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Overseas Travel and Tourism, Q1 2012 This product is designated as National Statistics

Released: 12 July 2012 Next edition: 11 October 2012 Download PDF

Latest Trends

  • International visits to the UK by overseas residents continued to grow in quarter 1 2012. Such visits were up 2.6 per cent compared to a year earlier, and spending on those visits rose by 2.5 per cent.

  • Visits abroad by UK residents grew 0.6 per cent and spending on those visits rose by 1.1 per cent.

  • Visits between the UK and EU15 countries fell slightly in comparison with a year earlier.


This report contains estimates of completed international visits to and from the UK and earnings and expenditure associated with these visits.

The estimates are derived from the International Passenger Survey (IPS) conducted by ONS at all major air and Eurostar ports in the UK as well as on sea and Eurotunnel routes into and out of the UK.

Parts of the report refer to countries visited abroad. It should be noted that if a UK resident visited more than one country on a trip abroad, the country recorded as visited in this publication is the country that was visited for the longest period.

Accuracy of IPS estimates

The estimates produced from the IPS are subject to sampling errors that result because not every traveller to or from the UK is interviewed on the survey. Sampling errors are determined both by the sample design and by the sample size - generally speaking, the larger the sample supporting a particular estimate, the proportionately smaller is its sampling error. The survey sample size is approximately 70,000 per quarter.

Table A shows the sampling errors for the main quarterly estimates of the total number of visits, nights and expenditure for both overseas residents visiting the UK and UK residents going abroad. Both standard errors and the 95 per cent confidence intervals are quoted, the latter representing the interval into which there are 19 chances out of 20 that the true figure (had all travellers been surveyed) would lie.

If, for example, the relative 95 per cent confidence interval relating to an estimate of 10,000 was 5.0% there would be 19 chances out of 20 that the true figure (if all travellers had been surveyed) would lie in the range 9,500 to 10,500.

Table A: IPS sampling errors for Quarter 1 2012 estimates

Standard error Absolute 95% confidence interval Relative 95% confidence interval
Overseas visitors to the UK
Number of visits (1000s) 148 291 4.7%
Number of visitor-nights (1000s) 1,204 2,359 5.7%
Total earnings (£ million) 81 159 5.0%
UK residents going abroad
Number of visits (1000s) 141 276 2.7%
Number of visitor-nights (1000s) 2,014 3,947 3.6%
Total expenditure (£ million) 98 193 3.3%

Table source: Office for National Statistics

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Sampling errors relating to visits, nights and expenditure across regions of the world and purpose groups together with countries visited / visits from and region of the UK visited are provided here:

Confidence Intervals Q1 2012 (39 Kb Excel sheet)

Further detail on the confidence intervals of data from the IPS and their interpretation can be obtained from the IPS Branch of ONS.

Visits to the UK by overseas residents

There were an estimated total of 6.2 million visits to the UK by overseas residents in quarter 1, a rise of 2.6 per cent compared to the figure of 6.1 million a year earlier. Visits have risen for seven quarters in a row.

Figure 1: Change from a year earlier in visits to the UK from overseas residents

Change from a year earlier in visits to the UK from overseas residents
Source: International Passenger Survey (IPS) - Office for National Statistics

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The rise in quarter 1 was driven primarily by a 2.7 per cent rise in visits from European residents, although visits from the EU15 set of countries showed no increase. This is the third consecutive quarter that visits from this set of countries have not risen.

Earnings from visits to the UK grew by 2.5 per cent to £3.2 billion. Holiday visits to the UK, and associated spending on these visits, continued to rise. Visits and spending for other purposes were generally in line with a year earlier.

Over half of visits to the UK in quarter 1 involved an overnight stay in London. The total estimate of 3.2 million overnight visits to London represented a rise of 0.1 million compared with a year earlier. Visits to the Capital from all regions of the world rose.

Visits to the rest of England remained broadly stable. An estimated 326 thousand overnight visits were made to Scotland, compared with 298 thousand a year ago.

Visits abroad by UK residents

The estimated number of visits abroad by UK residents is showing more stability following declines in each year between 2007 and 2010. The 0.8 per cent rise in visits in 2011 was followed by a 0.6 per cent rise in quarter 1 2012.

Figure 2: Change from a year earlier in visits abroad by UK residents

Change from a year earlier in visits abroad by UK residents
Source: International Passenger Survey (IPS) - Office for National Statistics

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There are no clear trends in visit numbers to regions of the world. For example, visits to 'other countries' rose by 0.1 million to 2.4 million following a fall of 0.5 million (to 8.8 million) across the full year 2011. The number of visits to North America and Europe in quarter 1 were both generally in line with a year earlier, at 0.7 million and 7.2 million respectively.

The number of holidays taken abroad has not grown over the past three quarters. Visits abroad for business stabilised in quarter 1 following growth in 2011, whereas those to visit friends or relatives continued signs of growth.

Contact Details

General IPS queries & requests

For general questions about IPS and requests for ad hoc data analysis (a service governed by the ONS Income and Charging policy):

Tel: Data Advice Relations Team: +44 (0)1633 455678


Other customer enquiries

ONS Customer Contact Centre
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Tel: +44 (0)845 604 1858

Statistical contact

For information about the content of this publication:

Tel: +44 (0)1633 455277

Copyright and reproduction

©Crown copyright 2012

You may re-use this information (not including logos) free of charge in any format or medium, under the terms of the Open Government Licence, or write to the Information Policy Team, The National Archives, Kew, London TW9 4DU.


Background Notes: Publication tables

Notes to tables

Table 5: Overseas earnings and expenditure at constant (1995) prices - includes estimates for the Channel Islands.

Table 7: Nights spent abroad by UK residents includes cruises allocated to 'Other Areas' (see note 29 under 'sample methodology').

Table 11: Spending by overseas residents by area and purpose of visit. See notes 10, 11 and 12 under 'Definitions'.


Trippers who cross the Channel or the North Sea but do not alight from the boat.

Migrants and persons travelling overseas to take up prearranged employment, together with military/diplomatic personnel, merchant seamen and airline personnel on duty.

Overseas residents passing through the UK en route to other destinations (often known as transit passengers) but who do not stay overnight (however any spending whilst here is included in the figures for earnings).


P = Provisional

R = Revised

- = Not available or no sample

0 = visits less than 500 or spending less than £50,000

VFR = Visiting friends or relatives

Please note due to rounding, constituent items in the tables may not add exactly to totals.

Background Notes: Definitions


  1. The figures relate to the number of completed visits, not the number of visitors. Anyone entering or leaving more than once in the same period is counted on each visit. The count of visits relates to UK residents returning to this country and to overseas residents leaving it.

  2. Day-visits (that is trips that do not involve an overnight stay) abroad by UK residents as well as day trips to the UK by overseas residents are included in the figures for visits and expenditure. Details of such visits are shown separately in Tables 8-11 and 19-22 under the heading 'day visits'.Please note they do not cover day visits to or from the Irish Republic across the land border, although they are included in total visits. For overseas residents in transit through the UK see note 9.

  3. An overseas visitor means a person who, being permanently resident in a country outside the United Kingdom, visits the UK for a period of less than 12 months. UK citizens resident overseas for 12 months or more coming home on leave are included in this category. Visits abroad are visits for a period of less than 12 months by people permanently resident in the UK (who may be of foreign nationality.

  4. When a resident of the UK has visited more than one country the entire visit, expenditure and stay are allocated to the country stayed in for the longest time.

  5. Visits for miscellaneous purposes include those for study; to attend sporting events; for shopping; health; religious; or for other purposes; together with visits for more than one purpose when none predominates (for example visits both on business and on holiday). Overseas visitors staying overnight in the UK en route to other destinations are also included in miscellaneous purposes.

  6. Estimates relating to tourist flows across the land bord er between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland are, for convenience, included in the figures for sea. Where not shown separately, flows through the Channel Tunnel are also included under the figures for sea.

  7. Regional Analysis (Table 13). The information relating to visitors using the land border from the Irish Republic is not collected and so is excluded from the table. Also excluded (except from the 'Total' section) are all visits that did not include an overnight stay in the UK. Visits by overseas residents to Northern Ireland although included in the 'total' column are not separately analysed. More than one region can be visited by an individual whilst in the United Kingdom and so the total of the visits to all regions will therefore sometimes be greater than the total number of visits to the UK. 

  8. Adjustments are made to the reported cost of an inclusive tour so that only the amount earned by the country of visit (for example accommodation costs, car hire, etc.) is included. This estimate is then added to an individual's spending to give the total spending in the country of visit (see also note 9).

  9. Length of stay for UK residents cover the time spent, including the journey outside the UK, whilst for overseas residents it refers to the time spent within the UK.

  10. Earnings and expenditure figures cover the same categories of travellers as do the number of visits, except that in addition the earnings figures include the expenditure by same day transit passengers , and the foreign exchange earnings and expenditure due to travel relating to the Channel Islands. They exclude payments for air, sea and rail travel to and from the UK. For any traveller on an inclusive tour an estimate of the return fare is deducted from the total tour price.

  11. Earnings do not include the personal export of cars that have been purchased in the United Kingdom by overseas residents. Similarly spending excludes the personal import of cars by UK residents.

  12. An estimate for purchases by overseas visitors at airport duty free shops is included in the figures for earnings. Such purchases on British carriers are still excluded.

Background Notes: Geographical Areas

Geographical areas:

  1. North America: Canada (including Greenland and St Pierre at Miquelon), USA (including Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands).

  2. Europe: All countries listed under EU27 plus other central and eastern Europe, North Cyprus, Gibraltar, Iceland (including Faroe Islands), Norway, Switzerland (including Liechtenstein), Turkey, the former USSR and the states of former Yugoslavia.

  3. EU15: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France (including Monaco), Finland, Germany, Greece, Irish Republic, Italy (including San Marino and Vatican City), Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal (including Azores and Madeira), Spain (including Canary Islands, Balearic Islands and Andorra) and Sweden.

  4. EU25: As for EU15 plus Cyprus (see * below); Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. Only the south of Cyprus is a member of the EU, but the IPS is unable to separate North and South Cyprus for the period before May 2004, and so all of Cyprus is included in the EU25 section until May 2004. From May 2004 only southern Cyprus is included in the EU25 figures. Where Cyprus is shown separately in a table, the figures relate to the whole island.

  5. EU27: As for EU25 plus Bulgaria and Romania.

  6. North Africa: Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Sudan.

  7. Other Middle East: Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria and the Yemen.

  8. Central and South America: Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, British Antarctica, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, the Falkland Islands, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama (including Canal Zone), Paraguay, Peru, Surinam, Uruguay and Venezuela.

  9. Other Caribbean: Antigua, Bahamas, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Cuba, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Haiti, Martinique, Montserrat, St Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and the Caicos Islands.

Background Notes: Sample Methodology

Sample Methodology

  1. The International Passenger Survey (IPS) produces estimates that are based on interviews with a stratified random sample of passengers entering and leaving the UK on the principle air, tunnel and sea routes. The main features of the stratification are: mode of transport (that is air, tunnel or sea), port and time of day.

  2. The frequency of sampling within each stratum depends mainly on the variation of tourist expenditure and on the volume of migrants, for which the survey is also used to collect statistics. Travellers passing through passport control are randomly selected for interview and in all some 304,000 interviews were conducted in 2011. Only interviews carried out at the end of a visit are used to generate estimates of expenditure and stay. Of these interviews around 52,000 provided the published information on foreign visitors to the UK and around 67,000 were used for the estimate of UK residents travelling abroad. The interviews were conducted on a purely voluntary and anonymous basis.

  3. Despite the introduction in April 1999 of interviewing on air and sea routes to and from the Irish Republic (see notes 4 and 5 of the 'Background Notes: Accuracy of the results' section) the results from the IPS are still supplemented with estimates of travel between UK and the Irish Republic over the land border where no IPS interviewing takes place. Estimates for travel by land are based on information provided by the Central Statistics Office of the Irish Republic. Estimates of earnings and expenditure are also supplemented with figures from the Economic Advisor's Office of the States of Jersey, who provide information about the Channel Islands.

  4. Over 95 per cent of passengers entering and leaving the UK (excluding those travelling by land to and from the Irish Republic) travel on routes covered by the survey. The remainder are either passengers travelling at night when interviewing is suspended, or on those routes too small in volume to be covered. For those passengers, estimates are made and input into the main results of the survey.

  5. At the major airports a sample of half days is taken and a fixed proportion of passengers are interviewed, whilst the smaller airports are sampled occasionally with the number of visits depending on the number of international passengers.

  6. On the sea routes either particular cross-channel sailings are sampled and a fixed proportion of passengers interviewed on board, or a sample of days is taken and the passengers interviewed on the quay side.

  7. In all, approximately 304,000 travellers (0.2 per cent of the total travellers) were interviewed in 2011; this proportion varies from port to port.

  8. UK residents who left a cruise boat at a foreign port and returned home on a scheduled air or sea service (e.g. fly-cruises) are included in the IPS. Information on the number of passengers on cruises  finishing in the UK is estimated in terms of the number of visits, length of stay and expenditure. These estimates are added to the cruise data collected from the IPS and included under the headings for 'other areas', 'holiday', and 'sea'. In 2010 a review took place of the methodology used to estimate the number of such visits. This review has led to more accurate methodology for estimating these visits and has resulted in an annual increase from the approximately 20 thousand to 200 thousand of such visits. The new estimates have been included in both publication and Travel Trends 2010 in late July 2011.

  9. A complex weighting procedure is used in the survey results taking account of passengers  movement statistics produced by the BAA plc and the Civil Aviation Authority for air traffic by the Department for Transport for sea traffic. For Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester allowances are made for passengers in transit who do not pass through passport control and hence do not cross the IPS counting line.

Background Notes: Accuracy of the results

Accuracy of the results

  1. As the information is collected by a sample survey, the estimates of the number of visits, length of stay and expenditure are subject to a sampling error. Generally speaking, the larger the sample supporting a particular estimate, the smaller its sampling error. However, as the intensity of the sampling varies at each port, figures of a similar magnitude will not necessarily have the same percentage sampling error. 

  2. The IPS has a clustered sample design. The full effects of this complex sample design upon each of the main estimates is calculated, and it is these calculated 'complex' sampling errors which are quoted.

  3. The sampling errors of IPS estimates are given in terms of an interval in to which there are 19 chances out of 20 that the true figure will fall. This is known as a 95 per cent confidence interval; the estimate plus or minus the percentage quoted gives the appropriate interval.

  4. The estimate of the total number of overseas residents' visits to the UK (excluding land based visits from the Irish Republic) in 2010 as a whole had a 95 per cent confidence interval of +2.0 per cent. Total visitor-nights and total earnings for the year had 95 per cent confidence  intervals of +2.6 per cent and +3.4 per cent respectively.

  5. The estimate of the total number of UK residents' visits abroad (excluding land based visits to the Irish Republic) in 2010 as a whole had a 95 per cent confidence interval of +1.2 per cent. Total visitor-nights and total expenditure for the year had 95 per cent confidence interval rates of +1.8 per cent and +1.8 per cent respectively. 

Background Notes: Important change in IPS sampling

Important change in IPS sampling

Traffic at all airports and seaports is monitored regularly to assess if they should be included in the IPS sample. As a consequence Liverpool and Prestwick airports were introduced  into the sample at the beginning of 2005.Between 2000 and 2004, traffic through Liverpool had quadrupled to 'over two and a half million' international passengers, while at Prestwick there was a fivefold increase to nearly 'one and a half million' passengers over the same period.The inclusion of these ports in the IPS sample were shown to cause a discontinuity in regional results and methodology was modified to account for this. Similarly in early 2008 each of Doncaster, Bournemouth, Southampton and Heathrow Terminal 5 were added to the sample and in 2009 Aberdeen and Belfast International airports were added.

Background Notes: Changes to the IPS in 2009

Changes to IPS in 2009

  1. From January 2009 certain elements of the IPS have been revised to address recommendations put forward by the Interdepartmental Task Force on Migration Statistics, 2006. The changes involve revision to sample design, weighting and imputation methodology. These changes resulted in some discontinuity in estimates. An analysis was conducted and published in 2009. More details are available from the IPS team.

  2. The model used to produce seasonal adjustment estimates is reviewed approximately every two years. A review was conducted in late 2009 and the new model was used for the first time to produce the seasonally adjusted estimates used in the December 2009 'Statistical Bulletin' publication. Details of the seasonal adjustment model can be obtained from the IPS team using the contact details attached.

Background Notes: Further Statistics and other Analyses

IPS data files

IPS data for the years 1993 onwards are available online from the ONS website. Travelpac is a free and simple to use dataset for those wishing to make further analyses of IPS data. It contains files provided in Excel and SPSS formats. More details can be found at Travelpac Q1 2012.

Monthly figures of Overseas Travel and Tourism

These are published in the Overseas Travel and Tourism Statistical Bulletin available from

Office for National Statistics, Government Buildings, Cardiff Road, Newport, NP10 8XG.

Telephone: +44 (0)1633 455286 or from the ONS website.

Further statistics

More detailed statistics covering 2002 to 2010 may be found in the 2010 annual report, Travel Trends which is produced by ONS (1.41 Mb Pdf) .

Other analyses

All general enquiries about the IPS should be directed to the Office for National Statistics at the address shown above. It is possible to commission more detailed analyses of the IPS data from marketing agents appointed by ONS.

Background notes

  1. Details of the policy governing the release of new data are available by visiting or from the Media Relations Office email:

Get all the tables for this publication in the data section of this publication .
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