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Thursday, 31 October, 2002, 08:26 GMT
UK visitor numbers plummet
London's Millennium Wheel
London's Millennium Wheel is one of the success stories
The number of foreign tourists visiting the UK saw its biggest fall in 20 years in 2001, official figures show.

The impact of September 11 and the foot-and-mouth outbreak contributed to the sharp decline, which saw a 1.5bn drop in the amount spent by visitors to the UK.

Visitor numbers fell 9% to 22.8m.

To make matters worse for the struggling UK tourist trade, the same period saw more Britons than ever choosing to holiday abroad.

This saw the tourism deficit - the difference between the amount spent by visitors to the UK compared to that spent by Britons abroad - rise to a record 14bn.

Workers disinfect a country road
Foot-and-mouth undermined Britain's image overseas
The figures, produced by the Office for National Statistics, show a particularly steep decline in the number of tourists from the US - traditionally the highest-spending visitors to the UK.

An ONS spokesman said the foot-and-mouth outbreak which affected much of rural Britain during the first half of last year had contributed to both the decline in overseas visitors and the increase in Britons holidaying abroad.

Tourism statistics for 2001
Overseas visitors made 22.8m trips to the UK - down 9% on 2000
UK residents made a record 58.3m visits abroad
Visits to the UK from the US fell 13%
The three months after 11 September saw visitor numbers fall 17%
The spokesman said the figures up to August for 2002 had shown some improvement on 2001, but were still below 2000's level.

"We would hope that the travel balance of payments deficit will be lower this year, but it is too early to say."

Ken Kelling, spokesman for the English Tourism Council, which promotes domestic tourism in England, told BBC News Online the figures were disappointing, but that efforts were already underway to attract British and foreign tourists to holiday in the UK.

He said: "Foot-and-mouth and September 11 had a serious impact on tourism here, foot-and-mouth on our image overseas and September 11 on people's willingness to travel.

"Visitors from nearby European countries, Spain, Germany etc, have come back quite quickly, but it has not been so quick with the high-spending US and Japanese markets."

Gatwick departure lounge
More Britons are flying away for their holidays
He said that as well as encouraging foreign tourists to return, it was important to encourage Britons to holiday in their own country.

"We had a stark reminder last year that four out of every five pounds spent on tourism in this country is spent by people who live here."

The figures are released as the British Tourist Authority unveils a long-term plan to increase the UK's income from tourism.

The BTA's "Leading the World to Britain" campaign aims to build on emerging markets in eastern Europe and the Far East, as well as putting more emphasis on the distinctiveness of Britain's three nations, and increasing UK tourism's internet presence.

The BBC's Caroline Bayley
"The biggest decline was in American visitors"
See also:

05 Oct 02 | England
08 Sep 02 | Business
02 Sep 02 | September 11 one year on
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