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Tourism Statistics for the UK: Latest Facts and Figures

The UK’s travel and tourism industry has long been an important part of its economy, with tourists pouring billions of pounds into it every year. In fact, in 2019, the UK had a record number of visitors, with 40.86 million people coming into the country and spending over £28 billion while there.

However, with these numbers plummeting in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the future of UK tourism is now more uncertain than ever.

In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the latest Tourism Statistics for the UK and see what trends are emerging. We’ll also look at the latest outbound and domestic tourism statistics and uncover where Brits love to go on holiday the most. So read on if you are interested to know more about tourism in the UK.

Top 10 UK Tourism Statistics

  • In 2020, the UK had a total of 11.1 million inbound visits — 76% less than in 2019.
  • In 2019, London was the most visited city in the UK, with nearly 21.7 million visits by international tourists.
  • London Heathrow is the most used airport by international visitors, receiving over 11 million non-UK arrivals in 2019 alone.
  • Spain is the most popular destination for outbound tourists from the UK, with 18.1 million visits made by UK residents in 2019.
  • In 2019, UK residents made 93 million trips abroad, which dropped to 23.8 million in 2020.
  • In 2020, UK residents spent a total of £13.8 billion on their trips abroad.
  • In 2019, British tourists took nearly 123 million domestic holidays and only 93 million international holidays.
  • London is the number one staycation destination in the UK.
  • In 2020, the total contribution of tourism to the UK’s GDP was estimated at £89.6 billion.
  • That same year, the travel and tourism industry in the UK generated 3.96 million jobs.

 

Inbound Tourism Statistics

Inbound tourism is vital to the UK economy, with visitors from overseas spending billions of pounds every year. In 2019, inbound tourism in the UK reached new heights, with a record number of visitors coming to the country.

The statistics below will show you the latest facts and figures relating to inbound tourism in the UK.

In 2020, the UK welcomed a total of 11.1 million visits from international tourists

The majority of those visits happened in the first quarter of 2020 before any travel restrictions were implemented. That is a 76% dip compared to 2019 when the UK received a staggering 40.86 million tourist visits.

The chart below gives a full overview of the number of inbound visits in the UK from 2012 to 2022.

 

The number of visits from international tourists to the UK is predicted to drop to 7.4 million in 2021 and rise to 21 million in 2022.

 

The expenditure of inbound visitors in the UK reached approximately £6.2 billion in 2020

That is a huge drop from the £28 billion spent in total by tourists in the UK in 2019.

The sharp decline of inbound visits to the United Kingdom is a direct consequence of the travel restrictions put in place because of the coronavirus pandemic. As you will see from the following statistics, inbound visits to the UK plummeted even more during 2021.

 

During the first three quarters of 2021, the UK had a total of 1.8 million inbound visits by air

That is a whopping 93% decrease compared to the same period in 2019. In addition, up to 1.3 million of those visits were made during the third quarter alone, which, when compared to the third quarter of 2019, is still a massive 86% decrease.

 

Taking holidays remains the leading reason for visiting the UK

In fact, in 2020, up to 4.4 million of all inbound visitors came to the UK for holiday purposes. That is still 74% fewer than in 2019 when there were a staggering 17 million vacationers in the UK.

The second most common reason for travelling to the UK in 2020 was visiting friends and relatives, with 3.4 million visitors, followed by business trips, accounting for 2.5 million visitors.

 

In 2019, the United States was the top travel market in the UK, with a total of 4.5 million trips made from the US to the UK

In addition, US residents spent approximately £4.2 million during their trips to the UK in 2019. That same year, the UK welcomed 3.5 million visitors from France, making it the second-ranked inbound travel market. Germany was ranked third with around 3.2 million visits, followed by the Irish Republic with 2.8 million, and Spain with 2.3 million visits.

Next, let’s take a look at how many tourists visit London on an annual basis.

 

In 2019, London was the most visited city in the UK, with almost 21.7 million visits made by international tourists

London overseas visitors far outnumber those of any other city in the country. The UK’s second and third-ranked most visited cities were Edinburgh and Manchester, each accounting for roughly 2.2 million and 1.7 million visitors, respectively.

Unfortunately, in 2020 those numbers declined significantly, with London receiving only a small fraction of the 2019 visits. The table below gives a full overview of how the coronavirus pandemic impacted tourism in London.

Visitors 2019 Statistics 2020 Statistics
Total number of visits 21.7 million 4.6 million
Total visitor expenditure £2,104 million £409 million
Number of overnight stays 1.3 million 0.3 million
Number of day visits  19.7 million 4.3 million
Number of visits to city attractions 7.44 million 1.56 million

 

London Heathrow is the most used airport by international visitors in the UK

In 2019, London Heathrow received over 11 million non-UK arrivals. The other two most used airports by international visitors in the UK are London Gatwick and London Stansted.

 

Between July and September 2021, international travellers had around 21.5 million overnight stays in the UK

Although that is a significant increase over the first quarter of 2021, it is still well below the number of overnight stays in the UK in pre-pandemic times.

 

During the third quarter of 2021, inbound tourists spent a total of £1.2 billion on their trips to the UK

That is a remarkable increase compared to the first two quarters of 2021, when visitors in the UK spent only £0.25 billion and £0.39 billion, respectively. However, that figure is still way below the pre-pandemic standard. Namely, it is an 86% decrease compared to the same period in 2019 when inbound tourists spent £15.3 billion in the UK.

To conclude, although fewer tourists are visiting the UK at the moment, those who do come are still spending money while they’re here. That is good news for the economy, and it’s hoped that as travel restrictions ease and more people are able to travel again, we’ll see these numbers start to increase.

 

Outbound Tourism Statistics

Outbound tourism is defined as the travel of residents from their country of residence to another country for the purpose of leisure, recreation, or business.

There are many reasons people might choose to go on an outbound trip. Some might want to experience a different culture or see some of the world’s famous landmarks. Others might go on business trips or visit friends and relatives who live in another country.

Whatever the reason for travel, outbound tourism has a massive impact on the economy. In 2019, UK residents made over 93.1 million outbound visits, generating an estimated £62.3 billion in spending.

Keep on reading for the latest facts and figures on outbound tourism from the UK, including the most popular destination countries and the amount of money spent by UK tourists abroad.

 

Spain is the most popular destination for outbound tourists from the UK

In 2019, there were 18.1 million visits made to Spain by UK residents, followed by France, with 10.35 million visits, and Italy with almost half that, at 5.11 million visitors. The USA was the most visited country outside of Europe and the fourth most visited destination by UK residents overall, with 4.8 million UK residents travelling there in 2019.

These are the top 10 countries that Brits visited the most in 2019.

 

 

In 2020, the number of trips abroad made by UK residents stood at 23.8 million

By comparison, in 2019, the number of trips abroad from the UK reached 93 million. That is a remarkable 73% decline in the period of just a year. The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic is the main reason for the decrease in the number of outbound visits in 2020 compared to previous years.

When looking at outbound tourism statistics, it’s also important to consider the reasons for travel.

 

The most common reason UK residents travel abroad is for holidays and leisure, with over 59 million visits made for that purpose in 2019

However, in 2020, that figure dropped to 14 million. Visiting friends and relatives was the second most common purpose for travelling outside the UK in 2019, accounting for roughly 23 million visits.

Similarly, that figure dropped to only 7 million in 2020.

In line with the decrease of outbound visits, the amount of money spent by UK residents while abroad plummeted in 2020 as well.

 

In 2020, UK residents spent a total of £13.8 billion on their trips abroad

Compared to the total amount spent on trips abroad in 2019, which stood at £62.3 billion, that is also a remarkable fall.

While the coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating effect on the tourism industry, there are signs that outbound travel from the UK is starting to pick up again.

 

In the third quarter of 2021 (July to September), there were 6.1 million visits made by UK residents to foreign countries

In addition, the vast majority of those visits, or 5.4 million, were made to Europe.

That is a substantial increase compared to the number of outbound visits made during the second quarter of 2021 (April to June), which stood at only 1 million. However, it should also be noted that the number of outbound visits in the third quarter of 2021 is still well below the levels seen at the same period in previous years.

 

In the third quarter of 2021, the number of nights spent on outbound visits reached around 103 million.

The number of overnight stays of UK residents abroad paints a similar picture, increasing substantially over the previous quarter but remaining well-below pre-pandemic levels.

Overall, it is expected that the number of outbound trips made by UK residents will start to increase again in 2022, as the pandemic comes to an end and travel restrictions are lifted. Still, it is improbable that we will see the same numbers we saw before the coronavirus outbreak anytime soon.

 

Domestic Holiday Statistics

While it is widely believed that the coronavirus pandemic has caused a so-called “staycation boom”, the truth is that Brits have always preferred vacationing within their own country rather than abroad.

In fact, in 2019, domestic tourism far outweighed inbound tourism, with British tourists taking nearly 123 million domestic holidays and only 93 million international holidays. That proves that the Brits have always been a staycation nation.

Read on for more domestic travel statistics.

 

In 2019, over 60 million of the total number of domestic trips in the UK were taken for vacation purposes

That same year, vacationing was the most common reason for travelling in the UK, followed by visiting friends or relatives and taking a business trip.

Additionally, British tourists preferred visiting cities and large towns over the countryside when taking day trips in the UK.

 

In 2019, British tourists took approximately 2.72 billion day trips for leisure activities within Great Britain 

Of those, around 1.66 billion fall within the tourism day trips category, defined as visits that last more than three hours to destinations other than where the visitor lives and do not visit regularly.

 

In July 2020, Google UK searches for “staycation” increased by over 500% compared to that same period a year before

That is a good indication that the pandemic has caused a surge in UK domestic travel. In addition, googling for terms such as “uk staycation” and “glamping holidays uk” increased by over 400%, further proving the growing interest of the UK population to vacation in their own country.

 

In 2020, domestic tourist spending in the UK amounted to £34 billion

That is a significant decrease over 2019 when domestic tourist spending peaked at £100.08 billion. Moreover, the average spending on domestic summer holidays taken by Brits in the UK has also decreased remarkably from 2019 to 2020.

 

In 2021, it was estimated that Brits would spend an average of £770 on domestic summer holidays

By comparison, in 2019, the average expenditure per person amounted to £874. These figures suggest that, aside from disrupting inbound and outbound tourism in the UK, the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic has also had a significant impact on domestic tourism.

 

London is the number one staycation destination in the UK

A survey conducted by holidaycottages.co.uk suggests that London was the most popular staycation spot in the UK in 2020. The capital received more visits than the popular beach destinations Cornwall and Devon, which both shared the second spot.

Edinburgh and Cumbria and the Lake District round up the top five domestic holiday locations for British tourists. 

 

How Does Tourism Contribute to the UK Economy?

Tourism is a key driver of the UK economy, supporting millions of jobs and generating billions of pounds in revenue every year. In 2019, the total contribution of tourism to the UK’s gross domestic product was estimated to be nearly £238 billion.

Check out the statistics below to gain some more insight into how the travel and tourism industry contributes to the UK economy.

 

Tourism in England generated £100.08 billion and supported 2.5 million jobs in 2019 alone

In fact, England tourism makes up over 80% of the UK’s tourism and visitor economy. Domestic day trips contribute the most to that amount, generating £56.5 billion. Inbound trips come second, with £24.8, followed by domestic overnight trips, which account for £19.5 billion of the total amount spent on tourism in England.

If you are interested in how tourism spending in England is spread across the country, take a look at the following statistic.

 

The majority of tourist spending takes place in London

In 2019, tourists in London spent a total of £33.2 billion, which is more than the next two regions combined. The South East came in second, with £13.1 billion in tourist spending, and the North East third, with £2.27 billion.

The table below gives a full overview of how tourist spending in England is spread across the country.

 

Region Amount Spent
London £33.2 bn
South East  £13.1 bn
North East £12 bn
South West  £10.4 bn
Yorkshire & Humberside £8.8 bn
East £7.4 bn
West Midlands £6.2 bn
East Midlands  £5.2 bn
North East £4.5 bn

 

In 2020, the travel and tourism industry in the UK generated 3.96 million jobs

That is a substantial decrease compared to the 2019 figure of 4.27 million jobs. Again, the decrease is directly related to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting travel restrictions.

Take a look at how the travel and tourism industry has contributed to employment in the UK over the last few years.

 

The majority of jobs in the UK tourism industry are in food and beverage serving activities, with jobs in this sector reaching about 1.2 million in 2019. The next largest sector is sport and recreation activities, accounting for 482 thousand jobs in the tourism industry in 2019.

 

In 2020, the total contribution of tourism to UK GDP was estimated at £89.6 billion

That is a 62% decrease over the previous year when the total contribution of tourism to GDP in the UK peaked at £237.6 billion.

See the chart below for a full overview of how the travel and tourism industry has contributed to the UK’s GDP over the years.

 

Finally, let’s take a look at the latest travel and tourism market revenue statistics in the UK.

 

In 2021, the travel and tourism market revenue in the UK reached around 18.2 billion dollars

That is a slight increase from the year before and a sign that the UK tourism industry is beginning to recover from the effects of the pandemic.

While the coronavirus pandemic will undeniably continue to pose a serious threat to the tourism sector in the UK, some of these facts and figures suggest that the industry is slowly beginning to bounce back.

 

Wrap Up

In conclusion, we can see that the pandemic has had devastating effects on the industry. However, the latest figures show that things are finally looking up for UK tourism, as people are starting to feel more comfortable travelling again.

It will undoubtedly take some time for UK tourism to return to its pre-pandemic levels, but the latest statistics are undoubtedly encouraging.

What do you think about these latest Tourism Statistics for the UK? Are you surprised by any of them? Let us know in the comments below!

FAQ

What country visits the UK the most?

The most common country of origin for visitors to the UK is the USA, with 4.5 million visitors in 2019, followed by France, with 3.5 million visitors, and Germany, with 3.2 million visitors.

How big is the tourism industry in the UK?

The tourism industry is a significant contributor to the British economy, supporting millions of jobs and generating billions of pounds in revenue every year. The combined economic impact of tourism was estimated at £257.9 billion in 2019.

What percentage of the UK economy is tourism?

In 2019, tourism accounted for around 10.9% of the UK economy.

How has Covid-19 affected UK tourism?

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, the UK tourism industry has taken a significant hit. Inbound and outbound tourism have both been affected, with a significant decrease in the number of visitors to and from the UK. 

The contribution of tourism to the UK economy has also decreased and was estimated at £127 billion in 2020, compared to £257.89 billion in 2019. Tourism continues to be a significant contributor to the British economy, but the pandemic has had a profound effect on the industry.