Latest figures released on Thursday show that Britain's travel industry has fallen a victim to the deepening recession with declining overseas visits.
The International Passenger Survey, which is the key monitor of international tourism to Britain, indicates that overseas visitors made 32 million visits to Britain last year and spent just over 16.4 billion pounds (23.5 billion U.S. dollars).
This means that before adjusting for inflation, their spending is three percent up on January-December 2007, while the number of visits has fallen by two percent.
According to VisitBritain, Britain's national tourism agency, the figures illustrate the continuing challenges of maintaining Britain's popularity as a destination in the face of the global economic downturn and increasing competition from rival destinations.
"It appears that Britain is not yet enjoying the predicted increase in the number of international visitors because of the fall in sterling. More needs to be done to tell consumers overseas that Britain has never been more affordable and take advantage of partners around the world who are ready to match any public investment pound for pound," it says in a press release.
VisitBritain has planned a 6.5-million-pound marketing campaign for April, which will take advantage of hoteliers and carriers delivering great offers, and remind Britons that holidaying at home supports British jobs. Activity will run chiefly in Europe and the United States alongside a major campaign with British Airways in Asia-Pacific markets.
It believes that ultimately campaigns will help boost visits to the free museums and galleries that are one of Britain's major advantages over rival destinations.
Britain suffered a fall in visitor numbers from all parts of the world in the three-month period to December. Furthermore, there are signs that as migrant workers return home, visits to Britain by their friends and relatives will decline, evidenced by the 15 percent fall in visits from countries joining the European Union since May 2004.
Tourism supports 2.7 million jobs, 200,000 small and medium enterprises and is worth 114 billion pounds, according to an independent report by Deloitte. It is one of the few industries that could show growth with a real opportunity to grow to a 133-billion-pound industry by 2018.
However, although every 40,000 pounds of inbound visitor spending would generate a new full-time job, 114,000 jobs could beat risk during the economic downturn, says VisitBritain.
With the launch on Wednesday of its three-year strategy for inbound tourism, VisitBritain sets its priority for 2009 as working with the industry to encourage Britons to explore their own country and foreigners to visit right now, when the country offers great value following a weakening sterling.
Britain has previously relied on growth from emerging markets in Eastern Europe as well as China, India and Southeast Asia to offset declines in more mature source markets.