1. Main points
- Visits to the UK decreased from 3.2 million in November 2022 to 3.0 million in December 2022.
- Spending by overseas residents visiting the UK rose from £2.1 billion in November 2022 to £2.4 billion in December 2022.
- UK residents’ visits overseas fell from 4.4 million in November 2022 to 4.0 million in December 2022.
- Spending by UK residents overseas in December 2022 remained at the same level as November 2022 (£3.4 billion).
- Overseas residents' visits to the UK (3.0 million) were down 14% on the comparable month, December 2019 (3.4 million), before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
- UK residents’ visits overseas in December were also down compared with before the coronavirus pandemic; there were 4.0 million visits in December 2022 compared with 5.1 million in December 2019 (21% down).
The estimates provided for 2021 and the start of 2022 should be treated with caution as the numbers are smaller than pre-coronavirus years. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) was unable to interview at the Eurotunnel site until July 2022. Data for the first six months of 2021 are shown for air visits only as the ONS was unable to interview at Dover. No estimates are included for any travel across the Irish border.
2. Trends in visits to the UK by overseas residents
Visits to the UK in December 2022 (3.0 million) decreased by 7% on the previous month (3.2 million). When compared with pre-coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic levels, visits in December 2022 (3.0 million) were down 14% on December 2019 (3.4 million).
Despite the number of visits falling, spending in the UK by overseas residents increased by 14% between November 2022 (£2.1 billion) and December 2022 (£2.4 billion).
Although spending increased between November 2022 and December 2022, it was still below pre-pandemic levels. Overseas residents spent £2.7 billion in December 2019 compared with £2.4 billion in December 2022; a fall of 11%.
For the first time since April 2022, there were more visits to see friends and relatives than for holidays. In December 2022, 1.2 million visits to the UK were made for visiting friends and family (41% of the total), 1.1 million (36%) visits were for holidays.
Figure 1: Visits to the UK fall slightly in December 2022
Overseas residents’ visits to the UK by month, January 2018 to December 2022
Source: International Passenger Survey from the Office for National Statistics
- The monthly figures for the first two quarters of 2021 (Jan to June) do not match the total quarterly figures, as these estimates exclude visits and spend for sea travel.
Download this chart Figure 1: Visits to the UK fall slightly in December 2022Image .csv .xls
3. Trends in overseas visits by UK residents
The number of UK residents’ visits abroad fell between November 2022 and December 2022. There were 4.4 million visits made in November and 4.0 million in December.
When compared with pre-coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic levels, visits abroad are still down. In December 2022, visits are down 21% on the 5.1 million made in December 2019.
The amount of money spent by UK residents abroad was £3.4 billion in December 2022; the same as November 2022. However, unlike visits, this is a 9% increase from £3.1 billion in December 2019 (pre-coronavirus pandemic).
Europe was the most popular overseas destination for visits in December 2022, accounting for two-thirds (2.7 million) of the total visits abroad. Going on holiday continued to be the most common reason for visits abroad, 2.2 million and 55% of visits.
Figure 2: The number of UK residents' visits abroad falls in December 2022
UK residents’ visits overseas by month, January 2018 to December 2022
Source: International Passenger Survey from the Office for National Statistics
The monthly figures for the first two quarters of 2021 (Jan to June) do not match the total quarterly figures, as these estimates exclude visits and spend for sea travel.
Download this chart Figure 2: The number of UK residents' visits abroad falls in December 2022Image .csv .xls
4. Overseas travel and tourism data
Overseas travel and tourism, monthly
Dataset | Released 26 April 2023
Seasonally and non-seasonally adjusted estimates of completed international visits to and from the UK.
Overseas travel and tourism time series
Dataset | Released 26 April 2023
Seasonally and non-seasonally adjusted estimates of completed international visits to and from the UK. Based on International Passenger Survey data.
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.
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 total figures for visits and expenditure. However, figures presented at lower levels of geography relate to overnight stays only.
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 who are 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, expenditure and stay are allocated to the country stayed in for the longest time.
Visits for miscellaneous purposes include those for:
- attending sporting events
- health purposes
- religious purposes
- other purposes
These include visits for more than one purpose, where none predominates (for example, visits both on business and on holiday). Overseas visitors staying overnight in the UK on their way to other destinations are also included in miscellaneous purposes.
Earnings and expenditure
Earnings refer to spending in the UK by overseas residents. Expenditure refers to spending abroad by UK residents.Back to table of contents
6. Measuring the data
International Passenger Survey (IPS) data are collected by a team of over 200 interviewers who are recruited and trained specifically to work on the IPS. They carry out interviews at air and seaports, onboard vessels leaving or returning to the UK, or onboard the Eurotunnel trains. Interviews are carried out on all days of the year, apart from:
- Christmas Eve
- Christmas Day
- Boxing Day
- New Year’s Day
We have made methodological improvements to the travel and tourism estimates from the IPS. These relate to the survey’s weighting process and were used to produce the data presented in this bulletin. The improvements were introduced in our Travel trends: 2019 article and are described in Section 5: Improved methodology for the estimates. A detailed technical paper will be published in due course, comprehensively setting out the changes. These changes affect only travel and tourism, not estimates of long-term international migration.
The new method was used to produce final results for 2019 and a revised series for 2009 to 2018. The effects of the new method, and how these differ from the old, are presented in Section 6: Impacts of the new IPS methodology, in our Travel trends: 2019 article.Back to table of contents
7. Data sources and quality
Methods used to produce these estimates
Apart from the time when the survey was not running (16 March 2020 to 18 January 2021), figures shown are produced from results of the International Passenger Survey (IPS). These results do not include any travel via the Eurotunnel vehicle trains, as the trains were isolated, and no interviewing could take place. It was also not possible to obtain any survey results from Dover to France until August 2021. It should be noted that there was very little travel-related traffic at that time. Results for when the survey was not operating were limited to totals, and the method used can be found in Section 6: Data sources and quality of our Overseas travel and tourism, provisional: April to June 2020 bulletin. Although traffic volumes have increased during 2021, figures should be treated with caution. This is because the numbers are much smaller than in the past and are subject to higher sampling errors than previous estimates released.
Accuracy of the IPS estimates
Estimates produced from the IPS are subject to sampling errors (as explained in our guide to Uncertainty and how we measure it for our surveys), 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, the larger the sample supporting a particular estimate, the proportionately smaller is its sampling error. The survey sample size in 2021 is much smaller than in previous years because of the travel restrictions resulting from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The estimates presented in this article for the whole of 2020 must be treated with particular caution, since the methods used have not been fully scrutinised or tested.
The estimates presented in this bulletin make the best use of the available data and methods to produce estimates of international visits and spending. However, the numbers are small, and the results should be treated with caution.
The accuracy of the estimates is expressed in terms of confidence intervals. For more information on how we measure and communicate uncertainty for our surveys, see our Uncertainty and how we measure it web page.
The following guidelines are provided to aid in the interpretation of the estimates, and to allow their reliability to be assessed:
- confidence interval below 10%: precise
- confidence interval between 10% and 20%: reasonably precise
- confidence interval between 20% and 40%: acceptable
- confidence interval over 40%: unreliable (these estimates should be used with caution for practical purposes)
Table 1 shows the 95% confidence intervals for the estimates of the total number of visits and expenditure for both overseas residents visiting the UK and UK residents going abroad.
|December 2022 monthly estimates||Estimate||Relative 95% Confidence Interval (+/- % of the estimate)|
|Visits to UK by overseas residents (thousands)||2,960||7.8%|
|Earnings from visits to UK (£ million)||2,410||11.0%|
|Visits abroad by UK residents (thousands)||3,980||5.8%|
|Expenditure on visits abroad (£ million)||3,380||8.0%|
Download this table Table 1: Confidence intervals relating to overseas travel and tourism estimates, December 2022.xls .csv
8. Strengths and limitations
A major strength of the International Passenger Survey (IPS) is that it is the main source of information in the UK on international travel and tourism, and associated earnings and expenditure. It has been running since 1961 so provides a comprehensive time series of travel and tourism, which can be useful for identifying long-term trends and patterns or undertaking time series analysis and forecasting. In addition, interviewing at the principal air, sea and tunnel routes and the use of a dedicated field force gives the survey some uniqueness.
IPS survey data are subject to both sampling and non-sampling errors. About 90% of passengers entering and leaving the UK have a chance of being sampled in the survey. The remainder are either passengers travelling at night, when interviewing is suspended, or on those routes too small in volume or too expensive to be covered. Furthermore, the number of survey interviews on particular routes or for some main reason for visit such as playing sports and getting married, are sometimes small and consequently attract higher sampling errors. This also applies to visits to or from countries with low visit numbers.Back to table of contents
10. Cite this statistical bulletin
Office for National Statistics (ONS), released 26 April 2023, ONS website, statistical bulletin, Overseas travel and tourism: December 2022 provisional results
Contact details for this Statistical bulletin
Telephone: +44 1633 455270