February 13, 2014 4:42 pm

Foreign visitors to UK spend record amounts

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Yeoman/Tower...John Keohane (with axe) who has been appointed to the ancient title of Yeoman Gaoler of Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London stands with other new recruits outside the Tower in London Tuesday 9 January 2001. Pictured from left to right; Yeoman Warder Terry Humphries, Yeoman Warder Raymond Stones, Yeoman Warder Mick King, Mr Keohane, Yeoman Warder Kenneth McGrath and Yeoman Warder Paul Cunliffe MBE. PA photo: Sean Dempsey.©PA

Tower of London yeoman warders

Britain’s reputation for poor weather has done little to deter international visitors from pouring into the country and spending in record numbers.

A remarkably strong October and a Christmas shopping boom in London helped drive visits and spending to levels that even exceed the pre-crash year of 2007, according to the Office for National Statistics.

The number of visitors to the UK throughout 2013 was 32.9m, up 6 per cent on 2012. Business trips and holidays both rose by 7 per cent and visits to friends and relatives were up 5 per cent.

Overall visitor spending for the year hit £21bn, a 13 per cent increase on 2012 and the first time it has topped £20bn.

October was exceptionally good, according to the seasonally adjusted figures, with 2.8m visitors, 10 per cent more than in October 2012. They spent £1.7bn, 26 per cent higher than the previous year.

Visitors in December spent £1.7bn, 13 per cent more than in the same month of 2012.

The December figures are all the more unusual because the number of visits that month was 2 per cent down, to 2.4m. North Americans in particular stayed away, possibly as a result of the US government shutdown.

The last three months of 2013 was consistently strong for UK tourism. Spending over the period was 16 per cent up on the fourth quarter of 2012, and visitor numbers were up 6 per cent.

Sandie Dawe, chief executive of VisitBritain, the government tourism agency, said: “Not only have we managed to surpass the £20bn barrier for the very first time, but we’ve broken records for holidaymakers and visitors from key growth markets such as China and South Korea.”

The UK is not alone in experiencing a tourism uplift. Turkey, France, Spain and Ireland have all had a good 2013, although the European tourism market is under threat from emerging markets because of regulation and lower standards.

Britons are also showing an increased appetite for travelling abroad. International trips by UK residents grew 3 per cent in 2013 and they spent £34.6bn, up 7 per cent on 2012.

However, the last quarter saw a 2 per cent fall in the number of Britons going abroad compared with the last three months of 2012.

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