The table below shows trends in inbound tourism for the period 2003 to 2014 based on the Office for National Statistics International Passenger Survey. The number of visits in 2014 reached a record 34.4 million, after several years of growth since 2010. Average spend per visit was £636 in 2014, which remains positive following the peak of £650 per visit in 2013 reflecting the relative weakness of sterling leading up to 2013.
The long-term trend is for the average length of time each inbound visitor stays in the UK to decline, however in 2014 the average length of stay rebounded to 2009 levels. In line with many other developed economies the UK has an international tourism balance of payments deficit. This increased both rapidly and consistently in the decade to 2008, stabilising over the past few years to grow slightly in 2014.
Headline trends in inbound tourism to the UK
Number of Visits (m)
|Spend £(bn)||Average spend per visit||Average nights per visit||International balance of payments £ (bn)|
Top 10 markets
The top ten inbound markets for the UK in terms of number of visits during 2014 accounted for almost two in three visits (65%). It is noteworthy that only two long-haul markets, the USA and Australia, appear in the top ten. Looking at spending by inbound visitors, the top ten markets contributed 54% of all spending, with the USA worth nearly £1.5 billion more than the next most valuable market in 2014, Germany. All of the top ten markets measured in terms of value are 'developed' rather than 'emerging' source markets for international tourism.
|Top ten markets by volume||Top ten markets by value|
|Visits (000)||% of all visits||
|Spend £(m||% of all spend|
Fastest growing and declining markets
The top 3 markets which have recently shown the highest absolute growth in value (on average during the last five years) are all long haul to the UK, namely USA, China and Australia. It is notable that the value of the USA market has grown considerably by an average of £154m per year 2010-14, driven by a particularly strong 2014. The 'relative' growth in value on average over the last five years shows the rapid rise in importance of South America (Chile and Mexico) and the emerging markets of China and Kuwait.
The markets which have declined most on average across the last five years in terms of absolute value and ‘relative’ decline in spending include Irish Republic and Japan. The 'relative' decline figures show the value of visits from Austria decreased by 2% on average each year across the last five years.
|Principal markets showing recent growth||Principal markets showing recent decline|
|Market||Average absolute growth £ (m)||Market||Average % growth||Market||Average absolute growth £ (m)||Market||Average % growth|
|USA||£154||Chile||49%||Irish Republic||-£34||Irish Republic||-3%|
Journey Purpose and Seasonal Spread
In 2014 nearly two-in-five inbound visits to the UK were for a holiday (39%), whilst almost a quarter (24%) was for business. Looking at the share of visitor nights by journey purpose it is clear that trips to visit friends or relatives (VFR) account for the largest share (38%), thanks to the fact that these trips involve a longer than average length of stay.
By contrast VFR trips account for a lower share of inbound visitor spend (21%) than they do of visits (28%), while holiday and business spending (40% and 23% respectively) are in line with their respective share of visits (39% and 24%).
Almost four in every six holiday visits were during the traditional holiday period in 2014 (31% April to June, 33% July to September) whilst around one-in-six (17%) were in the first three months of the year. By contrast business and VFR visits show a more even seasonal spread (22%-28%) and are slightly less likely during the UK winter months January-March.
Mode of Travel
The UK enjoys excellent global connectivity, with well over 100 countries having direct air connections to the UK in 2014. It can be seen from the pie chart that in 2014 73% of inbound visitors reached the UK by air.
As visitors who travel by air tend to spend more per visit than those using other means of transport the share of visitor spend accounted for by visitors who fly to the UK stood at 84% in 2014.
Visitors who do not travel by air are almost evenly split between those who travel by ferry (14%) or use the Channel Tunnel (13%).
Distribution by area
London is a key destination for inbound visitors to the UK. In 2014 17.4 million visitors spent time in the capital, spending just short of £11.8bn. This represents 54% of all inbound visitor spending.
The rest of England attracted 14.2 million inbound visitors who spent an estimated £7.3bn, representing 33% of all inbound visitor spend.
Scotland welcomed 2.7 million visitors and 8% of all visitor spending, with the equivalent figures for Wales being 0.9 million visits and 2% of visitor spend.
The 'other' category includes visits to the Channel Islands and Isle of Man, along with those visitors whose nights in the UK were spent travelling.