The Solent Forum

Working in parnership for the future

Recreation and Tourism

The Solent has been a magnet for tourism and recreation for 150 years since the railways brought Londoners to the Witterings, Hayling Island, Southsea, Lymington and the Isle of Wight in ever increasing numbers. Queen Victoria built a country residence at Osborne House which enhanced the areas popularity and tourism continues to be a major source of income particularly for the Isle of Wight. The island is a popular destination and has many high quality natural and man-made features to offer its visitors.


Recreation is vital to the Solent - and the quality of the Solent is vital for recreation. In terms of the numbers of people involved and its extent, recreation can be counted as the Solent's most significant activity. It is certainly the most diverse, with at least twenty different activities taking place, each with its own characteristic distribution and pattern of use.

Land-based informal recreation and walking have by far the greatest number of participants. They are provided for by country parks, public open spaces, beaches, the rights of way network and a range of visitor attractions and facilities. however the scale and range of activity on the water is considerable.   The Solent is one of the most densely populated sailing areas in the world and enjoys an international reputation. There are circa 24,000 moorings and marina berths in the area. The clusters of activity are at Chichester Harbour, Portsmouth Harbour, River Hamble, Southampton Water and Cowes.

Water-based activities include:

Of international significance

These activities attract spectators, media and support crews.

Of national significance

Of regional significance

The Solent acts as a bond for water recreation users and unites the area. However, the bond between the Island and the mainland for recreation and leisure (including countryside recreation and heritage interests) is relatively weak. Island residents tend to cross the Solent predominantly to commute, shop and visit friends and relatives. Mainland residents tend to cross the Solent predominantly to go on holiday, days out or for business trips. Hence, the Solent tends to divide the area for these users.

Information on the Sector

A large amount of information has been gathered on recreation within the Solent, although many activities are difficult to study. The greatest efforts have been expended on researching yachting activity and, in particular, establishing trends in the growth of moorings. The Sports Council's Coastal Recreation Strategy, published in 1991, provides the most up-to-date comprehensive study of activity. A range of more up-to-date information for part of the Solent is currently being assembled within a joint sports strategy for Southampton and Eastleigh.


The main long-term trend within recreation has been a growth in activity, which has been a pattern throughout most of the 20th century, and in particular since the end of World War II. The primary driving force behind this has been the growth in population living within the coastal belt, together with general increases in leisure time and disposable income. During the early 1990s, the national economic recession has checked this growth, however it is still possible to identify a number of needs within the recreation sector for new or extended facilities.

Although this general upward trend applies to most activities, the only well-quantified growth is in yachting. This is most obviously seen in the rapid growth in mooring numbers which have increased by 27% within the last 30 years, with a doubling in the number of marina berths during that time. This growth has led to a number of concerns about whether the system is at or near capacity in terms of its environmental interests, conflicts between recreational users, or conflicts with commercial shipping. The restrictive nature of planning has concentrated the most recent proposals for development of yachting facilities on the built-up coast, and this trend is expected to continue in the future.

There has been a noticeable trend towards the increased use of powered craft, with a growing range of products on the market, such as personal water craft. The growth of new activities can lead to conflicts with established user groups, local residents and the environment, which can prove difficult to manage. There are currently no means of identifying new activities before problems arise, or of taking their potential needs into account in advance.


Tourism data for the whole of Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Southampton and Portsmouth (but excluding Chichester) comes from the UK Tourism Survey and International Passenger Survey which indicates there is annually:

UK residents account for 88% of trips, 69% of nights and 76% of visitor spending: overseas visitors are lower volume yet higher value.

In addition, there are 31 million day visitor trips generating £690 million expenditure. Hence, the ratio of day trips to overnight trips is 7:1.

The Isle of Wight is a traditional holiday destination. There were 1 million day visitors and 1.38 million overnight visitors in 2003/04. Day visits have been gradually declining over the last five years and staying visitors have been gradually increasing.

Around 725,000 overnight trips were made to Portsmouth in 2004 with 87% by UK residents and 13% by overseas residents. It is estimated that around 6.8 million tourism day trips were made to Portsmouth in 2004. Around 3.8 million day trips involved visits to attractions and the beach. The remaining 3 million day trips involved visits to Gunwharf Quays for speciality shopping and general days out.

It is estimated that 615,000 overnight trips are made to Southampton each year. Based on 2002 data it is estimated that approximately 2.82 million day trips from home go to the city.

Surveys in Chichester in 2003 identified 3 million day visits from home and 327,000 overnight visits.

The New Forest Visitor Survey 1998 identified there were 4.7 million day trips of which 564,000 (12%) were to the coast. There were 636,000 overnight trips.

Trends in tourism are not well quantified. On a long term basis the volume of activity has declined, with the impact particularly noticeable within the seaside resorts, but less so in the self-catering sector. Growth in demand is evident within niche markets, short breaks, and special interest and activity holidays. Holiday and Visiting Friends and Relatives (VFR) motivated trips are the most dominant types of trips for domestic staying visitors. In Solent terms, visiting yachts are a particularly notable market with growing potential.

Text adapted from the Forum's 'Strategic Guidance' and the 'Around the Solent' report prepared by Parkin Heritage and Tourism, 2006.