The table below shows trends in inbound tourism for the period 2003 to 2015 based on the Office for National Statistics International Passenger Survey. The number of visits in 2015 grew 5% to a record 36.1 million, after several years of growth since 2010.
The value of spending increased by 1% to £22.1 billion. Average spend per visit was £611 in 2015, down from the peak of £650 per visit in 2013 and reflecting the relative strength of sterling in 2015.
The number of visitor nights spent in the UK increased by 3% in 2015 to 273 million, with the average number of nights per visit standing at 7.6.
Headline trends in inbound tourism to the UK
Number of Visits (m)
|Spend (£bn)||Average spend per visit||Average nights per visit||Nights (m)|
Top 10 markets
The top ten inbound markets for the UK in terms of number of visits during 2015 accounted for almost two in three visits (64%). This proportion has been trending down over time: in 2005, the top ten accounted for 69% of all visits. The top ten markets have been the same every year since 2005; the only change in 2015 was the USA overtaking Germany to claim second place. 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 53% of all spending, with the USA worth over £1.5 billion more than the next most valuable market in 2015, France. In 2015 China and Saudi Arabia entered the top ten by value for the first time.
|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
Looking over the last four years, the fastest growing market by value in absolute terms has been the United States, which contributed an additional £162 million per year in visitor spending between 2011 and 2015. China takes second place in absolute terms (and also makes the top five in percentage terms). France, the UK’s second most valuable source market, as well as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have also seen strong growth in spending during this period. In percentage terms, Taiwan takes the lead.
|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|
Journey Purpose and Seasonal Spread
In 2015 nearly two-in-five inbound visits to the UK were for a holiday (38%), whilst a quarter (25%) were for business. Looking at the share of visitor nights by journey purpose, trips to visit friends or relatives (VFR) account for the largest share (39%), as these trips involve a longer than average length of stay.
By contrast VFR trips account for a lower share of inbound visitor spend (22%) than they do of visits (29%), while holiday and business spending (39% and 24% respectively) are in line with their respective share of visits (38% and 25%).
Almost four in every six holiday visits were during the middle quarters of the year in 2015 (31% April to June, 32% July to September) whilst around one-in-six (16%) were in the first three months of the year and one in five (21%) in the last three months. By contrast business and VFR visits show a more even seasonal spread (21%-29% per quarter).
Mode of Travel
The UK enjoys excellent global connectivity, with well over 100 countries having direct air connections to the UK in 2015. It can be seen from the pie chart that in 2015 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 85% in 2015.
Visitors who do not travel by air are almost evenly split between those who travel by ferry (15%) or use the Channel Tunnel (13%).
Distribution by area
In 2015 there were 18.6 million visits to London, spending £11.9bn. This represents 54% of all inbound visitor spending, with 40% of visitor nights spent in the capital.
The rest of England attracted 15.2 million inbound visits who spent an estimated £7.5bn, representing 34% of all inbound visitor spend but 49% of all visitor nights.
Scotland welcomed 2.6 million visits and received £1.7bn in spending, accounting for 8% of all visitor nights and spending, with the equivalent figures for Wales being 970,000 visits and £410m, 3% of nights 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.