Visiting a medium-sized town for tourist reasons in January's not normal is it? So I thought I'd check.
Visit England, and their Welsh and Scottish counterparts, run an annual survey to find out where Britons go for one-off leisure visits and why. It's called the Great Britain Day Visits Survey, and the latest round of data is for 2014. Every week of the year a sample of adults is asked what they've been up to in the last seven days, and the results are compiled to create the GB Day Visitor Survey. For the purposes of the report, a Tourism Day Visit must last at least three hours, take place outside the county/borough where a person lives and not be something they do on a 'very regular' basis. 1,585,000,000 such visits took place in 2014, that's approximately 30 per person per year. I think I do rather more than the average myself.
Digging into the data, it turns out around a quarter of Tourism Day Visits are simply 'visiting friends or family for leisure'. A similar proportion are as mundane as going out for a meal, going to a pub, bar or club, or paying a visit to the cinema or theatre. Undertaking outdoor leisure activities (eg walking, cycling, golf) comprises only 8% of the total, going to visitor attractions (eg historic house, garden, theme park, museum, zoo) just 5%, and "going on a general day out to explore an area" a mere 3%. On average, every adult in the country goes on a "general day out" approximately once a year. I'm already up on that, and it's only January.
It won't surprise you to hear that January is the least popular month for a TDV and August is the most. The school holidays bump up August's total somewhat, while in January not only is the weather poor but a lot of people are skint. But the month-by-month differences aren't as great as you might expect.
Millions of Tourist Day Visits each week
Winter is definitely the lowpoint, and summer the high, but there's an underlying flatness to the data - presumably related to the fact that indoor events take place throughout the year.
The English region with the greatest number of TDVs is (not surprisingly) London, while South East England (the region I visited over the weekend) comes second. Both host over 200 million TDVs a year, with London mopping up one-sixth of the national total. Bottom of the most-visited list are the East Midlands and North East England, although both of these beat every region in Scotland or Wales. On this front at least, my visit looks pretty normal.
Of all England's local authorities, Greater London gets the most visits by a factor of five. Next come Manchester, the West Midlands and West Yorkshire, presumably as social hubs rather than sightseeing hotspots. But then come Kent and Devon, which clearly draw tourists in, with Norfolk and Hampshire also punching well above their weight. As for tourist notspots, Bedfordshire is a particularly hopeless case, while Herefordshire is the least visited of the larger counties.
Regarding the kind of locality we visit, almost half of Tourism Day Visits are to a city or large town. Small towns take approximately a quarter of the total, as do trips to the countryside. And this leaves just one in ten days out being to the seaside (or a coastal town), a figure which drops to one in fifty for those of us who live in London.
The average distance travelled on a Grand Day Out is 45 miles, but that's the mean and hence a distortion - half of all journeys are in fact less than 20 miles. The longest journeys were for spectating at sporting events and attending weddings, christenings and the like, where long distances are fixed. By contrast the shortest journeys were for nights out and going for a meal, pretty much as you'd expect. Meanwhile two-thirds of TDVs involve travelling by car, although this drops to one-third for tourists who start their journeys in London. One in ten days out involve taking the train, but this rises to one in five for Londoners.
Of walking-based visits, 30% involve a short walk of up to an hour, and a similar percentage involve sightseeing on foot. Only one in six involve 'centre-based walking (around a town or city)', which is sort of what I was doing in Newbury. Or perhaps you could count that as 'a long walk, hike or ramble', which the survey defines as 'over 2 miles' - apparently the average Briton goes somewhere and does this only once or twice a year. For every devoted rambler, it seems there's a whole squadron of couch potatoes.
The report is particularly interested in money spent, because tourists can bring considerable economic benefits to the locations they visit. People spend almost twice as much visiting a city compared to the countryside, with 'special shopping' and 'going out for a meal' the most expensive activities. The average spend per trip is £34, but this conceals a broad range of outlays, indeed half of visitors fork out less than £10. I gave only 79p to the economy of Newbury, despite spending over six hours in the town, because I am a Chamber of Commerce's worst nightmare.
As for the typical visitor, the peak age groups for tourism are 25-34 and 65+, the former because they 'go out' (and play sport) more, and the latter because they have more opportunity (and dine out a lot). Men and women go touristing approximately equally, and those in higher income brackets go out more - a clear matter of disposable income. Perhaps more intriguingly, only a quarter of Days Out involve families with children. Maybe the cost puts them off going places, or maybe they're just less likely to drag their offspring to a restaurant or cinema.
And finally, around half of Tourism Day Visits are in the company of a spouse or partner, while 20% involve going out with other adult members of the family. A quarter of TDVs are trips out with friends, and just one in seven are by solo travellers. My Billy-No-Mates trip to Newbury, in January, to walk around a lot and spend very little, is right up there at the atypical end of the list. I expected nothing less.