The French make up the largest proportion of tourists visiting the UK with numbers growing because of faster journey times between London and Paris, according to research by travel accommodation website, WhereToSleep.co.uk.
French tourists accounted for one in eight of the 14 million foreign visits to the UK over the first half of 2011, the largest proportion of all international tourists visiting the country. French visitor numbers are up 2% year-on-year, but have risen 4% since the new Eurostar terminal at London St Pancras opened in late 2007 which reduced journey times between Paris and London by 20 minutes. German, US, Irish and Dutch tourists completed the top five nationalities visiting Britain.
The research also showed there has been a large rise in the number of Australian visitors to the UK. The number of visitors from Down Under rose 17% year-on-year between 2010 and 2011 as travellers took advantage of the weak pound and strong Australian dollar.
There was also an 8% year-on-year rise in the number of US tourists to the UK in the first half of 2011. Despite the relative strength of the pound against the dollar, the Royal Wedding in April brought many Americans to London.
Radek Dobrolecki, director of WhereToSleep.co.uk, said; “Britain and France’s relationship has a colourful history but the transport hubs of Heathrow, Gatwick and St Pancras mean London and the UK are an extremely attractive option for French tourists. The BBC has called London France’s seventh city because of the large expat community so visiting friends and family will be an incentive for many but there is still a wealth of cultural heritage French tourists come to experience.”
Commenting on the rise of Australian tourists, Dobrolecki continued; “Before the credit crunch, the UK was the place for Australians to make some money before heading home to exploit to exchange rate. Now, the shoe is on the other foot and Australians are using the strong dollar and weak pound to their advantage by holidaying in the UK. Cost is still a crucial factor for tourists all over the world though and we’ve seen a significant rise in travellers booking private holiday rooms or properties in order to avoid expensive hotels and experience something a little different when abroad.”
Confirming the weakness of the UK economy compared to Australia, the number of British visitors travelling Down under fell 11% year-on-year. The biggest annual fall in British tourist visits was felt in Egypt where numbers fell by nearly a quarter (23%), largely due to the Arab Spring and reports of shark attacks at some of the coastal resorts.
The number one destination for British travellers is Spain. Of the 25 million holidays taken by Brits over the first half of 2011 nearly one in five was taken in Spain – a number which has grown nearly 5% year-on-year. France, Ireland and the US and Italy completed the top five travel destinations.
The new terminal at St Pancras doesn’t seem to have provided Brits with the same catalyst to travel across the Channel as the French. The number of Brits visiting France on holiday over the first half of 2011 fell 0.1% compared to the previous year.
The number of British tourists visiting the USA is still healthy despite the pound not being nearly as strong against the dollar compared to its peak in late 2007. And the number of Brits ‘crossing the pond’ has risen nearly 7% year-on-year thanks to the pound growing in strength against the dollar between 2010 and 2011.
“The strength of the pound has been a key factor for many Brits planning their holidays abroad and Australia has fallen down the list of destinations as a result. Good weather and cheap flights have put Spain at the top of Britain’s favourite travel destinations and we’ve also seen a surge in private holiday rents in Spain over 2011 as these are up to 60% cheaper than Spanish hotel rooms on average. Portugal enjoyed the strongest rise in British visitors year-on-year and with more budget flights becoming available from the UK over the next twelve months we expect to see a further rise in Brits choosing the Algarve over the Costas in 2012,” said Dobrolecki.