Figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that 32.89m overseas visitors travelled to the UK in 2013, 6 per cent more than in 2012. They spent a total of £21bn, up 13 per cent from 2012 and the highest 12 month spend on record.
Holiday visits hit record levels, up 7 per cent on 2012 and 6 per cent higher than the previous record, set in 2011. Business visits and visits to friends or relatives reached their highest levels since 2008, up 7 per cent and 5 per cent respectively on 2012 levels.
There was growth in visits from all regions, although this was topped by visits from the ‘rest of the world’ markets outside of European and North America, which increased by 10 per cent compared to 2012.
Visits from North America were up 1 per cent year-on-year, while visits from the EU15 were up 5 per cent and visits from other EU markets were up 15 per cent compared to 2012.
VisitBritain welcomed the results, heralding them as proof that the government-funded GREAT campaign is having a positive impact on UK tourism.
Sandie Dawe, chief executive at VisitBritain 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.
“Our international tourists are starting to see and do more across the country, which tells us that our GREAT campaign is not only working, but influencing travel too.”
She added that inbound tourism had 'clear' financial benefits for the UK, with every pound invested in tourism resulting in a £19 visitor spend.
Tourism minister Helen Grant, also pointed to the 'significant contribution' that tourism is making to the UK’s economic recovery.
“We will continue to support the sector and promote Britain to the world as a great place to visit and do business with,” she said.
Looking to 2014
Mike Saul, head of Hospitality and Leisure at Barclays, said the surge in visits and spend is helping drive recovery for the UK hospitality industry, which had seen ‘a big pick up’ in forward bookings so far this year.
“Similarly, as confidence returns to the UK, holidaymakers are committing themselves to more discretionary spend with the short break holiday a favoured choice,” he said.
“Add to that an upsurge in more high-end spend that we are seeing and operators in the sector are more optimistic for the year ahead.”