Understanding international visitors

Understanding when visitors decide to visit Britain, and when they actually book their trip or aspects of their trip, are important to the travel and tourism industry.

Understanding the planning journey - when international visitors start planning their holiday, when they choose a destination, and what booking methods they use - can help you decide when and how to market your product. 

Planning, decision-making and booking cycle of international leisure visitors to Britain

In spring 2016, VisitBritain commissioned new research in 20 markets to understand the holiday decision-making process.

The stages of planning a holiday. Stage 1 Research Destinations. Stage 2 Shortlist options. Stage 3 Final Choice. Stage 4 Make the Booking

Researching and Planning:

  • Almost half (49%) of visitors to Britain started thinking about their trip more than 6 months in advance of taking it. A further 31% started thinking between 3 and 6 months in advance.
  • More than 70% of visitors from our longest haul markets - Australia and New Zealand – started thinking about their trip more than 6 months in advance.
  • When looking at responsibilities over the holiday planning process, ‘researching’ and ‘booking’ are more likely to be done by the individual, whereas shortlisting and finalising a destination are done in consultation with the travel companion.
  • Globally, the biggest influence on destination choice is word of mouth, with talking to friends and family key for 40% of visitors and considerers.
  • Britain’s cultural attractions remain the top reason to visit Britain, with 42% of visitors and 47% of considerers citing this as a key reason for visiting or considering visiting.

Read our full report on Researching and Planning (PDF, 1.4MB)Published March 2017.  


  • Half of visitors to Britain booked their travel and accommodation separately, and the other half booked as a package.
  • With the exception of Australia and New Zealand, long-haul visitors were more likely to book their trip to Britain as a package, and European visitors were more likely to book their travel and accommodation separately.
  • Almost two thirds (64%) of travel bookings took place directly with the provider, and 36% were with a third party.
  • Just over half (53%) of accommodation bookings were made directly, and just under half were made via a third party agent or comparison site.
  • The majority (62%) of holiday bookings were made via a travel agent, operator or comparison site. Whilst two thirds of these bookings were made online, over a quarter were still booked face to face.
  • Online travel agencies are used often, with the main motivation being to compare prices (71%), and finding something within budget (67%).
  • The products that are most often purchased before travelling to Britain are airport transfers (36%) and tickets for tourist attractions (31%) and theatre/musical/concerts (30%).

Read our full report on Booking a holiday (PDF, 988KB). Published April 2017.

Technology and Social Media:

  • The most popular use for social media is to access news (53%), followed by uploading photos or videos (47%).
  • Over two thirds (69%) agree that they like to stay connected when on holiday. Three quarters agree that their smartphone is essential when they travel, and 56% say the same for their tablets.
  • The majority of international travellers (61%) have shared photos of a holiday online, and 42% have done the same for video.
  • Whilst on holiday, social media is most often used to keep in touch with home, followed by posting or uploading photos.
  • Whilst many are happy to use their smartphones abroad, an overwhelming proportion (83%) still wish that it was cheaper.

Read our full report on Technology and Social Media (PDF, 1,118KB). Published April 2017.  

Multi country trips:

  • While the majority of visits to the UK in 2016 did not include a visit to another country in their travel itinerary, 13% did – or 4.5 million visits. 
  • Our long haul markets such as Australia, Mexico and Brazil were most likely to include a country before their UK stay.
  • The Eastern European countries of Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Poland feature in the top 10 markets for those most likely to visit another country both on the way to the UK and after leaving.  These visitors are dominated by lorry drivers.

Read our full report on Multi country visits (PDF, 702KB)Published October 2017.