driving factor in booking destinations, though 2022 has provided a clean slate with restrictions loosened in much of the world, aside from parts of Asia-Pacific. The result is that the UK, US, and Switzerland are now the top destinations for tourists globally5.

“Like any flight, the travel recovery has faced both tailwinds and headwinds. However, for the time being, consumers’ pent-up desire to experience one of the greatest joys of pre-pandemic life – travel – appears to be overpowering lingering concerns about rising inflation, the virus or geopolitical instability,” said Natalia Lechmanova, Senior Economist, Europe and Middle East Africa at Mastercard. “The resilience of the consumer and the desire to return to ‘normal’ and make up for lost time gives us optimism that the recovery will continue, even if there are bumps along the way.”

While incomes are expected to continue growing beyond 2022, the rising cost of energy, food, goods and services puts a damper on people's purchasing power, especially for large-ticket items and discretionary purchases like travel. This dynamic is likely to persist for the remainder of 2022 for most markets. For example, in the UK and US, inflation is expected to remain three percentage points higher than incomes until Q4 2022, according to Mastercard Economics Institute estimates.

Comprehensive Support to Travelers & Tourism Sector

Mastercard delivers peace of mind, convenience and value for consumers and businesses of all sizes as they adjust to the return of travel. Whether their journey is near or far, consumer, corporate and T&E cardholders have access to an expanding list of programmes, platforms and partnerships. Mastercard Travel & Lifestyle Services provides travel planning, offers, booking, guarantees and 24/7 hands-on concierge support. While in destination, gives travelers access to once-in-a-lifetime experiences, benefits and offers like Mastercard Travel Rewards. And, for small business travelers, Mastercard Easy Savings offers discounts and purchasing power at digital business service providers, fine-dining restaurants and international retailers and hotels.

Mastercard is also dedicated to helping the global tourism sector recover and welcome travelers through a range of services, from market analysis and high-frequency data insights that help make sense of changing consumer trends to marketing solutions and consumer engagement strategies that drive brand loyalty and maximize bookings. Most recently, the Tourism Innovation Hub in Spain was launched to develop tailored products and solutions to support a sustainable, inclusive return to travel through innovation, research and collaboration across the ecosystem.

You can view the full Travel 2022: Trends and Transitions here. Other reports from the Mastercard Economics Institute can be found here.  

- Ends - 

 1Number of flight bookings; Based on aggregated and anonymized Mastercard switched transactions

2Google Community Mobility Reports, IATA passenger data, and macroeconomic indicators from various national statistics reporting agencies.

3Mastercard switched transactions

4“Experiences” includes tourists spending at restaurants, amusement recreation activities, casinos, nightclubs, bars and other events, while “Things” includes convenience store chains, apparel, cosmetics, sporting goods, jewelry, footwear, bookstores, electronics, toys and department stores. Excludes transportation and lodging expenses

5January 1-March 31, 2022.


Media Contacts

Suman Hughes, Mastercard


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