Cold, wet and gridlocked, but still they come

Tourist chief wants budget boost as record numbers flock to Britain

You may be forgiven for thinking that the incessant rain, endless queues at passport control and gridlock on the roads might have been enough to put people off coming to Britain. Not a bit of it. Holidaymakers are arriving in record numbers – and spending more than ever.

The foreign invasion began around the time of the Royal Wedding in April 2011, and has been growing ever since. In the 12 months since William and Kate tied the knot, 12.3 million people came on holiday to Britain, up three per cent year-on-year. They spent more too, up six per cent to £18.2bn.

And despite grim warnings that bad weather and Olympics chaos would deter tourists, in the first five months of 2012, 4.58 million flew in, up seven per cent on last year. As well as more visitors from Europe, there were sharp rises in people coming to the United Kingdom from Thailand, South Korea, Brazil, South Africa and India.

A survey last year showed that most visitors would not be put off by the weather, and most disagreed that Britain is "always wet and foggy".

Tourism chiefs are so buoyed by the results that they are planning to ask the Chancellor, George Osborne, to increase their global marketing budget, arguing that the £20 of public money it costs to attract a visitor, generates £300 in taxes for the Treasury.

Dame Judi Dench, Boris Becker and Jamie Oliver are fronting the GREAT publicity drive, personally backed by David Cameron, which aims to cash in on the worldwide TV exposure that Britain is enjoying this year.

For the first time, £50m worth of public funding has been matched pound-for-pound by money from airlines, hotels and tourist attractions to create a £100m fund to spend over four years.

But Christopher Rodrigues, chairman of VisitBritain, says that aside from the campaign, his agency is being starved of cash. Budget cuts imposed by the Labour government and the coalition have left his budget "cut to the bone". From 2007 to 2015 it has fallen from £37m to £21m.

He told The Independent on Sunday: "Leisure is the real measure and it is now at record levels. We can get a long-haul customer to come here for £20 of taxpayer money, and a similar amount of industry money. We have more industry funding offered to us than we have money to match."

A review of the agency's plans after the Olympic Games is to include making clear to the Treasury that it needs more money.

"If we had double the resources in marketing, we could get that matched. The thing that this industry does better than anybody else is provide jobs. We are showing economic growth. Every £40,000 spent by tourists in this market is another job at a time when we need jobs, especially for young people.

"We face the world with a £21m budget to work in 20 markets. It is difficult to influence the Chinese with £1m. One of the issues... my board and I are committed to make clear to government is that we know how to do partnership."

As soon as the Paralympic Games finish on 9 September, VisitBritain will launch a marketing campaign featuring "really hard-nosed offers" matching flights at "killer prices" with hotel bargains. "We are saying, now come and visit yourself."

Mr Rodrigues said: "Usually in a year of the Games, inbound tourism drops, and we seem to have beaten that bogey. Other Games have had the publicity but they haven't got the bums on seats and the heads in beds to follow.

"We have got the assets. This country has some pretty darn fine countryside, great culture, and food that is now a whole lot better. This industry is never again going to enjoy the coverage it will receive in the next seven weeks. If not now, when? If not us, who? This is game on."

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