Overseas visitors to Britain set to top 40 million

Holidaymakers enjoying the Christmas lights of Regent Street, one of London’s most famous shopping streets.
Holidaymakers enjoying the Christmas lights of Regent Street, one of London’s most famous shopping streets. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • The locations for shooting Game Of Thrones help cast a magical spell. So does shopping in London.

Whatever the reason they come for, overseas visitors to Britain are set to exceed 40 million for the first time next year, according to VisitBritain. It is predicting that they will spend a record £27 billion (S$49 billion) over the coming 12 months.

A double-digit fall in the pound against the euro and the US dollar is helping drive visits and allowing tourism to buck predictions of a post-Brexit slowdown in the British economy.

The national tourism agency said 2017 was a record year for inbound tourism - with 39.9 million visits.

Next year, it is predicting that the number will reach 41.7 million - a 4.4 per cent rise on this year, meaning hotels and restaurants in popular destinations such as London, Bath, Edinburgh and Cambridge can expect a busy time.

The 2017 tourist boom drove strong sales for British luxury brands such as Burberry, which helped propel Bond Street in London into the top three of the world's most expensive store locations.

Travellers, predominately from Europe, the United States and China, have been arriving in increasing numbers to buy luxury designer brands for lower prices than they can get at home.

Meanwhile, other destinations linked to popular books, films and television programmes are expected to continue to pull in the crowds.

They include the Northern Ireland sites used in Game Of Thrones.

This year, events linked to the 20th anniversary of the first Harry Potter book and 200th anniversary of the death of novelist Jane Austen proved popular.

Ms Patricia Yates, VisitBritain's director, said: "Tourism is one of the UK's most valuable export industries. It is also a fiercely competitive global industry and these results not only demonstrate Britain's continued ability to compete internationally for visitors, but they are also testament to tourism's importance as a driver of economic growth.

"We are working with partners across the world to tell customers of experiences they can have only in Britain and encourage them to book a trip now.

"We have seen good growth this year from the US and China, and are developing new products that make it easier for overseas visitors to book and explore all of Britain."

Travellers from other European countries were the biggest overall group last year with 19.6 million visits from January to September, up 4 per cent on last year.

Tourists from North America topped 3.8 million over the same period, marking a 14 per cent rise.

There were five million visits from the rest of the world in the first nine months of this year - including markets such as Australia, China, the Gulf and India - logging a 15 per cent increase.

Britain was ranked third for tourism globally in the 2017 Anholt-GfK Nation Brands Index published last month, equalling its highest rank ever and up two places from last year, behind Germany (at No. 1) and France.

The index considered attributes including historic buildings and monuments, having a vibrant city life and natural beauty.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 27, 2017, with the headline 'Overseas visitors to Britain set to top 40 million'. Print Edition | Subscribe