Inbound travel to the UK surged in the first quarter of 2017, and forward bookings for the summer are strong, new figures show.
Data from VisitBritain and ForwardKeys – which analyses flight bookings – were revealed to delegates at the aviation summit, during the British Hospitality Association Summit in London yesterday.
Sally Balcombe (pictured), VisitBritain chief executive, said: “We had a record-breaking 2016 and forecasts for 2017 are strong.
“For the first three months of 2017, we have seen a surge in bookings, with visits up 7% year-on-year and spend up 11%.
“Forward bookings look good…and there is growth from all regions apart from the Middle East.”
Long-haul markets are performing well, with North America up 17% and the Rest of the World up 18%.
Ged Brown, airports divisional director at ForwardKeys, also painted a positive picture.
He said the UK enjoys Europe’s biggest share of long-haul arrivals (29%), and is seeing the fifth fastest growth rate in Europe – up 18% year-on-year.
Brown highlighted the buoyant inbound performance from ‘BRIC’ nations: Brazil, Russia, India and China, where the UK is outperforming the growth rates seen across Europe.
Balcombe highlighted how VisitBritain offers a return on investment of 23:1 but said the agency is massively out-spent by other national tourist boards which get far larger government grants.
“With the new industrial strategy, there is a need for tourism to be at the centre,” she said.
“It is a really challenging time for us – Europe is important and this sector is important.”
Karen Dee, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, commented: “A healthy tourism industry relies on a healthy aviation industry, as 70% of visitors come by air.
“There are challenges and opportunities as we leave the EU, and we want a good Brexit deal and a cut in Air Passenger Duty.”