Overseas travel and tourism: January, February and March 2020 provisional results

Visits to the UK by overseas residents, visits abroad by UK residents and spending by travellers, using provisional passenger traffic data.

Nid hwn yw'r datganiad diweddaraf. Gweld y datganiad diweddaraf

Email Giles Horsfield

Dyddiad y datganiad:
24 July 2020

Cyhoeddiad nesaf:
To be announced

1. Main points

  • There were 1.4 million visits to the UK by overseas visitors in March 2020, 54% fewer than in March 2019, in the first month in which travel was seriously affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19).

  • There were more visits to the UK by overseas visitors in January and February 2020, compared with the corresponding periods of the previous year: visits in January increased by 7% to 3.0 million, while visits in February increased by 6% to 2.5 million.

  • UK residents made 3.2 million visits overseas in March 2020, which was 50% fewer than in March 2019, in the first month in which travel was seriously affected by the coronavirus.

  • UK residents made fewer visits overseas in January and February 2020, compared with the corresponding periods of the previous year: visits in January decreased by 12% to 5.4 million, while visits in February decreased by 6% to 5.2 million.


Data collection was suspended on 16 March 2020 because of the coronavirus (COVID-19). For this reason, National Statistics status has been suspended for the March results. Results for January and February are unaffected. More detail is available in Section 7: Strengths and limitations.

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4. Overseas travel and tourism data

Overseas travel and tourism, monthly
Dataset | Released 24 July 2020
Seasonally and non-seasonally adjusted estimates of completed international visits to and from the UK.

Overseas travel and tourism, monthly revision triangles
Dataset | Released 24 July 2020
Revision triangles of estimates for International Passenger Survey (IPS) monthly data.

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5. Glossary


The figures relate to the number of completed visits, not the number of visitors. Anyone entering or leaving more than once in the same period is counted on each visit.


Trips that do not involve an overnight stay abroad by UK residents, as well as day trips to the UK by overseas residents, are included in the total figures for visits and expenditure, but figures presented at lower levels of geography relate to overnight stays only.

Overseas visitor

A person who, being permanently resident in a country outside the UK, visits the UK for a period of less than 12 months. UK citizens resident overseas for 12 months or more coming home on leave are included in this category. Visits abroad are visits for a period of less than 12 months by people permanently resident in the UK (who may be of foreign nationality).

Visiting multiple countries

When a resident of the UK has visited more than one country, expenditure and stay are allocated to the country stayed in for the longest time.

Miscellaneous visits

Visits for miscellaneous purposes include those for study, to attend sporting events, for shopping, health, religious, or for other purposes, together with visits for more than one purpose when none predominates (for example, visits both on business and on holiday). Overseas visitors staying overnight in the UK on their way to other destinations are also included in miscellaneous purposes.

Earnings and expenditure

Earnings refer to spending in the UK by overseas residents, whereas expenditure refers to spending abroad by UK residents.

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6. Measuring the data

International Passenger Survey (IPS) data are collected by a team of over 200 interviewers who are recruited and trained specifically to work on the IPS. Interviews are carried out at air and sea ports, on board vessels leaving or returning to the UK, or on board the Eurotunnel trains. Interviews are carried out on all days of the year, apart from Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's Day.

More quality and methodology information on strengths, limitations, appropriate uses, and how the data were created is available in the IPS QMI. This will be updated shortly to reflect recent changes to the survey's processes.

We have made methodological improvements to the travel and tourism estimates from the IPS. These relate to the survey's weighting process and were used to produce the data presented in this bulletin. The improvements were introduced in the Travel Trends 2019 article and they are described in Improved methodology for the estimates  in outline. A detailed technical paper will be published in due course, setting out the changes comprehensively. These changes affect only travel and tourism and not estimates of long-term international migration.

The new method was used to produce final results for 2019 and a revised series for 2009 to 2018. The impacts of the new method, and how these differ from the old, are presented in Impacts of the new IPS methodology.

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7. Strengths and limitations

International Passenger Survey (IPS) data collection was suspended on 16 March 2020. This meant that the volume of data collected was lower than usual, and also that the representativeness of the data could not be guaranteed.

The survey's weighting process worked on the assumption that passenger characteristics in the second, unsampled, half of the month were represented by those sampled in the first half. Since this assumption could not be tested, we were not completely confident that the results were fully representative. For this reason, National Statistics status has been suspended for the March results. However, every effort has been made to produce high-quality estimates. The estimates for January and February are unaffected, since regular data collection was completed, and these figures retain their National Statistics designation.

No IPS data will be collected for the period when the survey is not operational, that is, from April 2020 until interviewing resumes. The usual travel and tourism outputs from the IPS will not be published for this period. Administrative data from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) show that international air traffic was extremely low in April and May 2020, at around 2 to 3% of the levels recorded in 2019.

We will seek to provide more information on international travel patterns for the period when the survey is not operational. This will use CAA and DfT data, and we will also investigate other potential sources, to provide as complete and helpful a picture of international travel as possible. Under the usual IPS publication schedule, estimates for Quarter 2 (Apr to June) 2020 would be published in October 2020, and we plan to publish at this time. Further publications may also be scheduled.

The IPS is an important input to Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures on international trade. Foreign spending estimates in the national accounts are safeguarded, as these utilise new cutting-edge methods utilising both Civil Aviation Authority data on the numbers of flights arriving and aggregated and anonymised foreign-issued card spend processed through Barclays Point-of-Sale an "card-not-present" channels. Information about the plans for international migration statistics can be found in the latest Migration Statistics Quarterly Report (MSQR).  


A major strength of the IPS is that it is the main source of information in the UK on international travel and tourism, and associated earnings and expenditure. It has been running since 1961 so provides a comprehensive time series of travel and tourism, which can be useful for identifying long- term trends and patterns or undertaking time series analysis and forecasting. In addition, interviewing at the principal air, sea and tunnel routes and the use of a dedicated field force gives the survey some uniqueness.


IPS survey data are subject to both sampling and non-sampling errors. About 90% of passengers entering and leaving the UK have a chance of being sampled in the survey. The remainder are either passengers travelling at night, when interviewing is suspended, or on those routes too small in volume or too expensive to be covered. Furthermore, the number of survey interviews on particular routes or for some main reason for visit such as playing sports and getting married, are sometimes small and consequently attract higher sampling errors. This also applies to visits to or from countries with low visit numbers.


The accuracy of the estimates is expressed in terms of confidence intervals. For more information on how we measure and communicate uncertainty for our surveys, see our Uncertainty and how we measure it page.

The following guidelines are provided to aid in the interpretation of the estimates, and to enable their reliability to be assessed:

  • % confidence interval below 10%: precise

  • % confidence interval between 10% and 20%: reasonably precise

  • % confidence interval between 20% and 40%: acceptable

  • % confidence interval over 40%: unreliable (these estimates should be used with caution for practical purposes).

Tables 3a, 3b and 3c show the 95% confidence intervals for the estimates of the total number of visits and expenditure for both overseas residents visiting the UK and UK residents going abroad. The confidence intervals for March were computed under the assumption that the results obtained before interviewing was suspended are representative for the whole month. As detailed, we cannot be certain that this assumption holds and the confidence intervals for March should therefore be treated with caution.

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Manylion cyswllt ar gyfer y Bwletin ystadegol

Giles Horsfield
Ffôn: +44 1329 444661