Inbound tourism performance

A major player for the UK economy

Inbound tourism is critical for Britain. It supports jobs, boosts growth and contributes to the UK’s economy. In 2017, inbound tourism continued to be a major player for the UK. The UK achieved a record £24.5 billion in overseas visitor spend, up 9% on 2016 and well above the long-term, average growth rate. The total overseas visits to the UK rose by 4%, reaching 39.2 million in 2017.

2017’s growth in inbound tourism was led by holiday visits, which grew by 11% to 15.4 million with their spend increasing at an even faster rate, 22%, to £10.6 billion. Visits to friends and relatives saw growth of 4% in 2017, bringing 12.0 million visits to the UK and spending £5.8 billion, up 15%.

International growth across the nations and regions

The economic benefits of inbound tourism were felt right across Britain’s nations and regions. Scotland was the growth leader in 2017 with visits up 17% to 3.2 million. Visits to London rose 4% to almost 20 million and Wales matched 2016’s level of 1.1 million.

International visits to the English regions outside of London also grew at a similar pace overall, 3%, to 16.5 million. The North West saw the strongest growth amongst the regions of England with 3.1 million visits, up 11%.

Cities in numbers:

  • Edinburgh was the second most visited city in the UK, with 2 million inbound visits, up 19% on 2016. Manchester was third, with 1.3 million visits (up 11%) and Cardiff welcomed 372,000 visits (up 4%)
  • Other cities that saw growth in international visits in 2017 included Liverpool (up 25% to 839,000), Glasgow (up 19% to 787,000), Bristol (up 6% to 602,000), and York (up 9% to 289,000)


A global leader in inbound tourism

British inbound tourism is amongst the world’s best, comprising 4.9% of global inbound visitor nights in 2017. The 2017 GfK Anholt Nation Brands Index survey ranked the UK as the sixth most aspirational destination to visit, if money was no object.

Tourism supports 3.1 million UK jobs – equating to 9.6% of total UK jobs

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In 2017 tourism was worth £126.9 billion to the UK economy

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Top 5 markets by volume in 2017

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£24.5 billion in overseas visitor spend

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Increased global visitor numbers

Britain is becoming more accessible than ever before, welcoming tourists from a diverse range of international markets. Direct air capacity to the UK rose 5% in 2017 compared to 2016, and is 27% higher compared to 10 years before. Seat capacity from the United States grew by 2% in 2017, China by 6% and from the United Arab Emirates by 1%.

People visit Britain from all over the world. The USA came top as UK’s most valuable source market in terms of visitor spending, reaching £3.6 billion in 2017 and 9% higher than 2016. Plus visits were up by 13% achieving 3.9 million.

Europe remains a crucial market for British tourism, despite the political uncertainty over Brexit. There were 20.7 million visits from the EU15 nations in 2017, making it the UK’s largest visit-generating region. In total, 2017 saw visits from Europe grow 1% to 28.1 million.

Visits from the world’s most valuable outbound market, China, grew 29% to 337,000 and have grown 89% over the past five years. Spending was up 35% to £694 million in 2017 and on average, Chinese visitors spend £2,059 per visit. For every 22 Chinese visitors we attract to Britain, another tourism job is created.

The UK also saw increases in visits from a number of other emerging markets, such as India (up 35%), Brazil (up 31%) and Russia (up 55%).