Business

Number of visitors to UK drops in Olympic month

Volleyball crowd at London 2012
The Olympics ran from 27 July to 12 August

The number of visitors to the UK fell in August, despite the Olympics, but the amount they spent rose.

Overseas residents made three million visits to the UK in the month, down 5% from August 2011, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

This may be due to fears of overcrowding due to the Games and the unseasonally wet weather.

But the amount spent by visitors, which includes their spending on Olympic tickets, was up 9% on August 2011.

The Olympic Games ran from 27 July to 12 August while the Paralympics began on 29 August.

The ONS estimated that 590,000 people in July and August normally resident outside the UK had visited and attended at least one ticketed Olympic or Paralympic event, of whom 420,000 visited primarily for the games.

"Figures from previous Olympics show that it is normal for the host country to experience a dip in international visitors during the Games," said Gillian Edwards, spokesperson for the Association of British Travel Agents (Abta).

"We would expect a tourism boost from the Games to come in the next few years and it will be essential for the UK to continue to market itself at home and overseas to make the most of the opportunities that being a host nation has opened up."

Higher average spend

Some in the travel industry claim potential visitors decided not to visit the UK to avoid any disruption caused by the Games, but the ONS stressed that there may have been other reasons for the fall in visitor numbers.

"[Wet weather] is a very important factor to consider alongside the Olympics and other things like exchange rates, which may have an impact on visits," Roger Smith from the ONS told BBC News.

Between June and August the number of visits was down 7% compared with 2011, but for the year to the end of August the UK had the same number of total visitors as last year.

UK residents made 7.3 million trips abroad in August, which was down 1% from the same month last year.

The ONS figures are taken from interviews with people leaving the UK during the month of August, so exclude visitors who did not leave the country until after the end of the month.

Of the 420,000 people whose main reason for visiting was the Olympics, 260,000 were residents of European countries with 80,000 coming from North America.

The average spend by visitors who attended at least one ticketed event was £1,290 - almost twice as much as those who did not.

"Normal visitors stayed away and the Olympic visitors didn't make up for it," said Miles Quest from the British Hospitality Association, which represents hotels and restaurants.

"But London hotels were very busy in August with over 90% occupancy rates and revenue also up."

'Like Christmas'

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said its figures showed that August had the slowest sales growth they had seen all year.

"It is very clear that overall the Olympics did not deliver any benefits to UK retailers in August," said Richard Dodd from the BRC.

"There were lots of overseas visitors who attended the Games and whose focus was not on shopping."

On Tuesday, the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (Alva) said that the wet summer and Olympics had meant that some London attractions had hosted 60% fewer visitors than usual during the two-week period of the Games.

"For London attractions, the Olympic period was one of their worst trading periods in living memory and for visitor attractions, the summer is their equivalent of retailers' Christmas," said Alva chief executive Bernard Donoghue.

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