3/1/ 06 Britain tourism deficit soars despite record visitors

Visit Britain has published a 25-year review of inbound tourism, revealing for the first time the trends that see the sector moving from a surplus to a £17bn deficit even though visitor numbers have more than doubled over the period. The Foresight Review shows that while the numbers of inbound tourists has grown by 122% to more than 27m between 1979 and 2004, spending has only risen by 40% in real terms, as visitors to the country spend significantly less time here and are increasingly likely to be visiting friends or relatives than coming on holiday. In 1979, the average visitor to Britain came for 12.5 nights. By 2004 this had shrunk to just over eight nights. At the same time the ‘spend per head’ in real terms for each stay had fallen from more than £740 to £470 (2004 prices). In 1979 Britain recorded a surplus of more than £2bn as the amount spent by visitors coming to the country exceeded the sum spent by Britons abroad. By 2004 that had been transformed to a deficit of more than £17bn. Last year UK residents spent £2.32 overseas for every £1 that was spent in Britain by overseas visitors. There is some good news for the British visitor economy however. Britain is still recording faster growth in visitor numbers than many of its traditional competitors, and the pattern of inbound tourism is far less seasonal than it was in 1979. Visit Britain chief executive Tom Wright said: “These figures graphically demonstrate the success of Britain’s visitor economy but also the challenges we face. “Britain really must do everything it can to stimulate and encourage its visitor economy. We need first class attractions, destinations and hospitality, and a compelling Britain brand to prosper in an increasingly competitive global market. We cannot ignore the fact that spending by inbound tourists to Britain has not risen in any significant way in the past quarter of a century, and everyone in the public and private sector needs to address that.”

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