Travel UK

UK Travel Trends 2023: Record Spending Amid Recovery

The UK’s tourism sector experienced significant growth in 2023, as reported by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The International Passenger Survey (IPS) revealed that the UK welcomed 38 million inbound visits, marking a 21% increase compared to 2022. Although this number is still 7% below pre-pandemic levels, the spending by these visitors reached a record £31.1 billion, up 17% from the previous year.

Highlights of 2023 Travel Trends

The year 2023 saw a remarkable recovery in the tourism sector. The total nights spent by visitors in the UK reached 292.9 million, reflecting an 11% increase from 2022 and aligning with 2019 levels. Despite a decrease in the average stay to 7.7 nights, the average spend per visit climbed to £819.

Major Markets and Spending

The USA remained the top market for inbound visits and spending. The UK received 5.1 million visitors from the USA, contributing £6.3 billion to the total spending. France and Germany followed as the next largest sources of visitors.

UK top visitors by their nationality

Purpose of Visits

Holiday visits constituted the largest share of inbound travel, with 15.9 million visits. This was a 31% increase from 2022 but still 6% below 2019 levels. Visits to friends and relatives (VFR) set a new record at 12.8 million, showing a 3% increase from 2019 and a 9% rise from 2022. Business visits, although recovering, remained 25% below 2019 levels.

Global Regions and Market Performance

North America showed the strongest recovery, with 6.1 million visits and a record spend of £7.2 billion, up 14% from 2019. European visits, while still below pre-pandemic levels, contributed significantly to the total, with 24.8 million visits. Visits from the Rest of the World saw a 47% increase from 2022.

Quarterly Insights

In the fourth quarter of 2023, the UK received 9.4 million visits, down 2% from Q4 2022. Visitor spending in Q4 totaled £7.4 billion, a 4% decrease from the previous year. This period saw a slowdown in recovery compared to earlier quarters.

Economic Impact and Future Outlook

The surge in visitor spending has positively impacted the UK’s economy, especially in the tourism and hospitality sectors. The ongoing recovery and growth in international travel highlight the resilience of the tourism industry. Future efforts will focus on sustaining this growth and addressing challenges to ensure a stable recovery trajectory.

Joss Croft OBE, CEO of UKinbound commented, “I am pleased to see positive growth figures for the UK inbound tourism industry in 2023 but we are still chasing a return to 2019 prosperity.

“International tourism is a competitive industry, and the UK should be more ambitious about the significant role that it can play in economic growth. Our industry is a great re-distributor of wealth, it provides skilled, long-term employment opportunities across the country and positively impacts UK investment, trade and education. This export industry has the potential to massively outperform the wider economic growth of the country – but needs policies that enable us to realise that goal.

“Following the launch of our manifesto earlier this week, we are calling on the current and future government to back this valuable export industry and remove barriers to growth.”

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