Holiday exodus costs Britain pounds 4.5bn a year

Travel survey: Visits to UK fail to counter growth in departures as new poll reveals quirkier side of foreigners' vacation habits
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If you got stuck behind a tourist's camper-van or motorbike during the summer, the chances are that it belonged to Germans.

Equally, the foreign visitor struggling along the high street under the weightiest purchases might have been from Iceland, of all places, as they, on average, spent more each day of their stay than any other nationality.

These little known facts are a few of the quirkier findings highlighted in Travel Trends, a government publication which for the first time gives a comprehensive picture of tourism to and from the UK.

The survey, the result of more than 220,000 interviews with British and foreign visitors entering and leaving the country, has a more serious intent, primarily to provide information on income and expenditure for the balance of payments accounts.

The bad news for the Exchequer is that Britons travelling abroad spend pounds 4.5bn more while away than their foreign counterparts do while here, pounds 14.5bn as opposed to pounds 9.92bn.

It has not always been so, however. Prior to 1981 the reverse had been the case, though since then the gap in expenditure has widened, mirroring the growing number of Britons going abroad.

The number of visits overseas by Britons now outstrips those by foreigners to Britain by nearly two to one, 40 million visits abroad compared to 21 million coming here.

However, the fact that we tend to spend on average pounds 363 each time, while our foreign counterparts fork out pounds 467, explains why the gap in expenditure is considerably less than the number of visits might suggest.

The biggest spenders from abroad, after the Icelanders, at pounds 116 a day on average, were from Luxembourg, Japan or the Middle East, at more than pounds 80 daily. New Zealanders spent the least, just pounds 29.40.

Middle-aged men coming here were also the biggest spenders, at pounds 93 each day, on average, while women in the same age-group parted with only pounds 54.

Similarly, British women travelling abroad tended to be less profligate with their cash, spending an average of pounds 10 less each day than men, a gap that widened with age.

That cash was most likely to be spent in France or Spain, by far the most popular destinations for Britons, though the greatest expenditure per visit tended to be in Japan, New Zealand or Australia, where stays were likely to be longer.

Turkey is the strongest new destination for British visitors, with the numbers doubling between 1992 and 1994, the latest year for which figures are available, from 329,000 to 721,000.

In the opposite direction, those from eastern Europe represented a new growth area for visitors here, their expenditure increasing three-fold from pounds 100m to pounds 300m in the same two years.

But the largest group, almost 3 million in 1994 and, as a result, the biggest spender at a total of pounds 1.8bn, was from the US. As ever the most popular destination was London, while the least popular resort was the Isle of Wight.

tTravel Trends; HMSO; PO Box 276, London SW8 5DT; pounds 25.

tThousands of holidaymakers could face changes to their foreign flights and hotels next summer because of a slump in all-inclusive tour bookings.

Bookings are 30 per cent down on last year and Thomson, the UK's biggest holiday company, confirmed yesterday that it is cutting the number of its holidays. People whose travel arrangements are altered due to cuts in flights and hotel rooms will be compensated.

"There is no single resort that is going to be dropped but where we have, say, three flights a day to a resort, we may cut that down two," a Thomson spokesman said. ( Graphic omitted )