Trends in visits to the UK by overseas residents
In 2015, overseas residents made 36.1 million visits to the UK, 5.1% higher than in 2014.
There was an increase in the number of visits to the UK by overseas residents for the fifth consecutive year in 2015, and the highest number of visits since the International Passenger Survey (IPS) began in 1961. The survey also shows the highest recorded visitor spending (without adjusting for inflation).
Earnings from visits to the UK reached a record level of spending in the UK of £22.1 billion, they increased by £0.2 billion (1.0%) compared with 2014, before inflation.
The number of nights spent in the UK by overseas visitors rose to 273.1 million, an increase of 3.2% compared with the previous year. Visits from North America, Europe and “Other Countries” (countries outside Europe and North America) increased in 2015 by 9.6%, 4.1% and 6.6% respectively. Spending by North American residents and “Other Countries” also grew by 2.9% and 3.9%, however, spending by visitors from Europe showed a decline of 1.4%.
Holidays remain the main reason for visits to the UK, accounting for 13.9 million visits, a rise of 2.1% compared with 2014. Business visits and visits to friends and family both showed growths of 7.1%.
A record 18.6 million overnight visits to London were made by overseas residents in 2015, an increase of 1.2 million (6.8%) from 2014, and £11.9 billion was spent on these visits.
Overnight visits to the rest of England grew by 6.9% to 15.2 million. Visits to Wales rose by 4.0% in 2015, however, visits to Scotland decreased by 4.0%.
Trends in visits abroad by UK residents
UK residents made 65.7 million visits abroad in 2015.
UK residents made 9.4% more visits abroad and spent £3.5 billion (9.8%) more during these visits in 2015 than 2014, without adjusting for inflation. The number of nights spent abroad also increased, up 10.7% to 682.4 million nights.
The number of visits abroad for holidays grew (up 9.4%) as did visits abroad to friends or family and for business (up 11.0% and 5.8% respectively). Spending on holidays, visits to friends and business increased by 7.6%, 2.9% and 30.2% respectively.
Visits to North America, Europe and “Other Countries” grew in 2015, up 6.4%, 10.0% and 7.3% respectively. Spending by UK residents visiting these regions also increased, by 14.9%, 12.4% and 1.9% respectively.
Spain continued to be the top destination for UK residents visiting abroad, accounting for 13.0 million visits, a 6.1% increase from the previous year, and accounting for 19.8% of the total number of visits abroad.Back to table of contents
How this publication may benefit you
Travel trends is an annual report that provides estimates and profiles of travel and tourism visits (those of less than 12 months’ duration) and associated earnings and expenditure between the UK and the rest of the world. The International Passenger Survey (IPS) has been providing the source data for travel and tourism since 1961.
International travel and tourism involves the exchange of approximately £50 billion of trade each year. Earnings to the UK account for over £18 billion of the £50 billion, equating to approximately 10% of total export of services. Expenditure abroad accounts for over 25% of total imports of services. The information provided in this report is used in a number of ways, including:
- to track earnings and expenditure, as an important input to measuring balance of payments
- to understand how the volume of visits and earnings to the UK develops, which can be compared with statistics from other countries to assess how effective the UK is in attracting visits from main parts of the world, for different purposes and among different demographic groups
- to help understand how particular events held in the UK (for example, the London 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympics) link to visits and spending, which can aid future decision making
- to provide insights into how effective different parts of the UK are in attracting visits and earnings, in total and from different parts of the world and for different purposes
- to provide profiles of UK residents travelling to different parts of the world, to aid government and industry in developing policy and strategy
The estimates contained in Travel trends are drawn from interviews conducted for our International Passenger Survey (IPS). They are final estimates for 2015, replacing Overseas travel and tourism, provisional results 2015 published previously. The IPS began in 1961, meaning that a substantial amount of historical travel and tourism information is available. The Travel trends 2010 publication included a history of the survey, together with a profile of travel and tourism across the decades from the 1960s. It is a useful source for understanding longer-term trends in combination with shorter-term trends that will be presented in this (Travel trends 2015) publication.
Historical analysis such as that included in Travel trends 2010, has emphasised that international travel and tourism is impacted by a number of factors, such as currency exchange rates, weather, government policy, economic and political conditions in the UK and abroad, and special events. It is not possible to identify the exact impact of each aspect on travel and tourism, as recognised in our Special Events policy.
The estimates contained in Travel trends (as well as our other Overseas Travel and Tourism statistics) ) are subject to sampling errors, which are driven by the fact that IPS is a survey. It is important to understand the factors that dictate the quality of the estimates. Confidence intervals relating to a wide range of estimates are provided in Appendix E of this publication and the data tables section.
Strengths and limitations of the travel and tourism data, sourced from the IPS, can be found in the 'IPS user guide vol 1: background and methodology'.Back to table of contents
- 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, so any visits commencing in the reported year but not completed until later are not included in estimates for the reported year
- spending associated with visits includes anything spent before, during and after the trip.
- parts of the report refer to countries visited abroad; note that if a UK resident visited more than 1 country on a trip abroad, the country recorded as visited in this publication is the country that was visited for the longest period
- following Croatia joining the European Union on 1 July 2013, the categories representing "Europe" and the "European Union" have been updated to incorporate Croatia as a member of the European Union and to clarify the membership of the different groupings. ('Background notes: geographical areas' has more information
The report includes several datasets, based mostly on annual data although some splits by quarter are included. These tables are the same as those published in the quarterly overseas travel and tourism series, under which provisional estimates for Quarters 1, 2 and 3 were published previously. In addition, confidence intervals relating to a wide range of estimates in this report are also provided. These datasets contain information on:Back to table of contents
The number of visits to the UK from overseas residents was 36.1 million in 2015; this was the fifth consecutive annual increase and a record figure for the International Passenger Survey (IPS). The number of visits has increased by 53% since 1995, when the total visits were 23.5 million. This is despite falls in the number of visits in 2001 and 2008.
There were 65.7 million visits abroad by UK residents in 2015. Although visits have continued to rise every year since 2012, the number of visits is still lower than the peak recorded in 2006, when there were 69.5 million visits. There was a 20% decrease in visits in 2010 when compared with 2009; visits abroad fell that year by 3.0 million to 55.5 million.
Overseas residents spent £22.1 billion in trips to the UK in 2015. There has been an increase in the amount spent over time, although it should be noted that these spending figures are not adjusted for inflation. There was an increase of 88% compared with the amount spent in 1995 (£11.8 billion).
UK residents spent £39.0 billion during trips overseas in 2015. This was the highest amount recorded by the IPS, and a 9.8% increase from 2014 (without adjusting for inflation).
The increase in spend shows a similar upward trend to the numbers of visits. In the years since 2003, the amount of money spent increased every year, while the number of visits increased every year except 2009, when there was a small decrease.
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Figure 3 compares the number of visits to the UK by overseas residents in each quarter of 2015 with the corresponding figures from a year earlier over the years 2011 and 2015. With the exception of Quarter 3 (July to Sept) in 2012, visits from overseas residents rose every quarter between 2011 and 2015, compared with 1 year previously. The highest annual rise was seen in Quarter 3 (July to Sept) between 2012 and 2013 when the number of visits increased by 9.8% from 8.8 million to 9.6 million.
Figure 4 compares total spending on visits to the UK by overseas residents in each quarter of 2015 with the corresponding figures from a year earlier over the years 2011 and 2015, without adjusting for inflation.
Total spending by overseas residents was more volatile than the numbers of visits and showed large increases between 2012 and 2013. However, increases were much smaller in 2014 and the last quarter (Oct to Dec) showed a fall of 2.4%. During 2015, the series fluctuated between rises and falls. Despite these movements, the amount spent in every quarter of 2015 was higher than that in 2011.
Figure 5 shows that holiday visits remain the primary reason for overseas residents’ visits to the UK. The number of holidays made to the UK has continued to increase from a low in 2001 to the highest number recorded by the 2015 survey: 13.9 million, a growth of 2.1% when compared with 2014. Visits to see friends or relatives were also popular in 2015 with 10.5 million visits, a growth of 7.1% on 2014, and 29% of all visits to the UK. Business trips continued to show a recovery following a sharp decline in 2009, with a total of 8.9 million visits in 2015, up 7.1% compared with 8.3 million in 2014.
As can be seen in Figure 6, holidays were the most common reason for visiting the UK from residents of Europe, North America and other countries combined. There was a decline in the number of inclusive tours for all regions between 2014 and 2015, with the largest decrease of 16% from holidaymakers resident in countries outside Europe and North America. The decrease in this type of visits was smaller for the other regions; a fall of 12% from residents of North America and 4% for those visitors living in Europe.
Seeing friends or relatives was the second most popular reason for visiting the UK for all regions in 2015. A higher proportion of residents from “Other Countries” (those outside Europe and North America) travelled to the UK for this reason, with 1.9 million visits which was 33% of all their visits.
Numbers of business trips were highest for Europeans, with an increase of nearly half a million visits for this purpose, a growth of 7% when compared with 2014. There were a total of 7.2 million trips for this purpose from these residents in 2015. This was 81% of all business trips to the UK.
Annual growth in spending was seen for all types of visit and all regions between 2011 and 2015. Despite this, there were falls in the money spent in the UK between 2014 and 2015 for some purposes. Holiday visits showed falls for all regions, but business trips showed the largest increases over the same period (2014 to 2015), a growth of 7.5%.
The average length of stay has largely stayed constant across the 5 years from 2011 to 2015, between 7 and 8 nights with residents from “Other Countries” staying the longest on average (14 nights). This might be expected as these residents tend to travel the furthest. Correspondingly, European residents stayed the shortest time at just 6 nights. The distance travelled is smaller for these residents and there are a large number of business visits from this region. Business visits are, on average, the shortest type of visit overall at just 4 nights. For example, residents of North America stayed an average of 9 nights over the 5 year period but business trips from this region were shorter (5 nights in 2015, and 6 nights in 2014).
Visitors from “Other Countries” spent the most per visit; an average of £1,310. However, their spend per day was less than residents from North America or Europe. Residents of North America spent the highest amount per day, increasing from £94 in 2011 to £103 in 2015. Europeans spent the least per day on their visits to the UK, £70 in 2015, with those from the EU Other sub-region (residents of countries which joined the EU from 1 January 2004 onwards) spending an average of £38 per day.
The countries whose residents made the largest number of visits to the UK have remained relatively consistent over time, with the top 4 staying the same since 2011. These countries are France, the USA, Germany and the Republic of Ireland. In 2015, residents of France made the most visits to the UK as has been the case each year since 2008. Visits from France increased by 1.4% between 2014 and 2015 to a total of 4.2 million visits. Visits to the UK by residents of the USA increased by 9.7% in 2015 to 3.3 million and residents of Germany, the third most frequent visitors to the UK, increased by 0.9% to 3.2 million.
Residents of the USA spent the most on their visits to the UK in 2015, a total of £3.0 billion which was an increase of £0.6 billion on the 2011 figure (without adjusting for inflation). In line with the numbers of visits, the next highest spenders were residents of France and Germany. Residents of Europe spent over half the total amount spent in the UK by foreign residents from around the world: £11.1 billion out of a total £22.1 billion. Australians and residents from Other Middle East (see Geographical areas for countries included here) also spent over one billion pounds in the UK during their visits.
Over half of all visits to the UK included a visit to London, a total of 18.6 million visits to the capital city in 2015. This was an increase of 3.3 million from 2011. Half of these visits were made as part of a holiday although a large proportion (20%) were business trips. The most popular reason for visiting other areas of England was to visit friends or relatives where 38% of all visits were for this purpose. Scotland and Wales, like London, received most visits for holidays, accounting for 56% of all visits to Scotland and 38% of all visits to Wales.
Spending by overseas visitors to London increased between 2011 and 2015, from £9.4 billion to £11.9 billion, an increase of 27%. Visits and spending increased to other regions of the UK over the 5 year period but by smaller amounts.
Overnight visits to individual towns and cities (after London) are shown in Figure 11. Edinburgh, Manchester and Birmingham each received more than 1 million overseas visitors. The top 9 most visited cities in 2015 remain the same as 2014, but other towns and cities have changed. Windsor and Canterbury have been replaced by Southampton, and Portsmouth and Southsea in the list of 20 most-visited towns and cities. The ranking for York has fallen from 11th place to 16th and Cardiff has moved up from 12th to 10th position. These changes could be due to the severe flooding discouraging visitors to York and matches for the Rugby World Cup in Cardiff enhancing visitor numbers. Edinburgh was visited mainly for holidays, but Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow were more likely to have business reasons for visiting.
Earnings were highest in the 3 most-visited cities of Edinburgh, Manchester and Birmingham, where a total of £1.5 billion was spent by overseas residents in 2015. However, other top visited cities by expenditure (total spending by visitors) showed a slightly different profile from the visit numbers, with higher spending in Cambridge (£350 million), Oxford (£320 million), Liverpool (£268 million) and Brighton and Hove (£225 million) compared with £221 million in Glasgow.
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The total number of visits abroad by UK residents has increased from 55.6 million in 2010 to a peak of 65.7 million visits in 2015. When compared with the previous year, the number of visits was higher every quarter in 2014 and 2015. There were large increases in both Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) and Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) of 2015; the number of visits rose in these quarters by over 10% when compared with the same quarters in 2014.
Spending overseas by UK residents also increased every quarter when compared with the corresponding quarter of 2014 and was the highest ever at £39.0 billion in 2015. The largest growth, 13.7% was seen in Quarter 3 (July to Sep) when spending abroad peaked at £14.4 billion. Apart from a small fall in spending during Quarter 2 (Apr to June) of 2014 (a decline of 1.3%), the amount spent abroad by UK residents has continued to increase since the beginning of 2013 when quarters are compared with the same period 1 year previously.
Nearly two-thirds of UK residents’ visits abroad were for holidays; this was constant over the 5 year period from 2011 to 2015. Most of these visitors travelled to countries within the EU; there were 32.2 million holiday visits in 2015, a 10.0% increase on the previous year. Visiting friends or relatives was also popular with UK residents. The number of these visits saw average annual growth of 6.2% which resulted in 14.7 million visits in 2015.
Spending abroad increased for all purposes in 2015. UK residents travelling abroad for holidays spent £26.3 billion in 2015, two-thirds of the total. The largest growth between 2014 and 2015 was for business trips; spending on these visits increased by £1.4 billion to £5.8 billion in 2015, a growth of 30%. The majority of this increase (£0.9 billion) was spent on business trips to Europe.
The number of nights spent abroad increased a small amount (an increase of 66,000) between 2014 and 2015, but the average length of stay has remained constant since 2011 at around 10 nights. This is likely to be due to the popularity of shorter breaks taken more frequently during the year. Visits to Europe, the closest destination from the UK, were shorter on average at 8 nights. Average length of stay was higher for countries outside Europe and North America, an average of 21 nights compared with visits to North America where the figure was 14 nights.
The highest spend per visit was for visits to North America, at £1,259, with an average spend per day of £88. UK residents visiting countries outside Europe and North America tended to spend much less per day (an average of £47) but spent £983 on an average stay overall. This compared with European trips where the average spend per visit was just £467 (with a spend per day of £58).
Spain and France remained the most popular countries for visits by UK residents. The number of visits to Spain increased by 22% from 10.7 million in 2011 to 13.0 million in 2015. Trips to France decreased by a small number over this period from 8.9 million to 8.8 million. The USA, Italy and the Republic of Ireland completed the top 5 most popular countries for UK residents to visit. Of the two million visits to Poland, most were made by UK residents who were Polish. Of the total visits there in 2015, 70% (1.4 million) were made by Polish nationals. This was similar for visits to Romania (77%) and Slovakia (62%), but the number of visits to these countries was much smaller (0.5 million and 0.2 million respectively).
The 5 countries with the highest expenditure by visitors from the UK were slightly different from the 5 most-visited countries, with the Republic of Ireland being replaced by Portugal. Total UK residents’ expenditure was highest in Spain, with total spending increasing by 5.4% in 2015 to a total of £6.5 billion, which accounts for 17% of all spending by UK residents abroad. The USA was the next highest total in 2015 at £4.5 billion, an increase of 16% from 2014. Figure 16 shows the top 10 countries in terms of spending abroad by UK residents, which remains the same as 2014.
Holidays were the most popular reason for UK residents travelling abroad in 2015, accounting for 68% of visits from residents of England (excluding London), 71% of Scottish and 75% of Welsh residents. However, only 48% of visits overseas by London residents were for holidays. Residents of regions outside London were also more likely to choose an inclusive tour, with only 23% of Londoners’ holidays being of this type compared with more than 40% for all other areas. UK residents living in London were more likely to travel for business than those from other regions, with 16% of visits for this reason. These 2.3 million visits accounted for 23% of the money spent abroad by Londoners (£2.0 billion).
Visits overseas by London’s residents were more likely to be to countries outside Europe or North America than visits by residents of other UK regions; 19% of visits by Londoners were to these areas of the world compared with between 11 and 14% from other regions.Back to table of contents
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