Record numbers of overseas visitors came to the UK in April, and spent record amounts of money in shops, hotels and restaurants in fresh evidence of a fillip to tourism from the steep fall in sterling.
But the pound’s decline has left cash-strapped Britons forced to stay at home or cut their spending overseas.
A total of 3.7 million overseas residents visited the UK in April, according to the Office for National Statistics, up 19% compared with the same month last year. They spent £2bn, up 20% on a year earlier.
The number of overseas visits by UK residents edged ahead by 2% to 6.1m, but their spending fell by 1% to £3.5bn.
The falling pound has sent holiday costs soaring for British travellers, with bureaux de change at Gatwick airport giving holidaymakers just €0.98 for £1 this week, while at Southampton airport the rate has fallen to just €0.90. Tour operators Tui and Thomas Cook reported in May that sales and bookings for the summer by British holidaymakers have slowed.
But the figures for visits to the UK were before recent terrorist attacks in London. Merlin Entertainments, the company behind London Eye and Madame Tussauds, said on Tuesday that visitors were staying away from some of the UK’s biggest attractions.
April’s visitor figures were also flattered by this year’s late Easter, although the quarterly data reveal a similar pattern of growth.
The number of inbound visits to the UK for January to April was a record 11.8m, up 11%, with visitors spending £6.2bn, up 14%.
Chinese visitors shopping for bargains in London have helped luxury goods companies, but tourism body Visit Britain said the biggest increase in long-haul passengers has been from North America. So far this year, 16% more Americans and Canadians have visited the UK compared with the same period last year.
Britain’s exit from the EU has also done little to deter visitors from the remaining 27 EU countries. There were a record 8.3m visits to the UK from the EU between January and April this year, up 7% on 2016.
The changing pattern of international travel is also highlighted by figures for outbound trips from the UK. While traditional holiday destinations have been affected by the fall in sterling, there was a 9% jump in visits to the countries that joined the EU after 2004, such as Poland, Latvia and Hungary.
Tourism is worth £127bn annually to the UK economy, said Visit Britain director Patricia Yates.
“Tourism is one of Britain’s most valuable export industries and it is very encouraging to see this continued growth as we head into the peak summer season and beyond,” she said. “We continue to drive home the message of value and welcome globally, particularly in our high spending markets China and the US and the valuable European market.”