Pre-Brexit Britain Attracting Record Tourism Whilst Brits Travel Abroad More Than Ever Before

Britain may be on the verge of leaving the EU, but figures from the Office of National Statistics show that Brits made more trips abroad in 2016 than ever before; more than 70.8 million; whilst Britain itself attracted more tourism; 37.6m visits; from overseas, with total tourist spending also at a record high; over £22.5 billion.

These are record numbers taken from the Internationsl Passenger Survey (IPS) that has provided source data about travel and tourism every year since 1961. The number of trips made by UK citizens, 70.8m represents an 8% increase from 2015, and the first time the figure has exceeded 69.5m since 2006. Since a significant downturn after the 2009 global financial crisis; figures have trended upwards every year.

The majority of visits made to the UK, the survey reports, were for holidays, which account for 13.9m visits in 2016, or 37% of the all trips. 11.6m visits were made to visit friends and relatives in the UK, whilst there were 9.2m trips made for business reasons. Typically, trips lasted between 7-8 days, although residents from “other countries” (i.e. outside Europe and North America) tended to stay for longer periods, and visitors from the EU for slightly shorter, with business travellers staying just 4 days on average.

More visits were made by French residents to the UK than from any other country; 4.1m; whilst other EU countries made up 7 of the remaining top 10 spots – the others being the USA and Australia.

Travellers from the US, spent nearly twice as much as any other country’s visitors; more than £3.5bn in total, with Germans spending the next most; £1.4bn. Middle Eastern visitors tended to spend the most per person on average, the survey reveals. Unsurprisingly, with 19.1m overnight visits, London dwarfed all other UK destinations, although Edinburgh (1.7m), Manchester and Birmingham all attracted more than 1m visits.

Tourism is a vital source of income to the UK’s economy and there are concerns that, post-Brexit, numbers may begin to drop off. There are signs that the UK plans to implement a border control system similar to that of the US ESTA system, which tourists will have to complete in advance in order to gain entrance to the UK. This is likely to affect visitor numbers, at least in the short term. The tightening of border controls is occurring across the EU also, due to increased security concerns caused by factors such as the threat of terrorism.

It looks like Brits visiting Europe will also have to complete forms in advance of travelling, known as ETIAS (European Travel Information & Authorisation System), which are slated to be introduced in 2020 and are not expected to be as stringent as a Visa application, although a charge, thought to be between €7 and 10 euros, will likely apply. UK citizens will also be required to submit biometric data, such as a photograph or fingerprint, in order to gain entry to EU countries.

Whether that will deter UK citizens from visiting the EU remains to be seen, although given recent figures, it certainly seems unlikely.

The 70.8m visits by Brits to overseas destinations recorded in 2016 are the most ever on record, whilst their total spending increased to £43.8bn. Holidays, followed by visits to family and friends were again cited as the biggest reasons for travelling abroad, whilst the number of business trips made is reported to have been broadly flat over the past few years.

UK residents spent an impressive 731 million nights abroad in total in 2016, with trips lasting an average of 10 nights; the most being in North America (13 nights) and “other countries” (21.1 nights), whilst average trip lengths to Australia were a sizeable 31 days. The average spend in Europe per trip was £484, or just over £60 per day.

Spain, France, Italy, the Republic of Ireland and the US were the 5 most popular destinations for visits, accounting for 49% of all trips and 46% of all spending – another indication of the importance of making sure border control concerns post-Brexit are addressed as swiftly as possible.

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