BRITAIN’S future economic strength may well depend on progressive post-Brexit government policy but one of the economy’s great pillars of strength already offers encouraging reassurance for this new era.
With beautiful countryside and sweeping coastlines, historic architecture and vibrant cities to tempt visitors, the country’s national tourism agency has attracted greater tourism spend in the last 12 months than it ever has before.
According to figures published today by VisitBritain, the agency’s work saw international visitors spent an extra £800m across Britain in the last year, while domestic visitors spent an additional £97.2m in England alone.
An up to date regional breakdown of tourism performance is not yet available, but in the first quarter of the year Yorkshire enjoyed 259,000 international visits - up four per cent on the same period in 2015, and some 3.2 million domestic visits between January and May.
The county’s tourism chief Sir Gary Verity cited the Tour de Yorkshire as a key driver of recent tourism growth.
VisitBritain’s figures, announced today at the launch of the agency’s annual review, show there were more visits to Britain in July than ever before - up two per cent to 3.8 million compared to the same month last year, with spend up four per cent to £2.5bn.
It follows a record-breaking 2015 when there was a record 36.1 million inbound visits to Britain and spend of £22.1bn.
Domestic visitors also spent more in England last year than ever before, with £19.6bn spent by Brits on overnight trips, up eight per cent on 2014.
In total, tourism is worth £127bn to the UK economy.
Christopher Rodrigues, chairman of the British Tourist Authority, said: “Tourism is a shining star in an uncertain world. As our fourth biggest service export, and one of our fastest growing sectors, tourism’s importance as a key economic driver and job creator is clear.
“While the talk is of trade deals with new markets, tourism is already leading the way, competing strongly in our most valuable source markets such as the US and in markets that are crucial for our future including China.”
Last year, visitors from the US, Britain’s most valuable market, spent £3bn in Britain for the first time and visits from China, the world’s largest outbound market, increased by 46 per cent, with spend up 18 per cent.
Tourism Minister Tracey Crouch said: “Our tourism strategy is working and it is fantastic news that so many overseas and domestic visitors are exploring the stunning countryside, historic buildings and vibrant culture that our country has to offer.”
Sir Gary, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, hailed the “terrific” national figures, adding: “Although we await a breakdown to see how this translates for Yorkshire, anecdotally businesses have told us they’ve had a hugely busy summer. Events like the Tour de Yorkshire have attracted crowds of millions and beamed Yorkshire into homes in 178 countries across the world.
“TV dramas like The Yorkshire Vet and Victoria have also put the county under the spotlight while Yorkshire has also seen some major investment this year. In the last few months the multi-million pound Alpamare Waterpark has opened up in Scarborough while the Open Air Theatre has seen international superstars take to the stage, all of which is fantastic in terms of raising Scarborough and Yorkshire’s profile.”
INQUIRY INTO RURAL TOURISM
Whilst it is not clear where tourists spent their money in Britain, there are concerns about how much rural parts of the country are benefiting.
Written evidence has been gathered for a parliamentary inquiry into the role of tourism in supporting rural growth in England and a series of hearings will be held next month by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee.
Committee member, Richmond MP Rishi Sunak, said: “I think we are doing a great job in bringing visitors to this country with London and our regional cities like Edinburgh, York and Oxford leading the way.
“But I want to see the British countryside getting a larger slice of this cake. In many parts of rural Britain, including my constituency, tourism is a key, major element of the economy.”
The Conservative MP said that while many people in the UK were familiar with the attractiveness of rural France, Italy, Spain and even the US, he was not sure that the residents of those countries would be as aware of the delights of the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors.
“Welcome to Yorkshire has done and is doing a great job but I think we can do even better and that’s why I have welcomed the EFRA’s select committee’s forthcoming enquiry into rural tourism,” Mr Sunak said.