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Statistical bulletin: Overseas Travel and Tourism, September 2012 This product is designated as National Statistics

Released: 15 November 2012 Download PDF

Key points

  • In September overseas residents completed 2.6 million visits to the UK, similar to September 2011, but spent more on these visits. In the three months July to September 2012 there were 4 per cent less visits to the UK by overseas residents than in the same period in 2011 but associated spending was 6 per cent higher.
  • UK residents made more visits abroad in September than a year earlier. In July to September 2012 there were 1 per cent more visits abroad by UK residents than in the same period in 2011 and associated spending was 7 per cent higher.
  • The net impact was a deficit to the UK associated with overseas travel and tourism of £5.7 billion in July to September 2012, compared with £5.3 billion in the same period in 2011.
  • The London 2012 Olympic Games took place from 27 July to 12 August and the Paralympic Games from 29 August to 9 September.
  • During this period an estimated 680 thousand of the total visits to the UK were either for an Olympics or Paralympics-based purpose or involved attendance at a ticketed event. 90 thousand such visits were completed in September.

About the estimates

  • Estimates contained in this bulletin are produced from responses provided by international passengers arriving in and departing from the UK, sampled on the International Passenger Survey conducted by ONS.

  • The sample profile and responses are calibrated to international passenger traffic for the reporting period. BAA have reported overall passenger numbers unchanged from September 2011 following a fall of 2 per cent in August.

  • Estimates are based on interviews conducted when passengers end their visit. Therefore any visits commencing in August but not completed until September are included in the September estimates.

  • Spending associated with visits includes anything spent before, during and after the trip. Any tickets bought for London 2012 will be included in the estimates for July, August or September (i.e. the month when the visit was completed) regardless of when the tickets were bought.

  • The total value of ticket sales (bought within and outside the UK) for London 2012 is estimated by The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games Limited (LOCOG) at approximately £580 million, as published by ONS (229 Kb Pdf) .

  • Estimates are subject to sampling error, and confidence intervals are provided to help readers interpret the estimates (see background note 4). 

London 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympics

  • The London 2012 Olympic Games took place from 27 July to 12 August. The London 2012 Paralympic Games opened on 29 August and closed on 9 September.

  • As outlined in ONS's Special events policy, it is not possible to make an estimate of the full effect of the Olympics and Paralympics on total visits to the UK because other factors may have influenced visit patterns.

  • However, it has been possible to produce estimates of number of visits to the UK that were associated with the London 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympics. This is because ONS expanded questionnaire coverage of the International Passenger Survey in 2012 and expanded sample coverage (58.2 Kb Pdf) in the first half of August.

  • During September an estimated 50 thousand of the overseas residents who visited the UK stated that their purpose of visit was related to the London 2012 Olympic or Paralympic Games (participating, working or watching). The equivalent estimate for July and August combined was 420 thousand.

  • An additional 40 thousand visitors to the UK in September stated that their main purpose for visit was not Olympics-based, but their visit involved attendance at a ticketed Olympics or Paralympics event. The equivalent figure for July and August combined was 170 thousand.

  • Therefore in the period July to September 2012 an estimated 680 thousand visits were made to the UK either for the Olympics or Paralympics, or involved attendance at a ticketed event.

  • More detailed analysis, including by region of visits within the UK, will be provided in the publication 'Overseas Travel and Tourism, Q3 2012', to be released on 10 January 2013.

Estimated number of visits to the UK for the Olympics from July to September 2012

July August September Total
Visits to UK for an Olympics/Paralympics-purpose (to watch, work or participate) 40 370 50 470
Visits not for an Olympics/Paralympics-based purpose but involved attendance at a ticketed event 30 140 40 210
Total visits either primarily for an Olympics/Paralympics purpose or attended a ticketed event 70 510 90 680

Table source: Office for National Statistics

Table notes:

  1. Estimates are in thousands and rounded to the nearest 10,000.

Download table

Other Overseas Travel and Tourism releases

More detailed analysis of overseas travel and tourism trends are provided in the publications:

  • Overseas Travel and Tourism Quarterly, latest publication Quarter 2 2012 published 11 October 2012; next release Quarter 3 2012 to be published 10 January 2013. This publication provides more detailed analysis of visits and spending, isolating aspects such as countries of visit, mode of travel used, nationality of visitors, regions of the UK visited.

  • Travel Trends, latest publication Travel Trends 2011 published July 2012, next publication Travel Trends 2012 to be published July 2013. This publication provides more detailed analysis of visits and spending, including analysis by demographics, towns in the UK visited and countries visited by residents of different parts of the UK.

  • TravelPac is a data set which allows users to conduct their own analysis of quarterly and annual data on key variables. The datasets are provided in SPSS and Excel.

Note that estimates are subject to revision between the Monthly Statistical Bulletin and the Quarterly publication and again when Travel Trends is published. Revisions result from more accurate passenger figures being made available to ONS.

Reference Tables Definitions

Abbreviations used in the tables:

NA      ...not available

SA      ...seasonally adjusted

NSA    ...not seasonally adjusted

†        ...point of earliest revision

1        ...estimate (rounded to nearest 10,000 visits or £5 million)

Geographical areas:

  • North America:

Canada (including Greenland and St Pierre et Miquelon), USA (including Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands).

  • Europe:

All countries listed under EU27 plus other central & Eastern Europe, North Cyprus, Gibraltar, Iceland (including Faroe Islands), Norway, Switzerland (including Liechtenstein), Turkey, the former USSR and the states of former Yugoslavia

  • EU15:

Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France (including Monaco), Finland, Germany, Greece, Irish Republic, Italy (including San Marino and Vatican City), Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal (including Azores and Madeira), Spain (including Canary Islands, the Balearic Islands and Andorra) and Sweden.

  • EU25:

As for EU15 plus, Cyprus*, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.

  • EU27:

As for EU25 plus, Bulgaria and Romania.

  • A12:

All countries included in EU27 but not included in EU15.

*Only the south of Cyprus is a member of the EU but the IPS is unable to separate North and South Cyprus for the period before May 2004 and so all of Cyprus is included in the EU27 section until May 2004. From May 2004, only southern Cyprus is included in the EU27 figures.

Purpose groupings:

Holiday: Holiday/pleasure, to play amateur sport, cruise, Olympics/Paralympics - to watch.

Business: Business, Olympics/Paralympics - to work.

Visit friends or relatives: Visit family, visit friends.

Miscellaneous: Other reasons (including 'Olympics - participate'), or cases where the respondent is not able to give a single purpose as the main reason for visit.

People migrating (to or from the UK) or traveling as crew of aircraft, ships or trains are excluded from analysis in this publication.

Background notes

  1. The estimates contained in this publication focus on travel and tourism with analysis based on visits (for any purpose) of less than 12 months duration by:

    a) overseas residents to the UK, and

    b) UK residents abroad

    Estimates of the number and profile of visits to the UK by overseas residents are drawn from interviews conducted on the International Passenger Survey (IPS) with overseas residents as they leave the UK at the end of their visit. Visits abroad by UK residents are drawn from interviews conducted UK residents as they return to the UK at the end of their visit abroad. In the case of UK residents, if more than one country was visited on a trip, the country recorded as visited in ONS's Overseas Travel and Tourism publications is the country that was visited for the longest period.

    Note that, although data by the International Passenger Survey (IPS) also feeds into the calculation of migration statistics, this report does not provide any information relating to International migration.

  2. Figures for the most recent months are provisional and subject to revision in light of (a) more accurate data on passenger figures becoming available at the end of each quarter and (b) additional passenger data obtained at the end of each year.

  3. The main series are seasonally adjusted. This aids interpretation by identifying seasonal patterns and calendar effects and removing them from the unadjusted data. The resulting figures give a more accurate indication of underlying movements in the series.

    The model used to produce seasonal adjustment estimates is reviewed by ONS approximately every two years. A review was conducted in late 2009 and the new model was used for the first time to produce the seasonally adjusted estimates used in the December 2009 publication. Since the July 2010 publication, seasonal adjustment analysis has been undertaken using X-12-ARIMA. Details of the seasonal adjustment model can be requested from the IPS team using the statistical contact details listed at the end of these notes.

  4. The estimates produced from the IPS are subject to sampling errors that result because not every traveller to the UK is interviewed on the survey. Sampling errors are determined both by the sample design and by the sample size - generally speaking, the larger the sample supporting a particular estimate, the proportionately lower its sampling error. The survey sample size is approximately 25,000 per month.

    Accuracy of the estimates is expressed in terms of Confidence intervals. The confidence interval is a range within which the true value of a proportion lies with known probability. For example, the 95 per cent confidence interval represents the range into which there are 19 chances out of 20 that the true figure would fall had all passengers been sampled. This is obtained as +/- 1.96 the standard error.

    Confidence Intervals relating to Overseas Travel and Tourism estimates from July to September 2012

    September 2012 monthly estimates Estimate Relative 95% Confidence Interval (+/- % the estimate)
    Visits to UK by overseas residents (000's) 2,630 6.3
    Earnings from visits to UK (£ million) 1,945 12.0
    Visits abroad by UK residents (000's) 6,490 4.1
    Expenditure on visits abroad (£ million) 3,935 4.8
    July to September estimates Estimate Relative 95% Confidence Interval (+/- % the estimate)
    Visits to the UK primarily for an Olympics-based purpose (000's) 470 17.0
    Visits not for the Olympics which involved a visit to a ticketed event (000's) 210 16.2
    Visits either primarily for an Olymics purpose or attended a ticketed event (000's) 680 13.5

    Table source: Office for National Statistics

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  5. One indication of the reliability of the key indicators in this release can be obtained by monitoring the size of revisions. The table below records the size and pattern of revisions which have occurred over the last five years to the following key seasonally adjusted estimates:

    • The number of visits by overseas residents to the UK (GMAT).

    • The number of visits abroad by UK residents (GMAX).

    • Earnings made from overseas residents in the UK (GMAZ).

    • Expenditure abroad by UK residents (GMBB). 

    Revisions over the last five years

    Revisions between first publications and estimates three years later
    Value in the latest period (2012 Q3) Averages over the last five years (bias) Average over the last five years without regard to sign (average absolute revision)
    GMAT 7,460 24.5 149.5
    GMAX 14,220 160.5 298.5
    GMAZ 4,970 67.25 112.75
    GMBB 8,380 167.5 170.5

    Table source: Office for National Statistics

    Table notes:

    1. Units: GMAT and GMAX in thousands, GMAZ and GMBB in £million.
    2. A statistical test has been applied to find out if the mean revision to each key indicator is statistically different from zero. An asterisk (*) indicates where the mean revision has been significantly different from zero.

    Download table

    Spreadsheets giving revisions triangles (real time databases) of estimates for the period illustrated in the table, and calculations behind the averages shown, are available in the data section of this publication.

    Please note that all estimates, including revised estimates, are based on a sample survey and are therefore subject to sampling and other sources of error. Further information on the ONS revisions policy.

  6. Constituent items in the tables may not add exactly to totals due to rounding.

  7. The information provided to the ONS by respondents is treated as strictly confidential as directed by the Code of Practice for Official Statistics. It is used to produce statistics that will not identify any individuals.

  8. Olympics and Paralympics

    The Olympics took place from 27 July to 12 August (with a few events starting on 25 July), and the Paralympics from 29 August to 9 September. For most economic statistics, any direct effect of the Olympics will be mainly seen in August estimates. A few series (such as on international travel and tourism, employment) may have been affected in July. Affected outputs are listed in the Special Events Calendar. Wider effects, for example if the presence of the Olympics has influenced the number of non-Olympics tourist visits, may of course affect any of the summer months.

    This commentary is intended to help users to interpret the statistics in the light of events. As explained in ONS's Special Events policy, it is not possible to make an estimate of the effect of the Olympics and Paralympics on particular series only on the basis of information collected in those series. More details of how certain series are affected are in an Information Note, and an article explaining how various elements are reflected in the National Accounts was published in July 2012.

  9. National Statistics are produced to high professional standards set out in the Code of Practice for Official Statistics.

  10. Next publication: 13 December 2012

    General IPS queries:

    For general questions about IPS and requests for ad hoc data analysis (a service governed by the ONS Income and Charging policy):

    Tel                 Data Advice Relations Team +44 (0)1633 455678


  11. Details of the policy governing the release of new data are available by visiting or from the Media Relations Office email:

Statistical contacts

Name Phone Department Email
Roger Smith +44 (0)1633 455277 Social Surveys
Get all the tables for this publication in the data section of this publication .
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