Inbound tourism explained | Understanding the basics

May 6, 2020 | Learn about tourism, Tourism management

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(Last updated on: 11/05/2020)

Inbound tourism is an important type of tourism. Many countries rely heavily on the demand from inbound tourists to fuel the development and operations of their tourism economy.

But what does it actually mean to be an inbound tourist? In this article I will explain what is meant by the term inbound tourism, provide definitions of inbound tourism and I will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of inbound tourism. Lastly, I will provide examples of destinations which have significantly sized inbound tourism markets.

Inbound tourism

What is inbound tourism?

Inbound tourism is the act of someone travelling to a country other than that of where they live for the purpose of tourism.

Many countries around the world rely on inbound tourism.

Inbound tourism is often seasonal, meaning that many destinations will have evident peak, shoulder and low seasons. This is often dependant on weather conditions (for example sun or snow) and school and public holidays.

Inbound tourism definitions

The most widely utilised definition of tourism, proposed by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and United States (UN) Nations Statistics Division (1994), prescribes that in order to qualify as a tourist one must travel and remain in a place outside of their usual residential environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business or other purposes.

When considering inbound tourism, it therefore makes sense to simply add in the prerequisite of travelling to another country…

Based on this commonly accepted definition (although this is not without its limits- see this post for more details), therefore, inbound tourism can be defined as:

‘The act of travelling to another country for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business or other purposes.’

The importance of inbound tourism

Inbound tourism is incredibly important in many destinations.

This is largely because of the economic benefits of tourism. Tourism can bring in a lot of money to a country through foreign exchange. This is particularly beneficial in countries where the currency is weaker than the currency of the tourists’ home countries.

It is for this reason that many countries will target their advertising towards certain nationalities. China produces one of the largest outbound tourism markets in the world and Chinese tourists tend to spend more on their holidays than any other nationality. Therefore many countries want to attract Chinese inbound tourists due to the economic value of this market.

However, over dependance on inbound tourism can be risky business for destinations. There are many destinations, such as the Maldives, Spain and Greece who rely heavily on people travelling from other countries to their country for tourism.

The problem occurs when the travel industry is disrupted. This has never been more true than during the 2020 pandemic, when the impacts of Coronavirus on tourism were devastating.

Inbound tourism can also be negatively effected as a result of other factors, such as political unrest, natural disasters or economic instability.

In order to ensure sustainable tourism principles are adopted, destinations ideally need to diversify their tourism product to appeal to both the domestic tourism market and the inbound tourism market.

UK inbound tourism

In The United Kingdom, we have a sizeable inbound tourism industry.

Here, inbound tourism is worth £127 billion per year to the UK economy. Inbound tourism creates jobs and boosts the economic throughout the country.

According to the UK tourist board, Visit Britain, inbound visitors to the UK spent £24.5 billion in 2017, and £21 billion of that was spent in England.

Inbound tourism attracts tourists from all over the world including Europe, the USA, Australia, China and Japan.

Inbound tourism markets around the world

Inbound tourism is a significant part of the tourism industry in many countries around the world.

The OECD have some useful data, demonstrating the most recent figures for inbound tourism around the world.

To take a look at the most recent OECD inbound tourism figures click here.

Here are a few tourism markets that have a high number of inbound tourists each year-


According to Statistica, Spain ranked second on the World Tourism Organisation’s list of most visited countries in the world, with its number of international visitors amounting to nearly 89.4 million in 2018.

Most travellers to Spain come from Europe, with the largest amount of tourists being British.

Spain is popular for its beach holidays, package holiday market and city breaks to Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia, amongst others.

Learn more about tourism in Spain in this short video by Lonely Planet.


The Maldives has been host to a fast-growing tourism industry in recent years. The archipelago attracts visitors all-year round, especially in hubs like Male which is home to an increasing number of modern hotels. 

Statistica reported in February 2019 that there were sharp increases in economic activity in The Maldives resulting from tourism. Figures showed a 16.8% increase in inbound tourism from the same time the previous year.

In total, 168,583 inbound tourists were recorded in The Maldives in 2019. China accounted for 17.8% and European markets accounted for a further 55% of inbound tourism.

The Maldives is renowned for its luxurious beach holidays.

An overview of tourism in The Maldives by Lonely Planet.


Inbound tourism is one of the biggest economic activities in Thailand.

The National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDC) stated that in February 2019 the tourism industry accounted for 18.4% of GDP. Chinese visitors make up almost one third of all inbound tourists travelling to Thailand, with 10.99 million visits recorded in 2019.

There are many types of tourism found in Thailand and Thailand attracts a range of types of tourists, from backpackers to luxury travellers to business tourists.

Take a look at Thailand’s tourism industry in this short promotional clip by Amazing Thailand


Bali is another destination that is reliant on inbound tourism as a key economic contributor.

In 2018, the number of foreign tourists travelling to Bali was over 5 million. This was an increase of approximately 3.5 million from 2008. Figures taken from Statistica.

The inbound tourism market in Bali is dominated largely by Chinese and Australian tourists.

Bali is well-known for its beach escapes and cultural tourism.

You can see what Bali has to offer inbound tourists in this promotional clip by Wonderful Indonesia.

Advantages of inbound tourism

There are many advantages of inbound tourism.

One advantage is that inbound tourism is not reliant on weekends in the way that domestic tourism is because people tend to your their annual leave when they take holidays overseas.

Having an inbound tourism market that attracts tourists from a range of destinations can help to minimise risk and diversify income. This way, if for some reason one country does not send many tourists (for example due to political or economic problems) then the host country still has visitors arriving from other countries.

On average, inbound tourists spend more money than domestic tourists. This money then helps boost the economy of the host country.

When we travel overseas we typically book further in advance than if we booked a domestic trip. This allows tourism organisations more time to plan.

Foreign income can really help to boost the economy of a country. Therefore foreign tourists are often welcomed. This especially applies to tourists who come from destinations where the currency is strong (e.g. Britain, USA, Europe, Australia).

Disadvantages of inbound tourism

There are also some disadvantages of inbound tourism.

The main disadvantage of inbound tourism is that the destination is at the mercy of the transport network.

There are many cases of tourism industries being decimated because an airline has stopped operating a particular route.

Inbound tourism can also lead to culture clashes.

For example, British tourists who travel to Dubai are often not aware of Muslim cultural practices. As such, it is common for the local population to be offended by the tourist’s behaviour. In Dubai there are many signs up in the malls, for instance, that requests tourists cover up and dress appropriately.

Inbound tourism: Conclusion

In conclusion, it can be seen that inbound tourism is a highly effective way for a country to make money from tourism. Whilst this does take some careful management and planning, there are many countries throughout the world who have successful and thriving inbound tourism industries.

Further reading on inbound tourism

  • An Introduction to Tourism: a comprehensive and authoritative introduction to all facets of tourism including: the history of tourism; factors influencing the tourism industry; tourism in developing countries; sustainable tourism; forecasting future trends.
  • The Business of Tourism Management: an introduction to key aspects of tourism, and to the practice of managing a tourism business.
  • Tourism Management: An Introduction: gives its reader a strong understanding of the dimensions of tourism, the industries of which it is comprised, the issues that affect its success, and the management of its impact on destination economies, environments and communities.


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Hi, am Dr Hayley Stainton

I’ve been travelling, studying and teaching travel and tourism since I was 16. Through Tourism Teacher I share my knowledge on the principles and practice of travel and tourism management from both an academic and practical perspective.

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