Stay-at-home Britons help stem slide in London visitors


Big falls in international business visitors to London as well as huge drops in US and Japanese tourist numbers were recorded last year as the global economic crisis began to take hold.

But potentially serious damage to the capital’s economy was offset by a big increase in Britons heading there for work or pleasure, figures from Visit London revealed today.

The boost from stay-in-the-UK trippers meant that London had just over 26 million visitors, spending £10.5bn, an increase of 2% and 1% respectively. But those totals mask a 3.6% drop in overseas visitors, including a decline of a third in US and Japanese tourists in the last three months of the year.

The lifeline came from an 11.5% annual increase in visitors from other parts of Britain. Those 11.3m people spent an estimated £2.4bn, 7% up on the previous year. There is no hint about how things are going this year, Visit London says .

Stripping out business visitors from the totals, the United States remained the capital’s biggest source of international tourists, but the 1.92m total over the 12 months was down 18% on 2007 and their £1.34bn spending was down 15%. Japanese visitors were down 24% in numbers and spending, to 168,000 and £102m.

Yet the growing strength of the euro against the pound helped keep overall overseas tourist numbers steady, 6.59m spending £3.16bn, a rise of 1% in both cases. Italian tourists increased by 18% and their spending by 33%, while French numbers, at 1.41m the second-largest market, rose by 5%, spending by 9%. There were 11% fewer German visitors but their spending was up 8%. Spanish visitors declined in volume and value, a sign of Spain’s own recession.

Rising numbers of holidaymakers from Australia, Canada and Saudi Arabia helped bring some gloss to the figures. But there are uncertainties this year as the recession and swine flu threaten visitor numbers.

Visit London has launched a big new marketing and advertising campaign, Only in London, to boost visitors from home and abroad, mixing heritage and quirky attractions that, it suggests, make the capital unique. Thus attractions such as London Zoo and the British Museum are promoted along with the opportunity to recreate the Beatles album cover on Abbey Road.

The mayor, Boris Johnson, said London “is weathering the downturn well and our investment in marketing our great city at home and abroad is paying off. I am extremely confident our latest innovative campaign will reap further rewards as tourists realise London has such a great variety of things to do, to see and to visit and because of the great exchange rate it’s unbeatable value too.”