UK music brought in €7.7bn in tourism last year - but is the scene healthy?

Elton John performs during Glastonbury Festival in Worthy Farm, Somerset, England, Sunday, June 25, 2023.
Elton John performs during Glastonbury Festival in Worthy Farm, Somerset, England, Sunday, June 25, 2023. Copyright Joel C Ryan/2023 Invision
By Jonny Walfisz
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Music brought in over £6.6bn and 14 million tourists to the UK’s economy last year, a new study has found. The study highlights the country’s continued cultural soft power and raises questions over unintended effects of constraining British artists to domestic tours post-Brexit.


UK Music, a collective organisation representing the nation’s music industry, has released its ‘Here, There and Everywhere’ report, detailing the impact of music on the UK’s economy in 2022.

The headline figures of the study were that the British music scene brought 14.4 million tourists to live gigs such as last year’s Glastonbury Festival, headlined by Sir Paul McCartney and US artists like Billie Eilish and Kendrick Lamar.

1.1 million of the 14.4 million annual tourists were foreign visitors. The collective spending of music tourism last year was £6.6 billion (€7.7 billion). The industry also provided 56,000 jobs, showing its impact on the national workforce.

“Music is one of our country’s great assets - not only is it absolutely critical to the economic success of our local areas, but it also generates huge amounts of soft power and helps put our towns and cities on the global map,” UK Music Chief Executive Jamie Njoku-Goodwin said.

Cash rules everything around me

British artists touring last year included huge names like Dua Lipa, Stormzy, Harry Styles, Ed Sheeran and Elton John. This year has also already featured similarly massive musical events, including Liverpool hosting 2023’s Eurovision Song Contest, Glastonbury showcasing Elton John’s final British performance, and international tours from Beyoncé and Taylor Swift.

Yet UK Music’s Njoku-Goodwin notes that the prognosis is not universally positive despite “huge benefits” for local areas. 

“The infrastructure and talent pipeline that it relies on still faces huge challenges," says Njoku-Goodwin. "With a venue closing every week, one in six festivals not returning since the pandemic, and many studios facing huge economic pressures, it’s vital that we protect the musical infrastructure that does so much for our towns and cities.”

Vianney Le Caer/Invision
Harry Styles is seen performing at the Brit Awards 2023 in London, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023.Vianney Le Caer/Invision

The report features a toolkit for towns to sustain and grow their music scenes, including advice on how local scenes can regenerate empty spaces as music hubs and strengthening community participation.

While the headline figures of the UK Music study point to the fiscal benefit to the country of big-name acts bringing in tourist money to large venues, there has also been continued concern from smaller scale acts over their increased limitations to tour internationally.

Brexit red tape

Since Brexit, red tape has made EU-wide touring significantly more expensive. 

In 2022, Euronews Culture reported on the UK’s industry’s demands for a “touring tsar” to help British acts get back on the road in Europe.

UK Music’s report from August 2022, ‘Let the Music Move — A New Deal for Touring’ raised the newfound restrictions British acts faced after Brexit, including requirements that musicians and touring teams are limited from entering the EU for more than 90 days in a 180-day period.

AP Photo
Dua Lipa performs on day two of the Lollapalooza Music Festival on Friday, July 29, 2022, at Grant Park in Chicago.AP Photo

Border queues have caused instruments and equipment to arrive late, while tour merchandise - a crucial revenue stream for smaller artists - now faces exorbitant import duties. Alongside the UK’s growing inflation, only the largest of the UK’s acts can now afford to tour Europe.

If it is an unintended consequence of Brexit that it is driving more tourism to the UK to see acts that can’t tour internationally, then any praise is short-sighted. The numbers of UK bands touring the EU this summer is 32% lower than pre-pandemic levels. If Britain wants to retain the soft power of its music industry, it needs its smaller artists to grow their reputations abroad.

On the flipside, smaller EU-based acts are reducing the numbers of dates they spend in the UK, which will also have an impact on British venues.

Shadow International Trade Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds has vowed that a Labour government would tackle the problems hampering British musicians touring the EU.

“It just seems to me completely illogical and self-defeating not to make it easier for musicians touring around Europe to be able to do so without the weight of bureaucracy," Thomas-Symonds told The Mirror. 

"We have an extraordinarily vibrant, rich, cultural sector here in the UK – it’s one of our great avenues of soft power around the world. Why wouldn’t we want to see them travelling around Europe showing off their great talents?”

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