today said that international visitor figures for January and February 2004 represent some of the best ever. Over 3.5 million international visitors came to the UK in the first two months of the year, a rise of 10 per cent on the same period in 2003, according to provisional data from the International Passenger Survey.
VisitBritain chief executive, Tom Wright, said:
“This is evidence that pent-up demand for Britain is being released and the 10 per cent rise in North American visits gives further cause to be optimistic. Barring further international incidents, industry prospects continue to improve.
“With special offers and great deals on travel to the UK and an increasing number of low-cost airlines opening routes to London and regional destinations, coupled with record passenger figures on Eurostar and rising fortunes for accommodation providers throughout the country, 2004 is already off to a great start.
“These early figures would also seem to indicate that the recent exchange rate fluctuations have not yet impacted significantly on travel to Britain. If visitors continue to flock to Britain at this rate, VisitBritain’s forecasts of a 3.3% increase in visits and a 3.4% rise in spending this year look achievable.”
A number of campaigns and initiatives have been launched by VisitBritain and industry partners to boost inbound tourism. Over 1.75 million potential visitors from eleven countries went online to the campaign-specific websites of VisitBritain’s six-month European Short Breaks Campaign, stimulating demand for travel to 19 British cities. In the USA, VisitBritain’s successful ‘Britain… Just Go!’ campaign in the first quarter of 2004, encouraged off-season trips to cities in Britain from US$278 including flights and 3 nights’ accommodation.
Elsewhere around the world, VisitBritain is already improving its electronic and personal communications with consumers around the world to inform them of all that Britain can offer as a destination. Visits to the Britain and London Visitor Centre in Regent Street are up seven per cent on 2003, while over 1.6 million unique users have visited www.visitbritain.com in the first three months of the year to discover more about Britain - up 40 per cent.
Stephen Dowd, chief executive, British Incoming Tour Operators Association, commenting on the figures, said:
“The positive trend of recent months continued in February with all sectors reporting increases in visitor numbers and forward bookings. Bookings held firm after the dreadful events in Madrid and it would seem that the public now understand that terrorist activity can happen anywhere, at any time, and that they cannot put their lives on hold indefinitely. Over 80% of members expect inbound tourism to grow in 2004, with 36% sure it would ‘grow significantly’.”
Britain’s hospitality sector is also more positive as it approaches Easter. Bob Cotton, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association, said:
“Hotels in all regions of the UK outside London are having a very good time with occupancy reaching levels not seen since 2000. While the picture for London is still uncertain, we are seeing positive signs towards improvement, although forward confidence is still being influenced by the attacks in Madrid.
“Britain’s exchange rate against the American dollar could still impact on arrivals from North America, but signs of a recovery for the US economy - highlighted by positive employment figures - gives us confidence for the future.”
BAA reports the strongest growth in passenger numbers from the long haul and North American routes, while Eurostar saw record numbers in the first three months of 2004, carrying just over 1.6 million passengers through the Channel Tunnel, an increase of 19% on the same period last year.