The number of people visiting Britain over the Olympics fell, but Games tourists spent twice as much as those who ordinarily visit, official figures show.
Despite the hype surrounding the Games and a high-profile marketing campaign to encourage foreign visitors, the number of overseas residents who came to the UK in August fell by 150,000 compared to the year before.
According to official tourism figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) a total of 3 million foreigners visited the UK in August, down 5 per cent from 3.15 million last year.
Experts said that the slump in visitor numbers was “very disappointing”. They attributed it to the slowdown in the global economy and warnings by Olympic organisers for non-attendees to stay away from London during the Games.
The ONS said that of the 3 million people who visited the UK in August, 590,000 came specifically for the Games, either as athletes, coaches or spectators.
However the ONS said that people who visited the UK specifically for the Olympics spent an average of £1,290 per person, almost twice as much as the average £650 spent by non-Olympic visitors.
Grant Hearn, chief executive of Travelodge, London’s largest hotelier, said that the fall in the overall number of people who came to the UK is “very disappointing” in what was meant to be “the most momentous month in the history of British tourism”.
Over the opening week of the Olympics, retailers, hotel owners and other businesses in the capital saw footfall decline by almost a third as people stayed away from London.
Mr Hearn called on the Government to relax visa requirements for foreign tourists in order to make the most of the “feel good factor” created by the Olympics.
“Every wealthy Indian or Chinese tourist lost to America, France and Germany is a lost opportunity to create jobs in the UK. It’s that simple,” he said.
The ONS said that the majority of visits for the Games were made by people from other European countries.
Mike Saul, head of hospitality and leisure at Barclays, the bank, said that the fall in overall tourist numbers is a continuation of a trend seen in the earlier months of 2012.
“Whilst the excitement of August’s sporting extravaganza saw hundreds of thousands of visitors hit the UK’s shores, it could not reverse months of overall dwindling tourist numbers.
“Concerns over finances continue to weigh heavily and cost-conscious overseas travellers are not choosing to visit the UK,” said Mr Saul.
Economists said that the ONS’s figures only point to a “modest” beneficial impact from the Olympics.
Howard Archer, chief UK and European economist at IHS Global Insight, said: “It is undoubtedly true that some overseas residents would have been deterred from visiting the UK during August by the anticipated congestion – especially in London – from the Olympic Games.
“However it is also likely that strained purchasing power and low consumer confidence in many countries was also a factor weighing down on the number of overseas visitors coming to the UK in August.”