UK expecting a boost in overseas visitors during festive season

19 December 2018

The UK is expecting a rise in overseas visitors during Christmas and into the New Year.

Forward flight bookings to the UK overall are showing a rise of 9% between Sunday 23 December 2018 and Saturday 5 January 2019 compared to the same period last year.

Forward bookings to the UK from China, the Middle East and the United States are particularly strong with all showing double-digit increases, up 44%, 59% and 27% respectively.

The increase in bookings from some of the UK’s most valuable long-haul visitor markets echoes a longer-term trend.

Forward bookings from the US to the UK for December 2018 to May 2019 are up 27% compared to the same period previously. The US is the UK’s most valuable inbound visitor market for tourism spend. Visitors from the US spent a record £3.6 billion across the UK in 2017, up 9% on the previous year. Visits from the US grew 13% to 3.9 million in 2017, the highest since 2000.

Bookings from China, the world’s most valuable outbound visitor market, are up 25% for December 2018 to May 2019. China moved into the UK’s top 10 most valuable inbound visitor markets last year with visits reaching a record 337,000, up 29% on 2016, and spend up 35% to an all-time high of £694 million. For every 22 visits from China, one job is created in the UK’s tourism industry.

Longer-term bookings are also tracking ahead from the Middle East to the UK, up 10% for December this year to May 2019. Visitors from the Middle East are some of the UK’s highest spenders. Visitors from the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) countries spent £2,733 on average in the UK in 2017, more than four times the all market average of £625.

VisitBritain Director Patricia Yates said:

“Tourism is one of the UK’s most valuable export industries and needs no trade deals to attract overseas investment. It is also a fiercely competitive global industry and people have a lot of choice. We want the UK to be the number one destination for global travellers so it is great to see forward bookings looking strong in the coming weeks and months from some of our most valuable long-haul visitor markets.”

Tourism Minister Michael Ellis said:

“The UK is one of the world’s must-visit destinations and the increase in forward bookings reflects the strength of our tourism sector. 

“We are committed to supporting this important industry and are progressing negotiations for a Tourism Sector Deal to drive long-term economic growth and investment in accommodation and attractions across the country.” 

VisitBritain’s global campaign ‘I Travel For…’, launched earlier this year, is shining the spotlight on unexpected experiences and less-explored destinations across the UK alongside its world-renowned landmarks and attractions telling the story of places, inspiring visitors to discover more, travel further and stay longer. The campaign is being refreshed with new content in Australia, China and Europe as well as in the GCC, India and the US.

VisitBritain promotes the UK internationally as a visitor destination as part of the UK Government’s global GREAT Britain campaign. The UK was ranked third out of 50 nations for its overall brand in the 2018 Anholt Nation Brands Index published in November this year, a position it has held since 2011.

Tourism is worth £127 billion to the UK economy, creating jobs and boosting economic growth across its nations and regions.

Notes to editors:

Latest available official inbound tourism statistics

  • The latest official statistics for inbound tourism to the UK are for January to June 2018. These show that there were 17.9 million overseas visits to the UK in the first six months of 2018. Overseas visitors spent £10.3 billion in the UK from January to June 2018.
  • The latest full year inbound tourism statistics are for 2017. In 2017 there were a record 39.2 million inbound visits to the UK, up 4% on 2016. Overseas visitors spent a record £24.5 billion in the UK in 2017, up 9% on 2016. 
  • VisitBritain is due to release its inbound tourism forecast for 2019 at the end of January.
  • Forward flight bookings data is from ForwardKeys.

What’s on in the UK 2019

Events across the UK include Queen Victoria’s bicentenary with a host of events, tours and special performances dedicated to her life. The country will also commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D Day landings in June. Nationwide events also include 500 years of Horseracing in England and 70 years of the National Trust. Also in 2019 the British Tourist Authority marks its 50th anniversary and British Airways marks its centenary.

It will be a big year for sport for the UK in 2019. England and Wales will host the International Cricket Council (ICC) World Cup between May and July, London welcomes its first-ever Major Baseball League games in June and Yorkshire will see 1,000 cyclists from 75 countries compete in the UCI Road World Championships in September. Leeds United Football Club celebrates its 100th birthday in October 2019 with a range of activities and events.

Scotland will welcome one of the world’s largest golfing competitions in September, the Solheim Cup. Similar to the Ryder Cup, female golfers from the United States and Europe will compete head-to-head for the title in Gleneagles. 

Wales celebrates the Year of Discovery. Experience-seeking travellers can discover Wales through the ‘The Wales Way’, a group of three new national touring routes that cross its most epic landscapes with fascinating history, coastlines and attractions.

The final series of Game of Thrones will premier in April and in Northern Ireland, where much of the series is filmed, fans will be able to visit a special exhibition in Belfast and see costumes, props and settings from the show. The exhibition runs between April and September.

Cultural events in 2019 include celebrating literary heroes John Keats and Jane Austen. Jane Austen’s House Museum will celebrate its 70th birthday and Keats’ ‘Ode to Autumn’ poem will celebrate its 200th anniversary. The historic Cheltenham Literary festival also celebrates its 70th birthday. For comedy enthusiasts, Britain will celebrate 50 years of the much-loved comedy troupe Monty Python.

New exhibitions for 2019 include an exhibition of Vincent Van Gogh’s work at Tate Britain, the largest exhibition of his work in the UK for nearly a decade and Bristol commemorates the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo Da Vinci. In Edinburgh, the Palace of Holyroodhouse hosts a special exhibition of the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, with visitors able to see the couple’s wedding outfits.