Latest News
HomeRegional NewsEuropeForeign tourists come to vritain to eat, shop, sightsee
Big variations in the way overseas travellers enjoy themselves in different parts of Britain

Foreign tourists come to vritain to eat, shop, sightsee

International holidaymakers who come to Britain overwhelmingly spend their time eating out, shopping and sightseeing according to an in-depth survey of visitors habits by VisitBritain.

While a significant proportion of holiday visitors sample the country’s world famous cultural highlights such as theatre performances and historic houses, and admiring our famous buildings and monuments they also indulge in ‘’fun’’ activities such as restaurant dining, retail therapy and socialising with local residents.

This revealing picture emerges in VisitBritain’s detailed new report ‘Activities Undertaken by Visitors from Overseas in Different Parts of Britain.’ It strongly suggests that the key reason why foreign tourists come to Britain is to see the ‘built heritage’ – famous buildings – but they are then entranced by the lavish opportunities to go shopping and the quality of contemporary British food.

The report, one of the most detailed surveys of foreign visitors’ tastes ever conducted, also reveals big variations in what foreign tourists do in different parts of Britain. It shows each area offers a distinctly different kind of experience to overseas tourists. The report suggests the appeal of each area for overseas visitors and the strengths that each area can play to.

To get the most accurate view of what motivates inbound tourists the researchers focused on foreign holidaymakers rather than business travellers and people visiting friends and relations and those that stayed in only one area.

In a boost for Britain’s reputation for good food 79% of overseas holidaymakers said eating in our restaurants was their top activity, followed by shopping for clothes and accessories (67%), sightseeing famous buildings and monuments (64%), shopping for souvenirs (58%) and visiting pubs (52%).Next came visiting a museum (48%), visiting parks and gardens (45%), socialising with locals (39%), visiting religious monuments or buildings (37%), exploring away from where staying (34%), visiting a castle (34%), visiting an historic house (29%) and visiting an art gallery (26%).

Turning to individual areas of Britain in detail, fascinating variations emerged:

North-East: Pub and club heartland
Foreign tourists were lured to the North-East last year particularly by its exuberant pub and club scene, vibrant football and spectacular coastline. A greater proportion of foreign visitors went to the pub (67%) than any other area of England. Some 39% went to a nightclub – three times as many as the national average of 12%. Some 17% of holiday visitors to the North-East went to watch a football match – by far the highest proportion of any area and more than five times the national average of 3%. Number attracted *: 429,000. Spend*: £203 million in 2009.

North-West: Blackpool, football and good cheer
Overseas visitors were attracted to the North-West last year mainly by a potent mix of sociability, soccer and seaside entertainment. A remarkable 61% said they spent time while in the area ‘’socialising with the locals,’’ the highest figure for any area of England and some 57% went to the pub. Significantly, 19% of visitors said they had come for a ’miscellaneous’ purpose and when researchers looked more closely it emerged 61% of these watched a football match. Some 23% of foreign holidaymakers headed for the seaside including such attractions as Blackpool Pleasure Beach, with more than 5.5 million international and domestic visitors a year. Number attracted*: More than 2.1 million: Spend*: £800 million in 2009.

London: World sightseeing capital
Overseas visitors were enticed to the capital last year by the opportunities to eat out (83%), shop (70%) and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the proportion sightseeing famous monuments and buildings (70%) was the highest in England. One in four (24%) went to the theatre, far ahead of its nearest rival, the West Midlands, (which includes Shakespeare’s Stratford) where the rate was almost one in 10 (9%). Number attracted*: More than 14.2 million Spend*: £8.2 billion in 2009.

Yorkshire: Grand countryside and cosy pubs
Overseas tourists were lured to Yorkshire last year particularly by the county’s outstandingly beautiful countryside and villages. Some 55% of foreign holidaymakers who visited Yorkshire headed for rural areas, the highest proportion in Britain. Yorkshire’s nearest rival in this respect was Scotland (52%). A higher proportion sampled the local pubs (60%) than any other area of England apart from the North-East and East Midlands. One in three (29%) took part in a sports event. Number attracted*: More than 1 million Spend*: £461 million.

West Midlands: Shakespeare, football and thatched cottages
Foreign visitors were drawn to the West Midlands last year by the friendly welcome, charming countryside and The Bard. A relatively large proportion of foreign holidaymakers ‘socialised with the locals’ (59%), visited the countryside (25%), and toured the lovely villages (26%). The lure of Shakespeare’s Stratford-on-Avon was powerful with 9% going to the theatre. Number attracted*: 1.6 million Spend*: £595 million.

East Midlands: Outstanding sociability in a dramatic landscape

Overseas visitors were attracted to the East Midlands by the outstanding sociability of the people and drama of the landscape. Around 57% of foreign visitors ‘’socialised with the locals’’ – the second highest rate in the country – while 64% went to the pub. One in three (34%) visited the countryside such as the dramatic Pennine moorland, beautiful Dovedale and the Peak District. Overseas travellers get active when they visit this area: almost one-third (30%) doing some kind of sport. Number attracted*: Some 992,000. Spend*: £393 million.

East of England: Elegant towns, ancient history

Overseas holidaymakers were lured to the East of England by attractions ranging from the elegant university city of Cambridge, the charming fenland town of Ely with its striking Norman cathedral, the Suffolk coastline and Colchester, the oldest recorded town in Britain. Not surprisingly, 31% of foreign holidaymakers went to the countryside and 32% visited villages. Some 47% ‘’socialised with the locals’’ and 23% did sport. Number attracted*: More than 2.1 million Spend: £782 million.

South-West: Enchanting woodland, sparkling coast
Foreign visitors were attracted to the South-West by the chance to get out and about. In an area blessed by the beautiful woodland of the New Forest, the glory of Exeter Cathedral, the surfer’s paradise of Newquay, the romance of Land’s End and the Mediterranean light of St Ives a greater proportion of foreign tourists (48%) explored away from where they were staying and visited the coast (48%) than anywhere else in England. More than half of foreign holidaymakers visited the countryside (51%) and villages (55%). The numbers doing sports activities (29%) were among the highest in England. Number attracted*: More than 2.2 million Spend*: £1.1billion.

South-East: Explorer’s paradise

Foreign holidaymakers were attracted to the South-East by the chance to explore. Some 44% of foreign holidaymakers to the area ranged away from where they were staying, a higher proportion than anywhere in England apart from the South West. Some 38% visited the country side such as Wakehurst Place garden, 37% visited coastal resorts such as Eastbourne or the Isle of Wight, and 39% went to villages such as Shere in Surrey, 42% went to castles such as Leeds near Maidstone. They were also more likely to ‘socialise with the locals’ (47%) and do sports (22%). Number attracted*: 4.3 million Spend*: £1.9 billion in 2009.

Scotland: Action-packed fun in one of the world’s most beautiful landscapes
Foreign tourists were drawn to Scotland for an action-packed holiday. An impressive 73% went sightseeing famous buildings and 67% visited castles such as Edinburgh. A higher proportion (67%) spent time relaxing in the pub than in any other part of Britain. Scotland’s astonishing natural beauty such as Loch Lomond and Glencoe is also a massive draw, with 52% of holiday visitors visiting the countryside, 41% visiting the coast, 42% visiting villages, and 57% exploring places away from where they were staying. Some 37% took part in sport, and 7% played golf, the highest rate in Britain. Number attracted: 2.5 million Spend*: £1.4 billion in 2009.

Wales: Lured by the land of castles
Holiday visitors were lured to Wales by the great outdoors, historic landmarks and its vibrant and cosmopolitan cities. With three National Parks, five Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and, at only 170 miles from north to south and 60 miles east to west some 49% of holiday visitors visited the countryside, and 54% explored places away from where they were staying. Some 37% visited the coast, and 42% visited villages. As ‘the land of castles’ – with no fewer than 641 famous fortresses – it is no surprise that 37% visited castles. Number attracted*: 991,000 Spend*: £332 million.

Patricia Yates, Director of Strategy and Communications said: "This detailed report gives us a fascinating insight into exactly what attracted 30 million overseas visitors to Britain last year. It strongly suggests people mainly come to see our famous sights but enjoyed the experience of our shopping and the restaurants. This is particularly great to see in a year which saw our restaurants winning more Michelin stars in 2010 than at any other time in the 35 year history of the gastronomic award. It also shows different areas of Britain have strong individual identities as tourism destinations in their own right."