2. About the estimates

Overseas travel and tourism quarterly estimates are revised during the processing of the annual dataset. The most up-to-date and accurate estimates for the previous year’s published quarters can be found in the latest edition of Travel trends.

Further information about the estimates:

  • the sample profile and responses are calibrated to international passenger traffic for the reporting period

  • estimates are based on interviews conducted when passengers end their visit; therefore any visits commencing in the reported quarter but not completed until later are not included in estimates for the reported quarter

  • spending associated with visits includes anything spent before, during and after the trip

  • in January 2015, the methodology for treating outliers was improved; for further information please contact the International Passenger Survey (IPS) team

  • 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

  • estimates are subject to sampling error, and confidence intervals are provided to help readers interpret the estimates (see Background note: Accuracy of IPS estimates); further guidance is provided in Overseas Travel and Tourism estimates

Back to table of contents

3. Visits to the UK by overseas residents

There were more international visits to the UK by overseas residents in the first quarter (Jan to Mar) of 2017 than a year previously. An estimated 8.3 million visits were made in Quarter 1 2017: an increase of 9.9% when compared with the number of visits made during the same period in 2016.

Holidays were the most popular reason for overseas residents’ visits to the UK in Quarter 1 2017, with 2.8 million visits. This was an increase of 21.1% when compared with Quarter 1 2016. Business visits decreased by 1.8%, while visits for miscellaneous purposes increased by 22.9% (although the numbers are smaller).

Visits from residents of North America and Europe increased by 18.7% and 7.0% respectively, while visits from residents of “other countries” (countries outside of Europe and North America) rose by 21.8%.

An estimated total of 54.0 million nights were spent in the UK by overseas residents this quarter, an increase of 5.8% compared with Quarter 1 in 2016. The number of nights spent in the UK by overseas visitors from “other countries” increased by 21.9%, nights spent by visitors from North America increased by 12.1%, but the number of nights spent by residents of Europe fell by 1.7% in Quarter 1 2017 when compared with the same period a year earlier.

Overnight visits to London increased in Quarter 1 2017 by 15.6% to 4.5 million, as did overnight visits to the rest of England, which saw an increase of 2.7% when compared with the same period in 2016. Overnight visits to Wales increased (by 28.2%), while visits to Scotland increased slightly (by 0.7%).

Estimated spending in the UK by overseas visitors rose by 15.6% to £4.4 billion in Quarter 1 2017 when compared with Quarter 1 2016. Spending by residents of “other countries” during their visits to the UK saw the largest increase in Quarter 1 2017, rising by 31.3% to £1.4 billion. Spending by residents of North America grew by 21.6% as did spending by residents of Europe (up by 6.0%).

Back to table of contents

4. Visits abroad by UK residents

UK residents made 14.1 million visits abroad in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2017; this was a rise of 8.1% when compared with the same quarter in 2016. Visits to “other countries” (countries outside Europe and North America) saw the largest increase, of 12.4% to 2.9 million; visits to Europe also increased, by 7.8%. However, visits to North America fell by 4.1% when compared with Quarter 1 2016.

Holiday visits continued to be the most common reason for UK residents’ visits abroad. In Quarter 1 2017, there were 7.6 million holidays, an increase of 5.6% compared with the same quarter a year ago. Visits to friends or relatives increased by 13.4% in this quarter, miscellaneous visits also increased by 13.4%, and business visits increased by 6.0% during this quarter.

In Quarter 1 2017, UK residents spent 147.0 million nights abroad, an increase of 9.1% compared with Quarter 1 2016. The number of nights spent in North America by UK residents increased by 11.6%; nights spent in “other countries” increased by 9.0%; and the number of nights spent in Europe rose by 8.9% in Quarter 1 2017 when compared with the same period a year earlier.

UK residents spent £8.6 billion during visits abroad in Quarter 1 2017, an increase of 11.7% compared with £7.7 billion spent in the same period of 2016. Expenditure in Europe rose by 10.0% while spending in North America decreased by 1.5%.

Back to table of contents

5. Other overseas travel and tourism releases

Further analysis of overseas travel and tourism trends are provided in the publications:

  • monthly Overseas travel and tourism, latest release April 2017 (published in June 2017); next release May 2017 (to be published 21 July 2017).

  • Travel trends, provides more detailed analysis of visits and spending, including analysis by demographics, towns in the UK visited and countries visited by residents or different parts of the UK; latest release Travel trends 2016 (published May 2017); next release Travel trends 2017 (to be published spring 2018).

  • Travelpac is a dataset that allows you to conduct your own analysis of quarterly and annual data on important variables.;the datasets are provided in SPSS and Excel.; latest release Travelpac Quarter 1 2017 published 13 July 2017.

Note that estimates are subject to revision between the monthly statistical bulletin and the quarterly publication and again when Travel trends is published. Revisions result from more accurate passenger figures being made available. More information about the International Passenger Survey (IPS) revisions policy is available in the Quality and Methodology Information.

Note that, although data by the International Passenger Survey (IPS) also feeds into the calculation of migration statistics, the Overseas travel and tourism publications do not provide any information relating to International migration.

Back to table of contents

6. Publication tables

Notes to tables

The historical “Table 5: Overseas earnings and expenditure at constant (1995) prices” has been removed from Quarters 1 (Jan to Mar) and 2 (Apr to June) 2016 while we update the methodology used to create the estimates.

Table 6: Nights spent abroad by UK residents includes cruises allocated to “other areas” (see Note 8 under “ Sample methodology”).

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

The tables listed below have been removed from the quarterly publication from Quarter 2 2016. These tables are not updated quarterly and currently show only annual data figures for 2013, 2014 and 2015. These tables are available in the latest annual publication.

Tables 17 and 18: Number of overseas visits to the UK by country of residence and mode of travel

Tables 26 and 27: Number of visits abroad by UK residents by country visited and mode of travel


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 or 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.

Back to table of contents

7. Definitions


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.

Day visits

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 7 to 10 and 18 to 21 under the heading “day visits”. Please note they do not cover day visits to or from the Republic of Ireland across the land border, although they are included in total visits. For overseas residents in transit through the UK.

Overseas visitor

A person who, being permanently resident in a country outside the UK, 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).

Visiting multiple countries

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.

Miscellaneous visits

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 that are both for business and holiday purposes). Overseas visitors staying overnight in the UK en route to other destinations are also included in miscellaneous purposes.

Crossing land borders

Estimates relating to tourist flows across the land border between the Republic of Ireland 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.

Regional analysis (Table 12)

The information relating to visitors using the land border from the Republic of Ireland 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 while in the UK and so the total of the visits to all regions will therefore sometimes be greater than the total number of visits to the UK.

Inclusive tours

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 and so on) is included. This estimate is then added to an individual's spending to give the total spending in the country of visit.

Length of stay

For UK residents, this covers the time spent, including the journey, outside the UK, while for overseas residents it refers to the time spent within the UK.


This refers to spending in the UK by overseas residents, whereas expenditure refers to spending abroad by UK residents.

Earnings and expenditure

Earnings and expenditure figures cover the same categories of travellers as do the number of visits, except that 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.

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


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.

Fares and accommodation

The question to identify whether the cost of fares and accommodation can be separated was simplified in the 2014 questionnaire. Up to December 2013 the question read: "Was your accommodation abroad paid for as part of an inclusive tour or holiday where fares and accommodation cannot be separated?" From January 2014 the question read: "Can you separate the cost of your fares and accommodation?" The routing to this question has remained constant and all respondents are routed to this question, regardless of purpose of visit. If they answer “yes” they are then asked to supply the breakdown of costs. Respondents whose purpose for visits was not "holiday" are still able to answer that they cannot separate fare and accommodation costs. This change should improve the cost breakdown of information collected.

Back to table of contents

8. Geographical areas

North America

Canada (including Greenland and St Pierre et Miquelon) and the USA (including Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands).


All countries listed within the European Union (see “European Union” for listing) plus the following central and eastern European countries; North Cyprus; Gibraltar; Iceland (including Faroe Islands); Norway; Switzerland (including Liechtenstein); Turkey; the former USSR; and the states of former Yugoslavia.


All countries that joined the European Union before January 1 2004; Austria; Belgium; Denmark; France (including Monaco); Finland; Germany; Greece; Republic of Ireland; Italy (including San Marino and Vatican City); Luxembourg; Netherlands; Portugal (including Azores and Madeira); Spain (including Canary Islands; the Balearic Islands and Andorra); and Sweden. Note that the UK is among the 15 countries that formed the European Union prior to January 2004, but due to the nature of the data displayed in the International Passenger Survey (IPS) datasets data for the UK is excluded.

European Union

All countries that are current members of the European Union; Austria; Belgium; Bulgaria; Croatia*; Cyprus**; Czech Republic; Denmark; Estonia; France (including Monaco); Finland; Germany; Greece; Hungary; Republic of Ireland; Italy (including San Marino and Vatican City); Latvia; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Malta; Netherlands; Poland; Portugal (including Azores and Madeira); Romania; Spain (including Canary Islands; the Balearic Islands and Andorra); Slovakia; Slovenia and Sweden. Note that the UK is a member of the European Union but due to the nature of the data displayed in the IPS datasets data for the UK is excluded.

Other European Union countries

All countries that joined the European Union from 1 January 2004 onwards; Bulgaria; Croatia*; Cyprus**; Czech Republic; Estonia; Hungary; Latvia; Lithuania; Malta; Poland; Romania; Slovakia and Slovenia.

North Africa

Algeria; Libya; Morocco and Sudan.

Other Middle East

Bahrain; Iran; Iraq; Jordan; Kuwait; Lebanon; Oman; Qatar; Saudi Arabia; Syria; and the Yemen.

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; Mexico; Nicaragua; Panama (including Canal Zone); Paraguay; Peru; Surinam; Uruguay; and Venezuela.

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.

* Croatia joined the European Union on 1 July 2013 and data relating to Croatia collected from that date onwards has been included in the “European Union”, “Other EU” and “Europe” categories. Data relating to Croatia collected prior to 1 July 2013 is included in the “Europe” category only.

Back to table of contents

9. Purpose groupings

  1. Holiday: Holiday or pleasure, to play amateur sport, cruise.

  2. Business: Business, trade fair and conference.

  3. Visit friends or relatives: Visit family, visit friends.

  4. Miscellaneous: Other reasons or cases where the respondent is not able to give a single purpose as the main reason for visit.

  5. People migrating (to or from the UK) or travelling as crew of aircraft, ships or trains are excluded from analysis in this publication.

Back to table of contents

10. Sample methodology

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 principal 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.

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. To collect overseas travel and tourism information, travellers passing through passport control are randomly selected for interview and some 295,000 interviews were conducted in 2012. Only interviews carried out at the end of a visit are used to generate estimates of expenditure and stay. Of these interviews around 45,000 provided the published information on foreign visitors to the UK and around 59,000 were used for the estimate of UK residents travelling abroad. The interviews were conducted on a purely voluntary and anonymous basis.

Despite the introduction in April 1999 of interviewing on air and sea routes to and from the Republic of Ireland the results from the IPS are still supplemented with estimates of travel between UK and the Republic of Ireland 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 Republic of Ireland. 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.

Over 90% of passengers entering and leaving the UK (excluding those travelling by land to and from the Republic of Ireland) 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.

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.

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.

In all, approximately 335,500 travellers were interviewed in 2015; the proportion varies from port to port.

UK residents who left a cruise boat at a foreign port and returned home on a scheduled air or sea service (for example 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 approximately 20,000 to 200,000 such visits. The new estimates have been included since the publication Travel trends 2010, published in late July 2011.

A complex weighting procedure is used in the survey results taking account of passengers’ movement statistics produced by the CAA plc and AGS Airports Limited for air traffic, by the Department for Transport for sea traffic, EuroTunnel and EuroStar for tunnel traffic. In addition, for the monthly travel and tourism estimates, air passenger movement statistics from Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh and East Midlands Airports are also incorporated where final CAA statistics are not yet available. 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. The organisations, previously mentioned, that carried out the original collection and analysis of the passenger flow data, bear no responsibility for the further analysis or production of outputs and interpretation.

For further information please read the IPS Methodology Report.

Back to table of contents

11. Accuracy of the results

Figures for the most recent quarter are provisional and subject to revision in light of additional passenger data obtained at the end of each year.

International Passenger Survey (IPS) quarterly estimates are revised in line with the IPS revisions policy. The revisions policy is available in the IPS Quality and Methodology Information paper to help users understand the cycle and frequency of data revisions. Users of this report are strongly advised to read this policy before using this data for research or policy related purposes.

Planned revisions usually arise from either the receipt of revised passenger traffic data or the correction of errors to existing data identified later in the annual processing cycle. Those of significant magnitude will be highlighted and explained.

Revisions to published quarterly IPS estimates can be expected in the publication of the annual overseas travel and tourism report (Travel trends).

All other revisions will be regarded as unplanned and will be dealt with by non-standard releases. All revisions will be released in compliance with the same principles as other new information. Please refer to our ONS guide to statistical revisions.

The main series are seasonally adjusted. This aids interpretation by identifying seasonal patterns and calendar effects and removing them from the unadjusted data. The resulting figures give a more accurate indication of underlying movements in the series.

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 1 shows the 95% confidence intervals 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. These represent the interval in which there is a 19 out of 20 chance that the true figure (had all travellers been surveyed) would lie.

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

Sampling errors relating to visits, nights and expenditure across regions of the world and purpose groups together with countries visited or visits from and region of the UK visited are provided within the Confidence intervals, Quarter 1 2017 tables.

Further guidance for readers is provided about the quality of Overseas travel and tourism estimates.

One indication of the reliability of the key indicators in this release can be obtained by monitoring the size of revisions. The monthly statistical bulletin provides information about the size and pattern of revisions to the quarterly IPS data which have occurred over the last 5 years to the following main seasonally adjusted estimates:

  • the number of visits by overseas residents to the UK (GMAT)

  • the number of visits abroad by UK residents (GMAX)

  • earnings made from overseas residents in the UK (GMAZ) and

  • expenditure abroad by UK residents (GMBB)

Additional spreadsheets giving details of how the revisions have affected the provisional monthly and quarterly estimates are available in the data section of the monthly statistical bulletin.

Back to table of contents

12. Important change in IPS sampling

Traffic at all airports and seaports is monitored regularly to assess if they should be included in the International Passenger Survey (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 2.5 million international passengers, while at Prestwick there was a five-fold increase to nearly 1.5 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, Doncaster, Bournemouth, Southampton and Heathrow Terminal 5 were added to the sample. In 2009 Aberdeen and Belfast International airports were added. Heathrow Terminal 2 was added to the sample from August 2014. Newhaven to Dieppe crossing was added to the sample from October 2014. Heathrow Terminal 1 ceased operation in July 2015 and was therefore removed from the International Passenger Survey sample.

An optimisation exercise was carried out in 2015 and as result the following ports were removed from the IPS sample in April 2016: Bournemouth and Prestwick airports. Plymouth docks and the Eurostar stations Ebbsfleet and Ashford.

Back to table of contents

13. Changes to the IPS in 2009

From January 2009 certain elements of the International Passenger Survey (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.

The model used to produce seasonal adjustment estimates is reviewed approximately every 2 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 accompanying this release.

Back to table of contents

14. Special events

Statistical series are affected by special events. However, as explained in our special events policy, it is not possible to make an estimate of the effect of particular events only on the basis of information collected in those series. However, we publish a special events calendar which may help you put some context on reported estimates.

There were a number of special events in 2012. The Diamond Jubilee celebrations saw changes to the normal pattern of bank holidays in May and June, and an additional day's holiday in June; all of these changes affected estimates for Quarter 2 (Apr to June) of 2012, and the article gave more information on how estimates were compiled over this period. The Olympics took place from 27 July to 12 August 2012 (with a few events starting on 25 July), and Paralympics from 29 August to 9 September. The direct effect of the Olympics and Paralympics were reflected in the estimates for the months of Quarter 3 (July to Sept) of 2012. More details of how certain series were expected to be affected were given in an Information Note. A detailed article describing possible effects on GDP and comparing with earlier Olympic Games, was published by us on 25 October 2012. Wider effects, for example the presence of the Olympics influencing the number of non-Olympic tourist visits, may of course have affected any of the summer months.

The result of these special events in 2012 has been the introduction of additional uncertainty in the interpretation of movements between Quarter 2 and Quarter 3 and between Quarter 3 and Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec). You should therefore consider all information available when interpreting the statistics.

Back to table of contents

15. Further statistics and other analyses

IPS data files

International Passenger Survey (IPS) data for the years 1993 onwards are available online. 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, Quarter 1 2017.

Monthly figures of Overseas travel and tourism

These are published in the Overseas travel and tourism statistical bulletin.

Further statistics

More detailed statistics covering 1980 to 2014 may be found in our 2015 annual report, Travel trends A copy can be downloaded at Travel trends 2016.

Other analyses

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

Telephone: +44 (0)1633 455678

Email: socialsurveys@ons.gov.uk

Marketing agents

It is possible to commission more detailed analyses of the IPS data from marketing agents appointed by ONS. The marketing agents are:

IRN Research (trading name of IRN Consultants Ltd)

60 Eastern Green Road
Telephone: +44 (0) 7905 239 599
Email: info@irn-research.com
Web: http://www.irn-research.com

MDS Transmodal

5-6 Hunters Walk
Canal Street
Telephone: +44 (0) 1244 348301
Fax: +44 (0) 1244 348471
Email: enquiries@mdst.co.uk
Web: http://www.mdst.co.uk

Back to table of contents

16. Background notes

  1. The information provided to us by respondents is treated as strictly confidential as directed by the Code of Practice for Official Statistics. It is used to produce statistics that will not identify any individuals.

  2. Next publication: Quarter 2 2017 data will be published on 12 October 2017.

Back to table of contents

Contact details for this Article

Giles Horsfield
Telephone: +44 (0)1633 455731