1. Main points

Overseas residents made 10.7 million visits to the UK in the 3 months to September 2016. This was 2% higher than the same 3 months in 2015 and a 1% increase for September 2016 compared with September 2015.

Visits from North America increased by 8% in the 3 months to September 2016 when compared with the same 3 months in 2015 and by 7% when comparing September 2016 with September 2015.

Visits from residents of countries that joined the EU from 2004 (other EU) increased by 2% in the 3 months to September 2016 when compared with the same 3 months in 2015 but fell by 4% for September 2016 when compared with September 2015.

In the 3 months to September 2016, overseas residents made fewer visits for holidays, a decrease of 2% but made more business trips: up by 3%. Increases over this period were also seen for visiting family and friends (up 5%) and miscellaneous visits (up 7%).

In the 3 months to September 2016, UK residents' visits abroad increased by 7% when compared with the same period in 2015 and increased 11% when comparing September 2016 with September 2015. This increase was partly driven by the number of extra holidays taken over this 3 month period, an increase of 6%.

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2. About the estimates

Overseas travel and tourism monthly estimates are revised during the processing of the quarterly dataset and again during the processing of the annual dataset. 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.

Estimates contained in this bulletin are produced from responses provided by international passengers arriving in and departing from the UK, sampled on our International Passenger Survey (IPS).

This bulletin contains provisional overseas travel and tourism estimates to and from the UK for September 2016. Revised, final estimates for 2015 were published in Travel trends 2015 on 20 May 2016. In the production of the monthly overseas travel and tourism estimates, provisional passenger traffic data is used to inform the weighting process that is then revised for production of the quarterly estimates. The final data is then used in the production of the annual results published in Travel trends (see background note: Accuracy of IPS estimates). The title of the monthly overseas travel and tourism bulletin was renamed in December 2013 to "Overseas travel and tourism, provisional results for [month and year]" to clarify that the data contained in these bulletins are provisional.

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 month but not completed until later are not included in estimates for the reported month.

The reported spend for visits include any spending associated with the visit, which may occur before, during or after the trip.

In January 2015, the methodology for treating outliers was improved. For further information please contact the IPS team.

Parts of the bulletin refer to countries visited abroad. It should be noted 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.

Estimates are subject to sampling error, and confidence intervals are provided to help you interpret the estimates (see background note: Accuracy of IPS estimates). Further guidance is available about the quality of overseas travel and tourism estimates.

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3. Changes to overseas travel and tourism publications

The overseas travel and tourism monthly and quarterly bulletins have been updated to provide additional information about the revisions policy used to revise and finalise the estimates. As part of this improvement to the publications, the titles have been changed to indicate that the estimates are provisional. The final estimates for the overseas travel and tourism data are published in the annual Travel trends publication. The first publications to include the additional information are:

  • "Overseas Travel and Tourism, Provisional Results for October 2013" published on 12 December 2013

  • "Overseas Travel and Tourism, Provisional Results for Quarter 3, 2013" published on 16 January 2014

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7. Accuracy of IPS estimates

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, or the correction of 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.

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 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 25,000 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 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 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)

  • expenditure abroad by UK residents (GMBB)

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8. Other overseas travel and tourism releases

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

  • Overseas travel and tourism quarterly: the latest publication (for Quarter 2 April to June 2016) was published on 13 October 2016 – this provides more detailed analysis of visits and spending, isolating aspects such as countries of visit, mode of travel used, nationality of visitors and regions of the UK visited; Quarter 4 (October to December) figures can be found in Travel trends 2015

  • Travel trends: the latest publication (Travel trends 2015) was published on 20 May 2016, the next publication (Travel trends 2016) will be published in spring 2017 – this provides final overseas travel and tourism estimates and more detailed analysis of visits and spending, including analysis by demographics, towns visited in the UK and countries visited by residents of different parts of the UK

  • Travelpac is a dataset that allows you to conduct their own analyses of quarterly and annual data on main variables – the datasets are provided in SPSS and Excel

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.

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9. Further statistics and other analyses

IPS data files

International Passenger Survey (IPS) data for the years from 1993 onwards are available online from our 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: 2015.

Further statistics

More detailed statistics covering 1980 to 2014 may be found in our 2015 annual report, Travel trends 2015.

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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10. Quality and methodology

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

  • the strengths and limitations of the data

  • the quality of the output: including the accuracy of the data and how it compares with related data

  • uses and users

  • how the output was created

The International Passenger Survey background notes outline dataset definitions, sample methodology, geography and purpose groupings.

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Contact details for this Statistical bulletin

Giles Horsfield
socialsurveys@ons.gsi.gov.uk
Telephone: +44 (0)1633 455731