Britain sets foreign-visitor record

Chinese tourists walk past the Palace of Westminster and the Queen Elizabeth Tower in London. (AP Photo)

LONDON: Britain received a record number of foreign visitors in the second quarter of 2017, thanks in part to the weak pound, and the number of Britons making trips abroad reached an all-time high for the same time of year, official figures showed on Friday.

Some 10.75 million foreigners visited Britain for tourism or other purposes between April and June, 8% more than in the same period in 2016 and the most for any calendar quarter since records began in 1980, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

Britons made 19.09 million overseas trips during the same period, 1% more than in 2016 and an all-time high for the time of year, though less than in the peak July-September period that covers school summer holidays.

The fall of the pound against the US dollar and the euro since last year’s vote to leave the European Union has made Britain a cheaper place for foreign visitors.

There was a 20% increase in tourism — which accounts for just under half of visits — while business trips fell by 4% and those to see family and friends were little changed.

An ONS statistician said there was no evidence in the data that militant attacks in London and Manchester earlier in the year had deterred visitors.

Visits from North America were 29% higher than in 2016 at 1.47 million, though the number of visitors from Europe was up a much more modest 3% at 7.73 million.

Howard Archer, an economist with the consultancy EY ITEM Club, said North American visits had been “clearly buoyed” by the pound’s weakness against the dollar.

The tourism promotion agency VisitBritain said it had revised up its forecasts for visitor numbers this year, and that flight bookings pointed to a 9% rise in visitors for the July-September period.

“This continued growth demonstrates the industry’s increasing importance as a key driver of economic growth,” said Patricia Yates, VisitBritain’s director.

Overall, visitors to Britain spent 6.23 billion pounds ($8.03 billion) in the three months to June, 8% more than in 2016, while Britons’ spending abroad increased by 2% to 11.25 billion pounds.

Britons made fewer trips to North America and western Europe, while visits to eastern Europe and other parts of the world rose.

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