TOURISM: Britain slips in holiday table as travellers head to China

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Britain attracted a record 25.8 million overseas tourists in 1996 - but still slipped down a place in the world tourism table, preliminary figures out yesterday revealed.

A surge in visitor numbers to China meant the UK dropped from fifth to sixth in the top 10 destinations list announced by the World Tourism Organisation. France was the most visited country, with an estimated 61.5 million foreign tourists in 1996. The United States was second, with Spain third, Italy fourth and China fifth.

Official UK figures, expected soon, will confirm that 1996 outdid the previous record year of 1995, when 24 million overseas visitors flocked to Britain. The WTO estimates showed that the UK earned about pounds 12.5bn from overseas tourists in 1996 - 6.7 per cent up on the 1995 figure. The UK held its fifth spot in the top 10 earners league which was headed by the US, followed by Spain, France and Italy. China, in ninth place, had the biggest earning increase - up 20.2 per cent.

Broken down by continents, Europe topped the visitor table, attracting an estimated 347 million foreign visitors in 1996 - a 3.6 per cent increase on the 1995 total. Tourists visiting Europe spent more than pounds 130bn - nearly 6 per cent more than in 1995.