The table below shows trends in inbound tourism for the period 2002 to 2012 based on the Office for National Statistics International Passenger Survey. The number of visits peaked in 2007 at 32.8 million, since when there were several years of slight decline followed by small increases in 2011 and 2012. After a long period during which the average spend per visit hovered at a little under £500 there has been a marked increase in the past four years, driven on by the relative weakness of sterling.
The long-term trend is for the average length of time each inbound visitor stays in the UK to decline, however the figure has been fairly stable for the past six years. 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, but has shrunk by over a third in recent years as Britons took fewer overseas trips.
Top 10 Markets
The top ten inbound markets for the UK in terms of number of visits during 2012 accounted for two in three visits (66%). 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 account for 54% of all spending, with the USA worth almost £1 billion more than the next most valuable market, France. All of the top ten markets measured in terms of value are 'developed' rather than 'emerging' source markets for international tourism.
Fastest Growing and Declining Markets
Two out of the five markets which have recently shown the highest absolute growth in value (on average during the last five years) are markets in close proximity to the UK, namely France and Switzerland. It is notable that the value of the Australian market has grown on average by around £62m and the Chinese by around £45 million per year 2008-12. The 'relative' growth in value on average over the last five years shows the rapid rise in importance of emerging markets China, UAE and Brazil. Whilst both the USA and Japan have shown growth in recent years in terms of visits both markets are considerably smaller than in the 1990s.
The markets which have declined most on average across the last five years in terms of absolute reduction in spending are topped by the large Republic of Ireland market. The 'relative' decline figures show that the value of visits from Greece and Poland have decreased by 11% and 10% respectively on average each year across the last five years.
Journey Purpose and Seasonal Spread
In 2012 nearly two-in-five inbound visits to the UK were for a holiday (38%), while almost a quarter(24%) were 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 (39%), 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 (29%), while holiday and business spending (40% and 24% respectively) are in line with their respective share of visits (38% and 24%).
In 2012 the period April to September accounted for over three in five holiday visits (30% April to June, 32% July to September), whilst only around one-in-six (17%) were in the first three months of the year. By contrast business visits show a more even seasonal spread (23%-27%), while VFR trips are more likely to take place in the last two quarters of the year (27%, 26%) than the January to March (21%) period.
Mode of Travel
The UK enjoys excellent global connectivity, with well over 100 countries having direct air connections to the UK in 2012. It can be seen from the pie chart that in 2012 almost three quarters 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 2012.
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 2012 15.5 million visitors spent time in the capital, spending over £10bn. This represents 54% of all inbound visitor spending.
The rest of England attracted 12.8 million inbound visitors who spent an estimated £6.2bn, representing 33% of all inbound visitor spend. Scotland attracted 2.2 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.
Note that some 1.8 million visitors from overseas made 'day trips' to the UK in 2012, with these visits generating £301 million of spending.