IPS Inbound visitor statistics for 2021 Q1 (January – March)

The travel and tourism statistics published by The Office for National Statistics (ONS) are based on the results of the International Passenger Survey (IPS), but the running of the survey has been impacted because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

During Q1 2021 (January to March 2021), the IPS survey was operational at UK airports only.  In ordinary times surveying would also be conducted at UK tunnel terminals (Eurostar and Eurotunnel) as well as some UK sea ports (e.g. Dover), but this was not possible during this period.  Therefore, the data presented on this page and elsewhere on our website for Q1 2021 is for air passengers only and is not comparable with historical UK total data.  The sample for this period is very low so extreme caution should be used when interpreting results.

Visits, spend and nights (air passengers only)

Q1 2021 % change vs. Q1 2020
Visits 195,000 -96%
Spend £248 million -94%
Nights 10.4  million -75%

There were just 195,000 inbound visits to the UK in Q1 2021 – down 96% compared to Q1 2020.

Spend was down 94% year-on-year (YoY) with inbound visitors spending £248 million in the UK during Q1 2021.

In total 10.4 million nights were spent in the UK by inbound visitors during Q1 2021, down 75% YoY.

As restrictions start to lift and change around the globe, VisitBritain have been releasing and revising our 2021 tourism forecast on a regular basis.

Our latest central scenario forecast, as of 7th May 2021 is for a 2021 is 11.3 million visits (up 2% on 2020) with spend of £6.2 billion (in line with spend of 2020). Please visit our forecast page for more information on this forecast and the latest update.

Visits and spend by journey purpose (air passengers only)

Journey purpose Visits Q1 2021 % change vs. Q1 2020 Spend Q1 2021 % change vs. Q1 2020
Holiday 7,000 -100% £10 million -99%
VFR 127,000 -93% £130 million -89%
Business 20,000 -98% £32 million -96%
Study 11,000 -86% £38 million -75%
Miscellaneous (excluding study) 29,000 -92% £37 million -80%

With overall inbound visit levels at just 4% of those visiting in Q1 2020 where data is available, all journey purposes were at a fraction of normal levels. The table above shows the impact that restricted international travel has had on the UK’s inbound holiday visits with just 7,000 visits registered.

As might be expected due to the restrictions at the time, visits to friends and relatives accounted for the majority of the inbound visits in Q1 2021 – representing 65% of all inbound visits by air and a little over half (53%) of the spend.

Study visits, traditionally a smaller inbound segment to the UK, was least impacted by travel restrictions, though visits were still down 86%, contributing £38 million to the UK inbound air passenger expenditure.

Visits and spend by global region (air passengers only)

Global region Visits Q1 2021 % change vs. Q1 2020 Spend Q1 2021 % change vs. Q1 2020
Total Europe 115,000 -97% £114 million -93%
   EU Total 104,000 -97% £98 million -93%
   EU15 69,000 -97% £62 million -94%
   Other EU 35,000 -94% £37 million -86%
   Rest of Europe 11,000 -97% £16 million -95%
North America 28,000 -96% £28 million -95%
Rest of World 51,000 -96% £105 million -93%

Across the board visits were down by between 96% and 97% compared to Q1 2020 from all global regions.  The only exception to this was the ‘Other EU group’ (consisting of Bulgaria, Estonia, Poland, Romania – amongst others) where visits were down 94%.

Spending from this ‘Other EU’ global region showed the strongest resilience, though still down 86% compared to Q1 2020.

Visits from the European Union accounted for just over half (54%) of all inbound AIR visits between January and March 2021 and 40% of all spend.

Visits from all markets in the Rest of World region, accounted for a quarter (26%) of all visits, but 42% of all spend during January, February and March 2021.

Detailed historical data from 2010 to Q1 2020 is available at the UK level and the regional level. Full 2020 data is presented on our dedicated 2020 inbound data page.

The ONS have made every effort to produce high-quality estimates for the periods when IPS data is not being collected but have not been able to produce a full set of results due to the risks associated with the results being misleading.  More detailed information on the approach used to produce results where interviewing had been affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) can be found on the ONS website.


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