By Max CLarke

Numbers of tourists visiting the UK over the past 12 months dropped by 200,000 from the previous year to reach 29.6 million- figures published by the Office for National Statistics reveal.

Adding some £74 billon to the UK economy and employing close to 2 million people, tourism is the country’s 6th most valuable industry and a vital revenue stream for thousands of businesses across the UK.

Said John Walker, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses on the launch of a report entitled Tourism- a passport to growth:

Tourism really can be a passport to growth, - creating jobs and growing our local areas. But we need the Government to put the right measures in place to unlock the true economic potential of the sector.”

With the Royal Wedding and Olympic Games taking place over the coming year, this figure is set to increase.

Europe remains the largest source of tourists, accounting for some 22 milion, while Americans are the highest spending of all tourists.

Business visits to the UK grew 4%, despite the overall drop, renewing hopes of an economic recovery.

UK citizens visiting abroad dropped 5% to 55.0 million, as inflation and unemployment continue to squeeze disposable incomes.

Europe again claimed the lion’s share of journeys, with close to 80% of UK tourists visiting Europe.