The Big Question: Who visits Britain, and where do Britons go when they travel?

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What happened after the London bombings?

Predictably, visits to the UK in general and London in particular fell in the months after the attacks, according to figures released yesterday by the Office for National Statistics. In the first two quarters of 2005, visits to the capital by overseas residents rose by 13 per cent compared with the previous year.

Seasonally adjusted statistics show that in the three months after the bombings, visits declined by 3.7 per cent in comparison with the same period in 2004, although the dip slowed in the last quarter, with a fall year-on-year of 1.2 per cent. Overall, visits to the UK rose by 13 per cent in the quarter before the attacks, but then fell to a 4.2 per cent year-on-increase in the three months afterwards.

Has the past year as a whole been bad for tourism?

Far from it; both the number of visits to the UK and spending by tourists when they were here reached record levels. Overseas residents made 30 million visits to the UK 2005 - 2.2 million more than in 2004. While here, they spent £14.2bn - an increase of 6 per cent on the previous year. More importantly, the number of visits and spending by overseas visitors also rose above the peak of 1998, indicating that the drop caused by the September 11 attacks in 2001 may finally be over.

Who comes to the UK as a tourist?

Americans still make the most visits, with 3.4 million last year, followed by tourists from France (3.32 million visits) and Germany (3.29 million visits). But an interesting new phenomenon is the massive growth in visitors from the latest EU accession states. For the first time, Poland was included in the top 10 league of nations from which overseas visitors visited the UK last year. Visitor numbers from Poland doubled between 2004 and 2005 and have quadrupled since 2001.

Who are the big spenders?

In total figures, it is the Americans; they blew £2.4bn here last year and account for 16 per cent of all the money spent by tourists. The average overseas visitor stays eight nights in the UK and spends £57 per day.

On a spend-per-day basis, the average American shells out £90.

Visitors from Iceland spend the most, at £126 per day, while those from Poland and Jamaica spend the least at £19 a day, reflecting the fact that most of them stay with friends and family.

What about British tourists abroad?

Record numbers of trips were made from the UK to overseas countries last year. There were 64.4 million trips - an increase of 4 per cent on the previous year.

British travellers spent £32.2bn while abroad - an all-time high. Our favourite destination was Europe, accounting for four-fifths of all visits, with Spain, as ever, at the top (13.8 million trips).

Visits to America, which had declined since the attacks of 2001, increased by 2 per cent in 2005 to 4.2 million. Trips to Poland also doubled, although Polish nationals accounted for 40 per cent of those travelling from Britain.

So is the picture completely rosy?

The one fly in the ointment is our all-consuming love of travel, which means that Britons spend far more abroad than overseas visitors purchase here. That deficit has increased year on year and now stands at a record £18bn.