Leisure industry leaders have lined up to blast the UK Government for its approach to tourism after figures showed that the number of visitors coming to Britain grew at its slowest pace since 2001.
Tourist numbers hit a record 32.9m last year, according to the Office of National Statistics, but growth tailed off sharply in the final six months. Tourism leaders have blamed the Government’s lack of investment in the industry for the slump, which saw visitor numbers grow just 1pc over the year.
Grant Hearn, chief executive of Travelodge, said: “These figures should be a ‘wake up and smell the coffee’ moment for Gordon Brown. Not only is this the worst annual tourism performance since 2001, but we also continue to underperform world and European growth averages.
“Underfunding of overseas marketing, a lack of government leadership and decreasing competitiveness are now having a real impact on tourism’s bottom line.”
Kurt Janson, director of the Tourism Alliance, said: “Ten years of underfunding marketing has reduced overseas visitor growth to a sub-standard 1pc, down from a recent annual average of 8pc-9pc and far short of the 6pc growth in global tourism during 2007.”
Leisure industry bosses launched a Take Tourism Seriously campaign in November to convince the Prime Minister to reverse an 18pc cut in the tourism budget amid concerns that the 2012 Olympics legacy could be squandered.
The industry bosses, who include InterContinental’s Andy Cosslett and Gala Coral’s Neil Goulden, have warned that the UK could forego 110,000 jobs and up to £5bn in revenues during the next 10 years if the Olympics opportunity is squandered.
According to the ONS, tourist numbers from the US fell 6pc last year as the impact of the weak dollar hit home, while growth in the number of visitors from the accession states hit 9pc.
Industry insiders fear growth could slow further as the effects of the credit crunch and the slowdown in the US economy take hold.
Mr Hearn said: “This is potentially the beginning of a long-term decline that needs to be arrested before it’s too late. We need a radical overhaul of our national tourism strategy – and we need it now.”
Mr Janson said: “Near static growth falls a mile short of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport’s target of matching European growth levels, and serious questions need to be asked about why this has been allowed to happen.”