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Tourism: statistics and policy

Published Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Visitors to and from the UK, domestic tourism, tourism policy in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

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This note includes statistics on inbound and outbound visitors to and from the UK, domestic tourism in the UK, the contribution of tourism to the UK economy and the Government’s tourism policy.

In 2017 the UK had the highest number of both inbound and outbound visits ever recorded. This chart shows the trend since 1980:


Visitor numbers:

  • There were 39.2 million inbound visits to the UK in 2017, 4% more than in 2016. London was the most popular destination in the UK, attracting 51% of all visits.
  • There were 72.8 million outbound visits from the UK, an increase of 3% on 2016. Spain was the most popular destination for UK tourists, attracting 22% of all visits.

There were 120.7 million domestic overnight trips made in Great Britain in 2017, an increase of 1% on the number of domestic visits made in 2016.


Economic impact:

  • In 2016, the economic output (direct GVA) of the tourism industry in the UK was £68 billion, 6% of total UK economic output.
  • In 2016, the number of people directly employed in tourism in the UK was 1.5 million, 5% of all employment.
  • Between 2015 and 2016, the number of people directly employed in tourism fell by 66,000 or 4.1%


The decision of the UK to leave the EU has the potential to create both opportunities and challenges in the tourism sector.   These include:

  • Falls in the value of the pound making the UK a more affordable destination for foreign visitors, and travelling abroad less affordable for British holidaymakers
  • ‘Staycations’ may become more attractive to British holidaymakers as a result of this and any increase in border crossing complexity, such as a visa requirement
  • Such formal barriers may also impact non-EU tourists who use the UK as a ‘gateway’ to other European countries
  • Possible loss of funding from the EU to UK tourist areas
  • Consumer protection issues such as roaming charges, the Package Holiday Directive and the Consumer Rights Directive are subject to EU regulations
  • The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) now requires the passing of the Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill to continue, and the European Common Aviation Area (ECAA), which makes air travel straightforward and inexpensive, also needs replacement
  • The UK tourism industries employ many people from other EU countries, considerably more so than other sectors. Loss of EU workers could have myriad consequences 

Tourism policy

The UK Government’s overall tourism strategy is summarised in its Tourism Action Plan policy paper of August 2016:

  • Strength co-ordination and collaboration in the “tourism landscape
  • Attract more people to careers in tourism and boost skills through apprenticeships
  • Reduce regulation which might hamper the growth of tourism businesses
  • Improve public transport to make it easier to travel by rail, bus and coach
  • Improve border services to give a great welcome

The policies that are being used to implement this in England are discussed, and tourism policy in the devolved nations is also summarised.


This has been supplemented with the Government’s stated intention in November 2018 to attract more domestic and overseas visitors with a tourism sector deal.

Commons Briefing papers SN06022

Authors: Chris Rhodes; Gloria Tyler

Topics: Industry, Tourism

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