Brexit tourists flock to London as the number of overseas visitors tops 19m in record year

Rebecca Smith
The capital is proving ever popular with overseas visitors
The capital is proving ever popular with overseas visitors (Source: Getty)

London brought in 19.1m visits in 2016, far outweighing any other town or city in the UK, and setting a record year.

That was an increase of 2.6 per cent on 2015.

More than half of visits to the UK last year included a trip to London, and nearly half of the visits to the capital were for holidays, according to new figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

Spending on hotels and restaurants, edged down slightly to £11.9bn, though that did rise in the last quarter when five million visitors visited.

Overall, overseas trips reached record levels in 2016, both to and from the UK. There were 37.6m visits by overseas residents to the UK last year, four per cent more than in 2015 and marking the sixth successive increase, plus the highest on record.

Read more: Get ready to dodge even more tourists in 2017 as the pound stays low

Visits to and from the UK, 1996-2016
Visits to and from the UK, 1996-2016 (Source: ONS)

The drop in sterling in the wake of the Brexit vote last June has been pointed to as a particular driver in upping the capital's appeal as a tourist destination for overseas visitors.

London mayor, Sadiq Khan said:

I am delighted that more people than ever before are choosing to visit London, immersing themselves in all that our great city has to offer including an unbeatable array of restaurants, museums, shops and theatres. This is further evidence that London is open and has an appeal that clearly extends across the globe.

Fresh data from Forward Keys has also found that for the first six months of 2017 there has been a 10 per cent rise in overseas visitors coming to London.

As for which nations visit the UK most frequently, the French were top with 4.1m visits, followed by Americans and then Germans. Those from the US spend the most in the UK though, at a total of £3.4bn and a rise of 11 per cent on 2015.

Top 10 visiting countries to the UK in 2016
Top 10 visiting countries to the UK in 2016 (Source: International Passenger Survey (IPS), Office for National Statistics)

There were 70.8m visits overseas by UK residents in 2016, a rise of eight per cent compared with 2015.

It marks the first time that visits have topped the 2006 figure of 69.5m. While generally visit numbers have risen over time, from the 42m recorded in 1996, there was a sharp decline in the wake of the economic downturn in 2009. Numbers have though, increased each year since 2012.

Earlier this year, data from Worldpay found "Brexit tourists" had been taking advantage of the weak pound, with spending on foreign cards up by 22 per cent year-on-year in December.

The shops that got the biggest boost were high-end boutiques and department stores in London's West End, where foreign tourists spent an extra 35 per cent compared to the previous year.

Read more: "Brexit tourists" shell out millions over Christmas

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