- Tourism Market Research
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The number crunchers from the Office of National Statistics have released 2014 data on inbound tourism to the UK. What are the headline findings?
The International Passenger Survey data the ONS released showed that 2014 was a record breaking year for inbound UK tourism in terms of visits and nominal spend. A total of 34.377 million visitors from overseas (an increase of 5% from 2013) spent a record £21.849 billion, up 3% on 2013. The 10 most popular destinations amongst overseas visitors all achieved a growth in international visitors.
What are the 10 most popular destinations for overseas visitors?
So the International Passenger Survey found that Scotland’s central belt cities had the highest year-on-year growth. Why?
Scotland had an exceptional year and an exceptional second half of the year in particular in 2014. The Commonwealth Games in Glasgow were a huge success and, in Edinburgh, a record number of tickets were sold for the festivals in August. The Ryder Cup that took place in Gleneagles in September also benefitted the country. In fact, the survey shows that other Scottish destinations – most notably Inverness and St Andrews – saw quite significant inbound tourism growth. However, Aberdeen, one of the fastest growing destinations in the UK last year, only saw a marginal 0.8% increase in international visitors which may be a reflection of the oil-price decline and its impact on business tourism in the last quarter of 2014.
What about London?
Evidently, London still dwarfs the rest of the UK’s destinations: in fact, in 2014 London had 2.5 times more visits than the next 9 most popular destinations put together. But the fact that, despite the high base it’s coming from, tourism in London is still growing, is quite remarkable indeed.
Is that because of the Olympics?
The government has been quick to attribute the tourism boom in London to the Olympics in an effort to justify some of the £8.9 billion spent staging them. But according to the International Passenger Survey there doesn’t seem to be much truth in this. In the past 5 years (i.e. between 2010 and 2014), the number of visits to London has grown by an average of 4.7%. The number of visits has also increased at roughly a similar pace across all countries and markets – a fact that is also evident in our London Visitor Survey – and not only in those countries that are keen on the Olympics.
Speaking of international markets, what about emerging markets like the BRIC countries, for example?
…That’s characteristically decisive for a market researcher
True. But there are some interesting differences between Brazil, Russia, India and China.
Despite the wobbles in Russia, inbound tourism from there has actually grown the most: 317,000 visits which is up nearly 20% on last year.
Visits from Brazil and India also grew by 7.5% and 7.9% respectively: in 2014, Britain welcomed 331,000 visits from Brazil and 483,000 from India.
Perhaps surprisingly, inbound tourism from China fell by a rather significant 10% – only 280,000 visitors from China were recorded during the year. That’s despite VisitBritain investing quite heavily in promoting Britain in China and famously released new Chinese names for Britain.
So taken as a whole, the International Passenger Survey found that inbound tourism from BRIC countries grew by 6% – but that’s not necessarily because of the markets that you would expect to grow.
Are there any other markets that have grown or shrunk significantly?
One should bear in mind that International Passenger Survey data is sometimes based on small sample sizes so some smaller markets’ figures need to be taken with caution. That said, it’s interesting to see that the highest growth markets are typically closer to home and are from more developed economies: the number of visits from Portugal, Hungary and Greece has grown 40.4%, 25.4% and 23.6% respectively. These are traditionally cooler markets that have benefitted from better connections to the UK through the ongoing proliferation of low-cost carriers.
And given the attention that is given to emerging markets it’s worth bearing in mind that Britain’s 3 main markets – France, USA, and Germany – all grew in 2014.
What about 2015 so far?
2014 was a record year for overseas visits and spend to the UK. Looking at latest International Passenger Survey data it is encouraging to see a solid start to 2015 with an increase in visits during March (up 2% compared to March 2014) and over the first three months of the year (1%). That said, nominal spending by overseas visitors to the UK was down slightly by 1% in March 2015 against a record £1.32 billion set in March last year.