International visitor numbers and spending to the UK have fallen in the key third quarter of the year. In the three months to September 2008 - the peak of inbound tourism - total visits dropped three per cent against July-September 2007 to 9.3 million and spending decreased two per cent at £5.1 billion.
The data for nine months of the year so far (January - September) also indicates that increasing travel to Britain from abroad is becoming more challenging. Overseas residents made 24.9 million visits to the UK - static (0%) compared to the same period in 2007 - and spent £12.5 billion (up + 4% before allowing for inflation).
For the year as a whole, the greatest increase in visits has come from the twelve ‘accession’ countries which have seen visits rise by 17% to 2.7 million. North American visits have fallen nine per cent to 3.2 million - largely attributable to the poor economic climate in the US with low levels of consumer confidence and high aviation costs. The weakness of the dollar was also an issue until early summer and Britain is yet to see the benefit of recent dollar strengthening. Newer source markets in the Rest of Europe and Rest of World regions are also performing more strongly than European countries that are more mature sources of Britain’s inbound visitors.
The latest figures come in a week that has seen new research, commissioned from Deloitte by VisitBritain and the Tourism Alliance, indicate that the value of the visitor economy to UK plc is £114 billion. Deloitte also suggest that - although the longevity and depth of a potential recession remain unclear - over the next three years, GVA for the visitor economy could be £11 billion lower with 114,000 fewer jobs created as a result of the global economic downturn than would otherwise have been the case.
VisitBritain is calling for more immediate action - a public-private partnership and fund to promote Britain’s value for money in a spring campaign. It will take advantage of hoteliers and carriers delivering great offers as well as sterling depreciating against both the US dollar and the Euro and remind Britons that holidaying at home supports British jobs.
Tom Wright, chief executive of national tourism agency VisitBritain, says: “Although these figures are disappointing, they are not unexpected given the economic climate right now. The recent fall in sterling and the approaching Olympics in 2012 give us a tremendous opportunity to promote Britain’s attractions as a destination to the world, but the likely onset of the global recession makes our work and the support we receive ever more critical.
“With strong support, Britain’s Visitor Economy can continue to grow strongly over the next few years and compete against ever more destinations investing ever more money to attract the attention of the world’s travellers. However, if we do not address the market challenges, the economic impact could be considerable.”