More tourists came to the UK in 2016 than ever before

Courtney Goldsmith
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Record flocks of tourists came to the UK in 2016 (Source: Getty)

No, it's not your imagination - there were more tourists visiting the UK than ever before in 2016.

Last year, a record-breaking 37.3m inbound visitors filled the streets of Britain, up three per cent from 2015 and even more than the predicted number of 36.7m, VisitBritain's latest figures show.

The numbers point to strong growth from North America. The US proved to be Britain's most valuable tourism source market, with seven per cent more visitors than 2015, totaling 4.3m.

A record 25.3m visitors came from the EU in 2016, up four per cent on the previous year.

Compared with 2010's figures, the UK's £127bn tourism industry brought in 25 per cent more people in 2016 - that's 7.5m people.

Overseas tourists spent a whopping £22.2bn, matching 2015's record, the tourism group found.

The biggest spenders were Chinese visitors, who made up 21 per cent of the entire international tax free shopping spend in 2016, said Ros Morgan, chief executive of Heart of London Business Alliance. Saudi Arabia and the UAE accounted for eight per cent.

Morgan said: “We know the weakened pound played a role in attracting visitor spend, but now is the time to ensure we continue to inspire visitors’ to travel here and support our thriving tourist economy and remind visitors that #londonisopen.”

Read more: More bang for the yuan: Chinese New Year spending in West End soars

VisitBritain chief executive Sally Balcombe said the strong growth demonstrates Britain's ability to compete for international visitors and deliver economic growth.

"We must seize the opportunity to build on this, boosting visitor spending by driving home the message of welcome and value particularly in our high spending markets such as China and the US and the valuable European market," Balcombe said.

According to VisitBritain's figures, tourists will keep flooding in this year - and latest flight booking data shows 2017 is off to a strong start. Bookings to the UK are up 16 per cent for February to April compared to the same period last year.

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