Overseas travel and tourism: July, August, September 2018 provisional results

Visits to the UK by overseas residents, visits abroad by UK residents and spending by travellers, using provisional passenger traffic data.

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Release date:
17 January 2019

Next release:
22 February 2019

1. Main points

  • UK residents made 7.2 million visits overseas in July 2018 (2% more than in July 2017), 9.3 million visits overseas in August 2018 (2% more than in August 2017) and 7.7 million visits overseas in September 2018 (3% fewer than in September 2017).

  • UK residents spent £4.8 billion on visits overseas in July 2018 (6% more than in July 2017), £6.4 billion in August 2018 (2% more than in August 2017) and £5.2 billion in September 2018 (1% more than in September 2017).

  • There were 3.9 million visits to the UK by overseas residents in July 2018 (3% fewer than in July 2017), 3.8 million visits in August 2018 (3% fewer than in August 2017) and 3.1 million visits in September 2018 (2% fewer than in September 2017).

  • Overseas residents spent £2.4 billion on visits to the UK in July 2018 (17% less than in July 2017), £2.8 billion in August 2018 (9% less than in August 2017) and £2.0 billion in September 2018 (19% less than in September 2017).

  • There were falls in the numbers of visits compared with a year earlier, and spending by visitors, but it should be noted that both visitor numbers, and spending by these visitors, were the highest ever recorded by the International Passenger Survey (IPS) survey in the corresponding three-month period of 2017.

  • The IPS has recently transferred outputs from data collected on paper forms to an improved method using tablet computers, so some caution is advised in year-on-year comparisons of results.

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2. Things you need to know about this release

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.

The International Passenger Survey (IPS) has recently transferred outputs from data collected on paper forms to an improved method using tablet computers. Tablet data collection was phased in gradually from September 2017 to April 2018. More background information about the rollout can be found in Travel trends 2017: recent data collection changes and planned methodological changes.

With the new tablets offering the potential to improve the quality of the IPS data collected, discontinuities arising from the introduction of tablet data collection in the IPS were possible. We have therefore worked with academic experts and ONS Methodology to produce a method for detecting any such discontinuities.

We have continued to monitor the results as more data have become available. Analysis so far has found no detectable discontinuities, but some caution is still advised in the interpretation of data in this release.

Further planned methodological changes are described in the Travel trends article. These are weighting adjustments to address concerns about the imbalance in the IPS between the estimates for different nationalities of numbers of visitors arriving and departing. It is expected that the new method will be implemented in 2019, and the date will be announced as soon as possible on the Statements section of the ONS website. Any plans for revisions to published estimates will be announced at the same time.

Estimates contained in this bulletin are produced from responses provided by international passengers arriving in and departing from the UK, sampled on the IPS.

Responses to the survey are scaled up to represent all passengers using information on total international passenger traffic for the reporting period.

Estimates are based on interviews conducted when passengers end their visit. Any visits commencing in the reported month but not completed until later are not included in estimates for the reported month.

The reported spend for visits includes any spending associated (excluding fares) with the visit, which occur before, during or after the trip.

Parts of the bulletin 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 you interpret the estimates (see “Accuracy of IPS estimates” in the Quality and methodology section). Further guidance is available about the quality of overseas travel and tourism estimates.

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7. Quality and Methodology

The International Passenger Survey Quality and Methodology Information report contains important information on:

  • the strengths and limitations of the data and how it compares with related data

  • uses and users of the data

  • how the output was created

  • the quality of the output including the accuracy of the data

The International Passenger Survey Methodological Information outlines definitions and sample methodology.

Accuracy of IPS estimates

This section describes how revisions are carried out in the standard production cycle of the survey. Additional potential revisions, to be made on a one-off basis, are described in Section 2: Things you need to know about this release.

Figures for the most recent months are provisional and subject to revision in light of (a) more accurate data on passenger figures becoming available at the end of each quarter and (b) additional passenger data obtained at the end of each year.

International Passenger Survey (IPS) monthly estimates are revised in line with the IPS revisions policy. The revisions policy is available in the IPS quality and methodology report, to assist you in the understanding of the cycle and frequency of data revisions. You 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. Unplanned revisions are made to correct errors to existing data, identified later in the quarterly and annual processing cycle. Those of significant magnitude will be highlighted and explained.

Revisions to published monthly IPS estimates can be expected at the following times in the normal overseas travel and tourism publication schedule:

  • monthly estimates for the current reference year will usually be revised and statistically benchmarked across the quarter, following the publication of the quarterly estimates which that month falls within

  • monthly and quarterly estimates for the current reference year will be revised in the survey year’s annual data release (Travel trends)

  • monthly estimates for the full calendar year will be statistically benchmarked as part of the annual data processing and the monthly estimates for the year will then be replaced in the monthly release, with the benchmarked estimate following publication of the annual 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 guide to statistical revisions.

Seasonally adjusted figures are no longer shown in the main figures in the publication, but continue to be presented in the tables.

The estimates produced from the IPS are subject to sampling errors that occur because not every traveller to and 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 lower its sampling error. The survey sample size is approximately 20,000 per month. 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.

Accuracy of the estimates is expressed in terms of confidence intervals. The confidence interval is a range within which the true value of a proportion lies with known probability. For example, the 95% confidence interval represents the range into which there are 19 chances out of 20 that the true figure would fall had all passengers been sampled. This is obtained as plus or minus 1.96 multiplied by the standard error.

Confidence intervals for quarterly and annual estimates are provided in our relevant overseas travel and tourism publications.

One indication of the reliability of the main indicators in this release can be obtained by monitoring the size of revisions. Table 4 records the size and pattern of revisions to the quarterly IPS data that have occurred over the last five 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)

  • expenditure abroad by UK residents (GMBB)

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 IPS revisions policy is available in the Quality and Methodology Information report. The most up-to-date and accurate estimates for all published months can be found in the latest edition of the Overseas travel and tourism monthly statistical bulletin.

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

Other analyses

For general questions about the IPS and requests for user-requested data analysis (a service governed by our Income and charging policy), please get in touch using the contact details accompanying this release.

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Contact details for this Statistical bulletin

Giles Horsfield
Telephone: +44 (0)1633 455731