Headwinds for international travel to the UK

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The recently published provisional International Passenger Survey (IPS) figures for April and May show a decline of 8% and 6% by volume and 14% and 1% by value respectively on the same periods in 2018, The 2018 figures where themselves down on the equivalent period in 2017, a record year. The nature of the survey and the range of influences on international tourism make it unwise to draw any firm conclusions from results for any single month.  However, the more robust indicator of the cumulative, year to date figures up to and including  May also shows a 3% decline in volume and 6% in value against  2018 which suggests that international inbound tourism to the UK is in decline and has been since the end of 2017.

Outbound UK resident volume was down 4% in April and static for May but spend was up 11% and then down 3%.  The ONS release includes multiple caveats relating to all of what are, provisional figures. They also point out that they are working to correct an identified imbalances (errors?) which, once corrected, will be retrospectively applied to previous year’s data.  The imbalance is said to relate only to tourism and not to  migration and other key Government statistics derived from IPS.

We don’t usually drawer your attention to the ONS monthly results updates, that are issued around a quarter in arrears.  However, on this occasion the downturn in UK inbound tourism figures is being picked up in the national press as an issue, Brexit or otherwise related  Today’s Times coverage can be accessed at: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/wish-you-were-here-visitor-numbers-to-britain-fall-jgtz9gn2c

The ONS release that prompted the coverage is at:


The following  direct quote from the update may be useful when arguing the case for why it is not only important to attract overseas visitors but also to work  tirelessly to retain even more of the domestic market than we already do:

“UK residents consistently make more visits abroad than foreign residents make to the UK. The total amount spent by UK residents during visits abroad is also higher than the total spent by foreign residents visiting the UK. The numbers of visits and the amounts spent vary through the year, with more in the summer. This is the case both for UK residents and overseas residents. However, UK residents show a much sharper peak both in visits and expenditure during the month of August, which is traditionally the only complete month of the UK school summer holidays”.

For those around long enough to remember this is what Victor Middleton coined “the Leaky bucket syndrome”. One method of keeping a leaking bucket topped up is to run around  pouring in more water (visitor) . The other, and they are not mutually exclusive, is to take action to fix some of the leaks (encourage more residents to holiday at home).  Since Victor first used the analogy of a leaking bucket the policy direction has wavered towards and away from supporting the domestic market. Currently, in England at least, topping up the bucket appears to be the Westminster Governments’ only real tourism priority.





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