Official records confirm garden manager's view that 2016 was a record year for UK tourism

Figures released by the Office of National Statistics reveal what many gardens have been saying anecdotally - that 2016 was a record-breaking year for foreign visitors.

Fabulous 2016 autumn colour at Westonbirt Arboretum. Image: Gerry Fox/Flickr/Creative Commons
Fabulous 2016 autumn colour at Westonbirt Arboretum. Image: Gerry Fox/Flickr/Creative Commons

In 2016 there were a record 37.3 million inbound visits to the UK, up 3% on 2015 with visitors spending £22.2 billion, matching 2015’s record spend.

The figures show strong growth in 2016 from North America, Canada and the US - the latter Britain’s most valuable tourism source market, with 4.3 million visits, up 7% on 2015.

There were a record 25.3 million visits from the EU in 2016, up 4% on 2015.

Comparing growth during the last six years shows there were 7.5 million more visits in 2016 than 2010, an increase of 25%.

The figures back up the view from the ground at gardens and arboreta across the UK that 2016’s mostly good visitor figures were boosted by overseas visitors attracted by the weak pound.

Westonbirt, the National Arboretum, had 50 per cent more visitors than 2015 and its best autumn since reliable records began 20 years ago. Paul Cody, head of visitor attractions at the 15,000-tree site in Tetbury, Gloucestershire, told Horticulture Week last year the arboretum had seen more Japanese and Chinese visitors in 2016.

The National Trust recorded a total of 24.3 million visitors in 2016 - a rise of 9% on 2015, and also anecdotally reported more visitors from abroad.

VisitBritain chief executive Sally Balcombe said: "The strong growth in inbound visits demonstrates British tourism's continued ability to compete for international visitors and deliver economic growth across our nations and regions.

"We must seize the opportunity to build on this, boosting visitor spending by driving home the message of welcome and value particularly in our high spending markets such as China and the US and the valuable European market."

The figures show a boost in holiday visits to the UK towards the end of 2016 with a record 3.2 million visits from October to December, up 11% on the same period in 2015.

Inbound visits to friends and relatives saw strong growth throughout 2016 with a record-breaking 11.5 million visits, up 10% on 2015. 

Latest flight booking data shows that 2017 is off to a strong start with flight bookings to the UK up 16% for February to April compared to the same period last year.

Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh is one location that has seen a boost to visitors from new flights coming in to the city.

Tourism is worth £127 billion annually to the UK economy, creating jobs and boosting economic growth across its nations and regions.

Tourism minister Tracey Crouch said tourism makes "a significant contribution to the UK economy" and pledged the Government will "continue to support tourism to grow the sector further and promote the UK across the world."


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