Analysis: Outbound travel rebounded in June

Analysis: Outbound travel rebounded in June

Latest tourism figures show outbound and inbound travel experiencing conflicting fortunes in June, with both bucking medium-term trends. Ian Taylor reports

Outbound travel had a good June. The UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports 500,000 more people departed the country in June this year than last.

Holiday departures in June were up 6% on a year ago - and June 2011 was, in turn, 4% up on June 2010 so the month was unequivocally a good one.

This was in sharp contrast to May when holiday departures were 9% down on May 2011. However, the reasons are clear: this June saw two bank holidays with Whitsun moved from May and joined by the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

The May 2011 figures benefited from the Whit holiday, the May Day holiday and a hangover from the royal wedding at the end of April 2011.

More important, June 2012 marked a clear break from the trend so far this year. It left holiday departures for the year to date (January to June) just 2% down on a year ago, when in May they were 4% down following a shortfall on 2011 in every month so far this year.

June also left leisure departures for the 12 months (July 2011 to June 2012) down just 2% year on year.

Perhaps more significant, June was just 10% down on June 2008, when May was 25% down, April 21% down and the first three months of this year 36% down on 2008.

Two questions occur: did people hold off from going away early in the year to save time and money for the June bank holidays? Has the double bank holiday exhausted the capacity of some to go away in the second half of the year?

Inbound travel faired rather differently in June. Numbers were down by 300,000 or -13% for leisure visitors, having been up every month from January to May.

It was the pre-Olympic effect, no doubt. Yet inbound leisure visitors remained 8% up year on year for the three months to June and 2% up for the year to date.

The medium-term outbound trend stands in stark contrast to June. Outbound holiday departures have fallen year on year in every quarter bar one since April-June 2008. The one exception was a year on from the period of volcanic ash disruption in spring 2010.

So two caveats on the June performance, heartening as it is: one, the second quarter has consistently been the strongest quarter for holiday departures since 2007-08.

Two, April-June was a strong quarter last year, but July-September was the worst since 2008 with departures in peak season falling year on year.

It is too early to declare an ‘outbound spring’, but the sector will be grateful for the improvement.

ONS figures are estimates based on a rolling survey of departing and arriving passengers at UK airports, but they are the most-comprehensive figures we have.

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