UK tourism deficit, by air travel in 2019, was £30 billion – casting serious doubt about the industry’s claims to be vital to the UK economy
Each year the Office for National Statistics (ONS) publishes data on the number of journeys are made by British residents abroad (leisure and business), and the amount they spend on their travel and while abroad. They also collect comparable data for visits to the UK. The documents can be found in the ONS Travel Trends data. Each year there is a “tourism deficit” which is the amount by which the expenditure on trips abroad by UK residents exceeds the amount spent by visitors to the UK. It is a huge sum, generally thought to be in the region of £15 to £22 billion in recent years. Now the ONS have realised they have made errors in how data has been gathered, underestimating the amount being spent by Brits abroad. While the tourism deficit (all travel modes) was thought to be £22.5 billion in 2018, it is now thought to be £31billion. The tourism deficit for 2019 is now known to have been £33.9 billion. It is also possible to work out how much of this is due to air travel, and that is about 88%. So the tourism deficit due to air travel was actually just over £30 billion in 2019. This is worth remembering, when the industry claims it is so vital to the UK economy. In 2019 under 10% of trips abroad by UK residents were on business. The rest were various forms of leisure.
The earlier assessments of the UK tourism deficit (now known to be too low)
Spending by UK residents going abroad in 2019 (£ thousand)
£62,325 – by all travel modes
£54,976 – by air (air is 88%)
Spending by Overseas visitors’ trips to the UK in 2019.
£28,228 – by all travel modes
£24,933 – by air (air is 88%)
So the tourism deficit for 2019 = £30.04 billion
UK spend abroad, minus overseas spend here, by air travel (£54,976 minus £24,933).
All the ONS Travel Trends data for 2019 is at
The Travel Trends 2018 data is at https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/leisureandtourism/articles/traveltrends/2018
and the Travel Trends 2019 data is at
The ONS have changed the methodology between 2018 and 2019, as they say they were not including all the returning British passengers, so their UK numbers were too low. The inaccuracy of the overseas passengers seems to be lower.
But not only does this give a tourism deficit of £33.9 for 2019, it also indicates the tourism deficit was FAR higher than declared in earlier years.
Below are the key data for both years and.
Text in red is from the 2019 data.
Text in green is estimated by AirportWatch.
1. Main points (see link )
There were fewer overseas residents’ visits to the UK in 2018 than in 2017 and also a fall in the number of visits abroad by UK residents.
A total of 37.9 million visits were made by overseas residents to the UK in 2018, [40.9 million visits to the UK in 2019], which was 3% fewer than in 2017.
There were 71.7 million visits overseas by UK residents in 2018, a decrease of 1% when compared with 2017. [93.1 million visits overseas by UK residents in 2019, an increase of 3% compared with 2018.] – so the 71.7 m figure for 2018 should be, with the new methodology, about 90 million
UK residents spent £45.4 billion on visits overseas in 2018, which was 1% more than in 2017. [UK residents spent £62.3 billion on visits overseas in 2019, an increase of 7% compared with 2018.] – so the £45.4 billion figure for 2018 should be, with the new methodology, about £58 billion.
Overseas residents spent £22.9 billion on visits to the UK in 2018, a decrease of 7% compared with 2017. [£28.4 billion on visits to the UK in 2019, an increase of 7%] – so the £22.9 billion figure for 2018 should be, with the new methodology, about £26.4 billion.
The most frequent reason for visits was for holidays, both for UK residents visiting abroad and overseas residents visiting the UK.”
So the tourism deficit in 2018 was £45.4 – 22.9 – = £22.5 billion. (using the old methodology).
And with the amended figures for the new methodology, the 2018 tourism deficit was about £58 – 26.4 = £31.6 billion.
How much of the tourism deficit is due to air travel
Looking at how much of the tourism spend is due to air travel – we have the data on how many £ billions are lost to the UK, by the tourism deficit, due to air travel.
In 2019 the tourism deficit (about 88% of spending by British people abroad on trips taken by air) was around £30 billion. Due to air travel.
Spending by UK residents abroad in 2019 (and in 2009).
ONS data from Table 3.9 at https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/leisureandtourism/datasets/ukresidentsvisitsabroad
Total spending of all trips abroad – £ millions
2009 – £34,455
2019 – £62,325
Spending by those travelling abroad by air
2009 – £29,411 which was 85.36% by air
2019 – £54,976 which was 88.21% by air
Spending by Overseas visitors to the UK in 2019.
ONS data at
£24,933,000 by air overseas visits to UK in 2019
£28,228,000 in total – all travel modes – by overseas visits to UK in 2019
So air was 88.3% of total visitor spend.
So the tourism deficit for 2019 (UK spend abroad, minus overseas spend here) by air travel:
£54,976,000 minus £24,933,000
= £30.04 billion tourism deficit for the UK by air travel in 2019