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Sport tourism – Britain’s great cash cow

The England football team may be underachieving prima donnas but the nation’s top sporting events, such as Wimbledon and the Premier League, are attracting 3 million international visitors and over £2bn in revenue per annum, according to new figures from VisitBritain.

Great British sporting events such as Wimbledon, the Open at St Andrews, test match cricket at Lord’s and Premiership football are major overseas boosts to the economy, as well as participation events such as the London Marathon and Yorkshire’s Three Peaks hike.

Some 3 million sport enthusiasts account for 14 per cent of all international tourist arrivals to the UK, and they spent £2.3bn in 2008, the latest year for which figures are available.

They spend an average of £900 per trip, almost twice the £500 most tourists pay, and they are estimated to support 50,000 jobs across the country, according to the national tourism authority.

VisitBritain collated the data from surveys of 50,000 international travellers at UK ports and airports by the Office for National Statistics.


The survey also highlighted the strength of international participation in amateur sport, from playing golf to cross-country running and marathons.

VisitBritain says nearly 2 million tourists watched sport, with competitions at venues such as Lord’s or Old Trafford helping to generate £1.3bn while similar sums were spent by the 1.4 million people who played amateur sport.

VisitBritain’s chief executive, Sandie Dawe, said she was encouraged by the figures as they suggest growing popularity for British sport in the build up to the Olympics.

She said: “Millions are travelling to watch our world-class events and participate in our famous, sometimes quirky, sporting traditions. It is a hugely encouraging sign that Britain has the sporting expertise to stage an Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012 that we hope will win the hearts of the world and deliver a tourism legacy, jobs and economic growth for this country.”

The most popular sport for visitors to watch was football, with 1.2 million overseas spectators going to a match. The Irish made up the biggest contingent, with some 267,000, followed by an estimated 95,000 Americans, 88,000 Germans, 86,000 Norwegians and 75,000 Spaniards watching British club games. Some 52,000 Dutch fans also attended British stadiums, 65,000 Italians, 55,000 Australians, 46,000 French and 39,000 Swedes.

The second most popular sport was horse racing, with crowds totalling 6 million, many from abroad, flocking to more than 8,000 races annually at courses all over the country.

Golf was a big attraction for Americans – 94,000 came over in 2008 to play. They were joined by 66,000 Germans, 44,000 French, 30,000 Spanish and 28,000 Irish.
The figures also revealed that most sporting visitors came to Britain without children, often as groups of friends who share similar interests and a taste for a particular game.