Tourism to Britain is being driven by the nation’s theatres with a record of nearly three million overseas visitors taking in a stage show during their trip last year.

Some 14 per cent of all tourists on holiday in the British Isles went to a musical, play, ballet or spent a night at the opera, new figures from VisitBritain revealed last night.

And it’s not just London’s West End that’s reaping the benefit with the West Midlands and the North-West both seeing a boost from tourists heading to local theatres.

The Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon has seen a 75 per cent jump in overall box office receipts in the past year.

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VisitBritain said the 2.8 million people who took in a play or show such as The Lion King or Wicked during 2012 is more than double the number of tourists that go to a live sporting event, be it Premiership football, rugby or cricket.

Musicals are the most popular choice – 64 per cent – followed by a play.

The tourist body now wants to cash in by promoting the UK’s entertainment industry and regional theatres, such as Sheffield Theatres, which produced the Full Monty stage show. VisitBritain said tourists going to the theatre typically spend £980 during their visit, against £600 for a “regular visitor”.

Sandie Dawe, VisitBritain chief executive, said: “The vitality of our theatre – whether London’s WestEnd or our major regional centres, provides a great holiday experience for our international visitors.” Tim Rice, the veteran musical theatre producer, said: “Theatre is not only one of Britain’s strongest exports – it is also enjoyed in the UK by visitors from all over the world.

“In the forty-plus years I’ve worked in musical theatre I have seen the number of foreign visitors to the West End theatre soar to magnificent proportions, to the extent that tourism is now an absolutely crucial factor in our industry’s well-being.”

“British theatre is one of the great reasons to come to Britain – we must make every effort to ensure that it remains so.”

VisitBritain said English-speaking countries dominate the top 20 markets for the highest volume of visits which incorporate a trip to the theatre, with Americans buying 426,000 tickets last year, followed by Australians, at 209,000.

Israelis are more likely than any other country to head to a show – 24 per cent of all tourists from the country. But VisitBritain said Danes, Argentinians and Norwegians are among those booking tickets before they arrive.

London dominates the list of venues, with 2 million tourists or 24 per cent of all holiday visitors staying in the capital heading to the West End. But 9 per cent of tourists in the West Midlands and the North-West also went to the theatre.

The findings come amid growing signs that 2013 could be a record year for tourism. VisitBritain last month said 22 million visitors came to Britain in the first eight months of the year – the highest since 2008 – with spend up 11 per cent to £13.7 billion.

Encore Tickets, which sells West End musical tickets to customers from over 157 different countries, has seen a 20 per cent growth in sales so far this year, which tourist chiefs insist is linked to the strong increase in overseas visitors.

VisitBritain launched a drive to encourage tourists to visit Britain’s regions at the start of August, claiming that the delights of Winchester and Lincoln were just as much of a draw as Florence for a romantic getaway.

Figures later that month revealed that more than half a million Germans are visiting our coastlines and beaches every year.

Photo Credit: West End Live 2013 theater festival at Trafalgar Square in London. TicketTree / Flickr