2020 inbound data


Inbound visitor statistics for 2020

The travel and tourism statistics published by The Office for National Statistics (ONS) are usually based on the results of the International Passenger Survey (IPS), but the survey was suspended on 16 March 2020 because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. No IPS data was collected for the period when the survey is not operational.

The figures published on this page and the VisitBritain website for 2020 (with the exception of Q1 2020 – when the IPS was in operation), are based on administrative sources and modelling.  The statistics have been produced to the highest quality possible, but the methods used have not been subject to full review and scrutiny.  Assumptions that some previous trends have continued have been made. The results should therefore be viewed with caution.

UK Visits and spend by quarter

  Visits (000) Spend (£m) Average spend per visit
Q1 (Jan-Mar) 6,994 £4,344 £621
Q2 (Apr-Jun) 398 £218 £548
Q3 (Jul-Sep) 2,322 £1,037 £446
Q4 (Oct-Dec) 1,386 £611 £441
2020 TOTAL 11,101 £6,210 £559

Visits: The UK received 11.1 million inbound visits in 2020, a 73% decline from the visit levels seen in 2019.  The majority (63%) of the visits to the UK were in Q1, before any worldwide travel restrictions were put in place.  Understandably visits for all quarters in 2020 were down compared to the 2019 results, though the decline in Q3 was milder than in Q2 and Q4 (down 80%).  Q1 was down 16%, Q2 96% and Q4 87% - all compared to 2019.

Spending: In 2020 inbound visitors to the UK spent a total of £6.2 billion, a decline of 78% on 2019 results.  As seen with visits, Q1 was the strongest performing quarter, contributing 70% of all inbound spend. 

During 2020 VisitBritain used the available 2020 IPS data along with other sources to forecast 2020 visits and spend.  We published these estimates on our website on our forecast page.  We had forecast visits to fall 75% in 2020 from 2019 results and spend to decrease 78%. 

The average spend per visit across the whole of 2020 was £559 per visit, down from an average of £696 in 2019. 

Visits by journey purpose and quarter 

2020 Visits (000)
  Holiday Business VFR Miscellaneous
Q1 (Jan-Mar) 2,600 1,662 2,195 538
Q2 (Apr-Jun) 177 85 112 24
Q3 (Jul-Sep) 1,066 406 686 164
Q4 (Oct-Dec) 519 316 454 97
2020 TOTAL 4,362 2,469 3,447 823

Please note that journey purpose data is usually derived from a question in the International Passenger Survey so for Q2-Q4 2020, journey purpose estimates are based on historic patterns rather than collected data while the survey was suspended.

In the modelled data for 2020, holiday continued to be the leading reason to visit the UK with 39% of the inbound visits being for the purposes of holiday.  Overall the proportion of visits by purpose in 2020 were broadly in line with the results seen in 2019 – Holiday 39% vs. 41% in 2019.  Business visits held a 22% share in 2019, vs 21% in 2019 and visits to friends and relatives accounted for 31% of the visits in 2020 (vs. 30%) in 2019.

Due to the approach taken to model 2020 data in the absence of the IPS fieldwork only a limited number of global regional visit data is available.  These are presented in the table below.

Visits by global region and quarter

2020 Visits (000)
  North America Europe Other Countries
Q1 (Jan-Mar) 794 4,926 1,274
Q2 (Apr-Jun) 40 298 60
Q3 (Jul-Sep) 207 1,754 361
Q4 (Oct-Dec) 130 1,009 247
2020 TOTAL 1,171 7,988 1,942

In 2020 11% of the inbound visits to the UK were from North America, 72% from Europe and 17% from Other Countries.  These proportions vary from 2019 where the proportions were 13%, 67% and 20% respectively.  These shifts seen in 2020 are likely a result of travel restrictions and we can see our near neighbours in Europe taking a larger share.

More detailed breakdowns of the data for Q1 2020 (and all the way back to 2010) is available at the UK level and the regional level.

As well as inbound UK data the IPS also measures UK outbound travel and tourism.  In 2020 UK residents took 23.8 million trips abroad (74% fewer than in 2019) and spent a total of £13.8 billion while outside the UK (78% less than in 2019).

The ONS have made every effort to produce high-quality estimates for the periods when IPS data is not being collected but have not been able to produce a full set of results due to the risks associated with the results being misleading.  More detailed information on the approach used to produce these 2020 results can be found on the ONS website.