LONDON (Reuters) - Britain saw a record number of foreign visitors in July while spending by British tourists abroad fell for the first time in more than a year, according to the first figures since the country voted to leave the European Union.
With their spending power helped by a slump in the pound after the Brexit referendum, some 3.8 million foreigners visited Britain in July, the Office for National Statistics said. It was the highest monthly total on record and 2 percent more than a year earlier.
Sterling’s sharp fall against the dollar, euro and other currencies since the June 23 referendum is expected to boost the UK’s appeal as a tourist destination and encourage more Britons to holiday at home.
“We have an immediate and real opportunity to promote Britain as a great value destination, particularly in our long-haul high-spending markets such as China and the U.S.,” said Sally Balcombe, the chief executive of Visit Britain.
Visit Britain, a public body which promotes tourism, was not immediately able to comment on how much of July’s gain in visitor numbers was linked to the weaker currency.
London’s West End shopping district has reported increased spending by shoppers from around the world since the referendum.
Visit Britain said 2015 had been a record year for tourism to Britain with 36.1 million visits, 5 percent up on 2014, and spending 1 percent higher at 22.1 billion pounds.
July and August are the busiest months for tourism to Britain and July’s 3.8 million foreign visitors spent 2.53 billion pounds ($3.28 billion), 4 percent more than in 2015.
Britons made 7.0 million trips abroad in July, 3 percent more than a year earlier. But on a seasonally adjusted basis, spending was down by 1 percent, the first year-on-year decline since February 2015.
On Wednesday, the Bank of England said it had received reports from businesses of a greater number of British people holidaying at home, and an increase in foreign visitor numbers.
The increase in spending by tourists in Britain could be bad news for other countries. According to tax-free shopping firm Global Blue, tourist spending on luxury goods in Britain in August rose by 36 percent while in France it fell by 20 percent.
($1 = 0.7716 pounds)
Reporting by David Milliken; Editing by William Schomberg/Mark Heinrich