• 20 May 2013

– BRIC markets find appeal in cities and towns across Britain –

In what was a memorable year for Britain, new analysis(1) released by the national tourism agency show that 2012 continued the rise in the number of overseas visitors looking to experience the very best of what Britain has to offer.

Unsurprisingly, London was the star performer in a year in which it became the first city to ever host three modern Olympics. A year of celebrations, which included the Diamond Jubilee and the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, provided visitors with a myriad of activities to enjoy alongside the capital’s already impressive tourist offer, with nearly 15.5 million visitors from around the world came to London in 2012. This accounted for half of all visits to the UK and reconfirmed London’s status as one of the most visited cities on the planet.

Scotland’s two biggest cities see the Scots well represented. Edinburgh – home to more Michelin starred restaurants than any other part of the UK outside London – was in second place on the table with 1.3 million visits, while Glasgow (521,000) at sixth gained nearly 10% more visits compared to 2011. Inverness (213,000) and Aberdeen (208,000) also feature in the Top 20 most visited destinations.

South of Hadrian’s Wall, Manchester (932,000) maintained its solid overseas visitor numbers, followed by Birmingham (713,000) and then a resurgent Liverpool (550,000), who have visitor numbers last witnessed when it was European City of Culture. In the battle of Oxbridge, Oxford (430,000) repeated its feat in this year’s Boat Race by staying ahead of Cambridge (398,000), although a 3% rise in visits means Cambridge has narrowed the gap to just 32,000 since 2011 and means it just pips Bristol (395,000).

Along with Team GB, the Olympic year saw Brighton Hove witness a record haul with 345,000 international visitors heading to the laid-back south coast beach front also famed for its superb shopping, vibrant nightlife and eclectic royal palace. The Royal County of Berkshire rounds out the Top 20 table, with Reading (196,000) heralding its return to the upper echelons by overtaking Windsor (182,000).

Across in Wales, Cardiff (301,000) has moved up the leader board, with 41,000 more visits to the Welsh capital than in 2010. Bragging rights with neighbours Swansea (67,000) will undoubtedly intensify as Cardiff City get set to play in the Barclays Premier League for the first time next season.

Meanwhile, the Dorset town of Bournemouth (178,000) will be hoping that its healthy gains in 2012 can be replicated again this year. The coastal retreat welcomed a 38% increase in overseas visits last year, propelling it up the table and only just being edged out from returning to the Top 20, something it hasn’t been in since 2000. Elsewhere, Penzance welcomed a 68% rise in visits from 2011, and Ipswich was up 43%.

As well as providing overall visitor numbers, analysis of the 2012 figures also provides useful insight on the appeal of Britain’s regions, towns and cities among key inbound markets.

2012 proved to be a good year from the highly sort after BRIC markets.(2) There was a 30% rise in the number of BRIC visits to Scotland (82,000 overall). Of this, Edinburgh witnessed a 10% rise and Glasgow 54%. Wales saw an 18% rise from the BRICs and South West England welcomed a 12% increase. London recorded a 4% rise, although this still equated to a substantial number of visits (706,000).

Remaining the top market, nearly double the amount of visitors from the US (198,000) went to Edinburgh than those from France (101,000), this despite a 26% increase in the number of French visiting the Scottish capital. Glasgow saw a 31% rise in visits from the US.

The latest data also revealed:

  • 2012 saw more overseas visitors head to Stirling (+22%), Harrogate (+22%) and Salisbury (+10%).
  • An incredible 87% rise in the number of Germans who stayed in Bournemouth.
  • Aberdeen attracts more Norwegian visitors and in York it’s Australians who are fans.
  • Manchester had a 10% rise from the number of Germans heading to the north west city, while there was also a 27% increase from Poland and 66% visits from The Netherlands.
  • Around double the amount from Ireland pop across to Liverpool than there are those arriving from Spain (the 2nd most frequent visitors to the city). The Irish are also the number one guests in Manchester, Birmingham and Newcastle.
  • There was a 25% increase in the number of US visitors exploring the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bath.

Patricia Yates, Director of Strategy Communications at VisitBritain said: “Last year we welcomed 31 million overseas visitors and hope to attract one million more in 2013. We’re particularly encouraged by the continued strong growth from the influential BRIC markets and their desire to visit locations across the UK. These tourists are attracted by Britain’s rich culture and heritage, the vibrancy of our towns and cities and the beauty of our countryside, something we have in abundance.

“2012 has certainly helped change the world’s perceptions of Britain, and there is real potential for us to attract 40 million international visitors a year by 2020, an achievement which will mean more visitors are travelling to London and beyond. However, we face intense competition from other destinations eager to attract more visitors. That means we need to work better and smarter if we are to secure a long-term legacy for tourism and the country.”

Minister for Tourism Hugh Robertson said: “We showcased the very best of Britain last year encouraging overseas visitors to come and see for themselves what our great country has to offer. I am encouraged that destinations across Britain have seen visitor numbers rise and we will do all we can to keep up that momentum. Tourism spend is up and I am confident that the industry can continue to grow and increase its contribution to the economy further.”

Notes to Editors:

  1. Analysis of the Office for National Statistics International Passenger Survey. Further details are available on the VisitBritain website. Go to:
  2. The BRIC markets are Brazil, Russia, India China.
  3. Data in the IPS analysis is ‘as reported’ by overseas visitors. Visitors do not provide a post code and simply state which town/city they stayed in. Large urban areas are therefore not separated (e.g. London equates to Greater London).
  4. In 2012 Britain achieved solid overall results with a record total spend (£18.6bn, a 4% rise from 2011) and attracted 31 million visitors (a 1% rise).
  5. France is the largest market to visit Britain, with 3.8 million French crossing the Channel last year. Visitors from the US were by far the biggest market by value, spending £2.4 billion.
  6. By 2020, VisitBritain believes the UK could welcome 40 million overseas visitors a year, contributing £31.5 billion annually to the economy.
  7. The top 50 towns and cities visited in 2012 can be seen in the attached image.