The recession caused the number of visitors to the United Kingdom to fall by 13 percent in the first three months of 2009, although spending by tourists has held up at year-ago levels, the national tourism office said Thursday.

In the first quarter of this year, the International Passenger Survey said that overseas residents made 6.3 million visits to the United Kingdom, the VisitBritain agency said.

Despite the drop, visitors’ spending of 3.1 billion pounds matched the year-ago level, it said.

Visitor numbers from other European Union countries fell by 7 percent in the first quarter, visitors from North America declined by 21 percent and visitors from non-EU European countries dropped by 29 percent, the report said.

Numbers from the rest of the world were down 17 percent, the agency said.

“The figures illustrate the continuing challenges of maintaining Britain’s popularity as a destination in the face of the global economic downturn and increasing competition from rival destinations,” said Sandie Dawe, the ageny’s chief executive.

“Although these are traditionally lower months for inbound tourism, we know that a weak pound is not sufficient in itself to offset the full impact of the recession on international travel.”