By Ben Griffin, founder of Great Escapes Wales
Breaking all previous records, 10 million overseas visitors came to the UK in just the first four months of the year. This means that we are well on track to see the 6% rise in visitors for 2015 as predicted by the UK’s tourism board.
These tourists are a vital part of our economy. It may come as a surprise to those busy complaining about the British weather, but tourism is the UK’s third highest export earner after finance and pharmaceuticals. In fact, tourists spend over £21 billion, contribute more than £3 billion to the Exchequer, and are responsible for 9% of the country’s GDP each year.
Tourist spending power means that now just under one in ten people in Britain are employed in a job that is either directly or indirectly supported by tourism. Tourism has been the fastest growing sector in employment terms since 2010, at a rate of about 4.7% each year. This trend looks set to continue, representing the creation of another 3.7 million jobs in the next ten years, according to a report from Deloitte. Growth in tourism is even outpacing the growth of the UK economy as a whole.
These statistics are a reminder that Britain is an international tourism powerhouse that is still growing strong. The UK is the fifth most competitive tourist destination in the world, an improvement of two places on 2013 and a fact we should be proud of. Tourists only spend more money in China, the USA and Germany than they do in the UK, despite an exchange rate that can be hard to handle for those working outside the US and the EU.
London, of course, takes the lion’s share of the 34 million plus overseas visitors that come to Britain each year, with 53% of tourist spending taking place in the capital. But tourism has a vital role to play in job creation for parts of the country that have otherwise sometimes found it difficult to develop new business, such as northern England, rural Scotland and Wales. The British Museum welcomes more visitors than any other location in England, whilst Edinburgh Castle is the most popular spot in Scotland and the Millennium Centre is the biggest draw in Wales.
Britain’s ‘brand’ – our attractiveness to overseas visitors around the world as determined by the experts – is booming thanks to our rich culture, historic monuments and scintillating cities. High profile royal events such as the birth of Prince George are popular with both domestic and international tourists, while royal buildings such as Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London pull a crowd all year round.
As we look set to break another British tourism record this summer, we should endeavour to celebrate a modern success story. Though our tourism sector thrives largely due to the richness of our past, it has, for many places around the UK, become a major source of employment as we move forward into the future.