VisitBritain launched its 2012 annual review, outlining what it was able to achieve for tourism and the U.K. economy in 2012 and how it will build on 2013 and beyond. Inbound tourism is one of Britain’s business great success stories. It is the nation’s third-biggest earner of foreign exchange -- during the past year it has contributed £18.7 billion ($30 billion) to Britain’s economy, a 5 percent rise in nominal terms and a record. In six of the past 12 months, Britain has welcomed a record number of holiday visitors from overseas, meaning around 12 million international visitors have chosen Britain as a holiday destination.
A central focus of the year was to use the Olympic Games to generate worldwide coverage of Britain’s attractions, a strategy that has resulted in 14,000 positive print and broadcast stories about the U.K. in the world’s media in the first six months of this financial year, the equivalent of over £1.5 billion ($2.4 billion) in advertising. VisitBritain’s work as an organization overseas has also contributed £503 million ($807 million) to the U.K. economy in 2011-12, while its match-funded marketing with partners has resulted in additional bookings worth £89 million ($143 million).
At a time when Britain needs growth, international tourism remains buoyant -- it has increased by 3 percent in volume and 8 percent in value since May 2010, with the number of people crossing international borders set to pass the 1 billion mark for the first time this year. Tourism -- both domestic and international -- is the country’s fifth-largest employer, supporting 2.6 million jobs and contributing £115 billion ($184 billion) to the economy and in the past two years tourism has accounted for a third of all new employment in the U.K.
“This country’s tourism offer is about much more than growth in visitor numbers,” said Christopher Rodrigues, the chairman of VisitBritain. “Tourism offers not just jobs but careers for life. It employs young people who are now in training to become ambassadors for Britain, welcoming visitors to their hotels, attractions and shops -- taking on the mantle of the Games Makers.
“Tourism is also a key contributor to a country's image overseas -- it influences not just whether people come for a week’s holiday but also what they think of us as a nation, whether they choose to invest in British business and whether they relocate their families to live here and their companies to operate here. Tourism is soft power in action,” he said.
“2012 has shown just what Britain can offer. It has re-energized our image overseas and triggered the desire to visit our country. Our job now is to turn aspiration into action. And the best way to do that is to continue the exceptional levels of collaboration between the industry, the public sector and the government that we saw in 2012. We also need to keep the extraordinary spirit of the Games Makers alive in our visitor welcome.”
Visitor figures this year have offered a good foundation for growth, and VisitBritain expects that despite displacement concerns at the beginning of the year, inbound tourism in 2012 will show growth in the value of visits by up to 6 percent.
2013 visitor numbers are inevitably uncertain. The U.S. and Europe remain the biggest source of visitors but face the fiscal cliff and continuing Eurozone uncertainty, respectively. VisitBritain’s best estimate is that the volume of international tourism to Britain will grow by 3 percent, meaning almost one million extra visitors will come to the U.K. in 2013. And their spend is forecast to reach £19 billion ($30 billion) for the first time, representing growth of 2.5 percent.
The ONS estimates there were 680,000 visits from overseas in July, August and September which were primarily due to, or involved attending an official ticketed event at the Games. In total these visitors spent around £920 million ($1.48 billion), an average spend of £1,350 ($2,165), double the average visitor spend. And visitors during this period felt they had been warmly welcomed and would recommend a holiday in Britain. Some 83 percent of departing overseas visitors during July-September reported they had felt either “very” or “extremely” welcome in Britain (a statistically significant increase on 79 percent reporting this in the third quarter of 2011).
Some 85 percent of visitors said they were now “very” or “extremely” likely to recommend a holiday in Britain to their friends and family -- and assuming that this proportion of visitors do recommend visiting Britain for a holiday to just one friend or relative, that would be 7.5 million personal recommendations for Britain.