The table below shows trends in inbound tourism for the period 2003 to 2016 based on the Office for National Statistics International Passenger Survey. The number of visits in 2016 grew 4% to a record 37.6 million, after several years of growth since 2010.
The value of spending increased by 2% to £22.5 billion. Average spend per visit was £599 in 2016, down from the peak of £650 per visit in 2013 and reflecting a lower spend per visit, due to shorter average length of stay.
The number of visitor nights spent in the UK increased by 2% in 2016 to 277 million, with the average number of nights per visit declining at 7.4.
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 2016 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 55% of all spending, with the USA worth over £1.8 billion more than the next most valuable market in 2016, Germany. Germany overtook France this year to claim second place. After briefly entering the top ten for value in 2015, China and Saudi Arabia didn’t retain that place in 2016.
|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 £299 million per year in visitor spending between 2012 and 2016. Germany takes second place in absolute terms followed by other European markets. In percentage terms Chile takes the lead, followed by Romania. France, the UK’s top inbound market by volume has seen a decline in value growth over 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|
Journey Purpose and Seasonal Spread
In 2016 nearly two-in-five inbound visits to the UK were for a holiday (37%), whilst a quarter (24%) 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 (40%), 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 (31%), while holiday and business spending (39% and 24% respectively) are in line with their respective share of visits (37% and 24%).
Three fifths of holiday visits were during the middle quarters of the year in 2016 (28% April to June, 32% July to September) whilst around one-in-six (17%) were in the first three months of the year and a quarter (23%) in the last three months. By contrast business and VFR visits show a more even seasonal spread (22%-28% per quarter).
Mode of Travel
The UK enjoys excellent global connectivity, with well over 100 countries having direct air connections to the UK in 2016. It can be seen from the pie chart that in 2016 74% 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 86% in 2016.
Visitors who do not travel by air are almost evenly split between those who travel by ferry (14%) or use the Channel Tunnel (12%).
Distribution by area
In 2016 there were 19.1 million visits to London, spending £11.9bn. This represents 53% of all inbound visitor spending, with 40% of visitor nights spent in the capital.
The rest of England attracted 16.0 million inbound visits who spent an estimated £7.8bn, representing 35% of all inbound visitor spend but 49% of all visitor nights.
Scotland welcomed 2.7 million visits and received £1.8bn in spending, accounting for 8% of both visitor nights and spending, with the equivalent figures for Wales being 1.1 million visits and £444m, 3% of nights and 2% of visitor spend.