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Published on Thursday, January 10, 2013

Britain lost overseas visitors during Olympics, show latest figures

Britain suffered a 3% drop in tourists during the third quarter of last year when London hosted the 2012 Olympic Games, according to figures released today, but spend by overseas visitors was up 8%.

VisitBritain said November was the best for five years, with visitor numbers up 9% year on year, keeping the country on track for 31 million visits by the end of 2012. It said spending for the 11 months of the year reached a record £17.2bn.

Patricia Yates, VisitBritain director of strategy said: "To have the best November in five years is some achievement as 2012 was no ordinary year for inbound tourism."

Despite expectations of a bookings bonanza for the capital during the Olympics, London received 200,000 fewer overnight visits from overseas residents over summer 2012 than a year earlier.  Visits to the rest of England and Scotland also fell, but not those to Wales. 

However, spending associated with overnight visits to London increased by 13% from £2.8 billion to £3.1 billion. Spending on Olympics and Paralympics tickets will have accounted for a part of this increase, said the Office for National Statics.

Spending in the rest of England was 5% higher than a year earlier at £2.3 billion, in Scotland 8% lower at £0.6 billion and in Wales spending was unchanged at £0.1 billion.

The Office for National Statistics' Travel and Tourism report shows that 685,000 foreigners attended the Games, which represented approximately 8% of the total number of visitors to the UK in the third quarter.

Of these, 470,000 came to the UK with a primary purpose to watch, work or participate in the Games and a further 215,000 attended a ticketed Olympic or Paralympics event, although this was not the main reason for their visit.

The total visitor number of 8.9 million for the three-month period was down 3% on the same period of 2011.

However, visitors who came to the UK for the purpose of the Olympics spent an average of £1,510 on the visit (including any tickets bought in advance or during the visit) which is more than double the average spend among all visitors (£720).

This resulted in an 8% rise in earnings in Q3 compared with 2011.  In combination with an increase of 4% in spending abroad by UK residents, the deficit to the UK associated with overseas travel and tourism was £5.3 million, unchanged from quarter 3 2011.

The geographical source of visitors to the UK in quarter 3 was generally in line with 2011 with visits from each of North America, Europe and other countries falling. US visits were down by 4%. Of a total increase in earnings of £0.4 billion in quarter 3, most (£0.3 billion) came from residents of 'other countries'.

In the first nine months of 2012 key trends relative to 2011 have been:

  • No overall % change in the number of visits to the UK by overseas residents
  • A 5% increase in (unadjusted) earnings from these visits
  • No change in the number of visits abroad by UK residents      
  • A 4% increase in (unadjusted) expenditure abroad by UK residents 
  • The net result is an increase in deficit to the UK associated with overseas travel and tourism of £150 million, from £11.7 billion to £11.9 billion.

Barclays head of hospitality and leisure Mike Saul said there were signs visitor numbers had picked up since the Games. "After the summer's successes, November saw tourists return in force, reversing the previous months' trend as London's reputation as a cultural capital continues to pull in the crowds," he said.

"Similarly the wet weather encouraged Brits to escape to sunnier destinations. This trend is set to continue and operators are already spending heavily on ad campaigns and promoting special offers to encourage those holidaymakers who need a bit more convincing."

By Linsey McNeill


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