Americans lead the invasion of Britain

Bumper year for tourism: Favourable exchange rates a major factor in big increase in visitors to the UK
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American tourists are likely to make 1995 a bumper year for the British tourism industry, according to new figures released yesterday.

Government estimates show that the United Kingdom had 8.15 million overseas visitors in the first five months of this year, an 11 per cent increase on the figure for January-May 1994 and they spent pounds 3.77bn - 17 per cent more than in the same period last year.

Business and leisure travellers are spending more than in 1994, when overseas visitors spent more than pounds 9.8bn, making it a record year.

Figures published by the Central Statistical Office for the five months to the end of May - which were based on interviews with 220,000 people as they come into the country - indicate that Britain's balance of payments in tourism is also improving.

During the first three months of 1994 there was a deficit of pounds 720m as Britons spent more on trips abroad than was spent by visitors to this country. However, the first three months of 1995 saw the deficit reduced to pounds 400m.

Figures from January to April showed that 6.2 million people came to Britain and spent pounds 2.8bn while they were here. Every month so far this year has beaten the same period last year - which was a record year for visitors, when 21 million tourists visited the UK.

The British Tourist Authority said accommodation in London was practically full, with even the Dorchester Hotel reporting 90 per cent of its rooms occupied. Regional tourist centres are also reporting high numbers of visitors.

Americans are at the fore of the tourist invasion, with more than 80 per cent of the members of the American Society of Travel Agents saying that Britain is now the favoured long-haul destination for their customers.

Although Americans are flocking to the British Isles, drawn by favourable currency rates and a common language, they are being joined by growing numbers of Japanese, French, Germans and Dutch. The Channel tunnel is also helping to draw in large numbers of visitors from the Continent.

But Kathy Chellew, spokeswoman for the British Tourist Authority, said the increase in foreign tourists coming to Britain was not solely a result of a depreciating currency. Tightly focused marketing also helped. Britain is now sold to the Americans as a land rich in heritage, while the Germans are invited to enjoy our landscapes.

"There is also a growing world-wide interest in Britain especially from the French, where everything English is considered fashionable and chic," Ms Chellew said.

Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for National Heritage, also said the British culture was attracting foreign visitors.

She added: "Our great cultural and heritage traditions are clearly a magnet for visitors. These figures are very encouraging and show that Britain is an increasingly attractive place to visit."