The global financial meltdown is hitting the number of overseas tourists visiting Britain as well as UK trips abroad, official figures out today showed.

Foreign residents made 2.55 million visits to the UK in September 2008 compared with 2.86 million in the same month last year, the Office for National Statistics said.

Trips abroad made by UK residents also dipped - dropping from nearly 7.52 million in September 2007 to 6.97 million in September 2008. This was the third successive monthly fall.

The total number of visits to the UK by overseas residents for the first nine months of this year is 24.88 million - about the same as the January-September 2007 total.

Visits to the UK from North Americans for the year so far are down 9 per cent as, until recently, US tourists have suffered from an unfavourable pound-dollar exchange rate.

The number of trips made abroad by UK residents in the first nine months of 2008 totalled 54.84 million - 1 per cent up on the same period last year.

Foreign tourists spent less (£1.47bn) during their trips to the UK in September 2008 than they did in September 2007 (£1.62bn), although their overall spending for the year so far is 4 per cent up at £12.53bn.

UK residents spent almost the same during their overseas trips in September 2008 as they did in the same month last year. Their total spending during foreign trips this year (January-September) is £29.38bn - 6 per cent up on the first nine months of last year.

Tom Wright, chief executive of national tourism agency VisitBritain, which has had its Government funding cut, said: "Although these figures are disappointing, they are not unexpected given the economic climate right now."

He went on: "The recent fall in sterling and the approaching Olympics in 2012 give us a tremendous opportunity to promote Britain's attractions as a destination to the world, but the likely onset of the global recession makes our work and the support we receive ever more critical.

"With strong support, Britain's visitor economy can continue to grow strongly over the next few years and compete against ever more destinations investing ever more money to attract the attention of the world's travellers. However, if we do not address the market challenges, the economic impact could be considerable."