It’s official. A major new survey by Visit Britain – Britain’s national tourism agency, responsible for marketing Britain overseas – has confirmed that, when it comes to English cities foreign tourists most want to visit, only London can compete with with Liverpool.

SevenStreets has exclusively spoken to Paul Eastham, Head of Global Corporate Communications at Visit Britain, to crunch those all-important numbers.

Over the past four years, Foresight, Visit Britain’s monthly health-check on the inbound tourism sector, has been examining just how popular our major cities are – and how successful their tourism strategies have been in attracting those all-important overseas visitors.

Outside of London, Liverpool is the only English city in the top five holiday destinations: beating Manchester, Bath, York, well, everyone, really. And we’re not just talking 2008: the survey looked at tourism data from 2006 to 2009.

During these years, London and Liverpool form the English bread to a British tourism sandwich. And Scotland’s the meaty filling. As you’d expect, London sits at number one on the list, followed by Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness, and, in fifth place, our home city.

“Liverpool has leaped up the league table of cities that are admired, loved and visited by foreign tourists,” Paul Eastham told SevenStreets.

“The Renaissance has been under way for ten years but the surge in popularity received an enormous boost following the city’s starring role as Capital of Culture,” he says.

Of course, we know why we’re perfect for a city break. But what, SevenStreets wondered, does VisitBritain make of the findings?

“The city has successfully cashed in on its fabulous heritage of beautiful buildings, its world class football and the lure of its cultural and musical heritage, with its fame as the home of the Beatles, seeming to grow with time,” Eastham said.

“Liverpool’s other great advantage is that it’s within two hours’ reach of most of Europe by low cost airline, and with the pound at 1.20 Euros compared to €1.50 only three years ago, German, French and American tourists feel it’s a great destination for a weekend break,” Eastham adds.

We are, of course, a similar flying time to other, ahem, northern cities; many of whom continually claim to be more popular tourism destinations than Liverpool. But, thanks to this latest,  authoritative set of figures, the truth is out: while other cities post impressive figures for hotel stays, these are often based on overnighting in hotels, or in-and-out business trips, which result in little uplift for the wider local economy.

And not just in hotels: tourism – and especially heritage tourism – has a wider impact on a city’s resurgence than almost anything else. It’s the UK’s fifth largest industry. Liverpool’s preeminence in a major UK industry again? We’ll take that, thanks very much. Even if it does mean getting run over by the Yellow Duckmarine.

When it comes to that most lucrative, and relatively recession-proof of sectors – tourism – we’re the ones to beat.

With an average of 162,000 overseas visitors annually, a cruise terminal getting busier by the year, and more routes than ever into John Lennon Airport, those map-wielding, back-pack wearing couples hesitating around The Strand are going to become a permanent fixture. And that’s something, in these cash-strapped times, we should all be grateful about.

So where do our visitors come from?

Ireland, as ever, is responsible for the largest percentage of Liverpool-bound tourists – and, Spain, France, Poland and Germany are also popular departure points. Although what’s the betting Spain starts slipping down the table over the next year or so?

“The market likely to generate the greatest absolute growth in outbound travel is Bulgaria,” says Eastham, “They’re set to send 1.8 million more outbound trips per year by 2020.”

So it’s time we started practicing…

Altogether now, Dobri Doshli v Liverpool…

  • http://www.jordanharper.co.uk Jordan

    So what you’re saying is that Inverness is a more popular tourist destination than Liverpool? I’d say that English tourism needs to pick up it’s game a bit if four of the top five cities visited in the UK outside of London are Scottish….

  • david

    I think (and I’m not an expert, surprisingly) that Inverness is the perfect gateway for the Highlands, golf and all that Loch Ness stuff that our American cousins love. Huntin, shootin, fishin too. So it’s probably not there purely on its citybreak charms, much as they no doubt are.

  • Robin

    I once sat in the VIP lounge of Inverness airport. It’s about the same size as a medium-sized bathroom

  • david

    I saw Crowded House there.

  • david

    POSTSCRIPT:
    SevenStreets has just spoken to Jim Clarke, BBC Northwest News Editor, following the piece in this morning’s regional news, mentioning that Manchester was the third most popular destination for overseas visitors into the UK. While this is true, this is an overall figure, taking into account business trips, overnights at airports and visitors merely in transit. The far more interesting statistic – that Liverpool has leapfrogged traditional tourist hotspots such as Bath, York and Oxford, to become the only English city outside London in the city-break top five was NOT included in our BBC Northwest news coverage. Poor news judgement? Editorial oversight? Bias? What do you think?
    “We have time constraints, and we took the top level statistics only,” Clarke says, “Don’t turn this into one of those ‘you never cover Liverpool’ stories, as it’s complete nonsense,” he added. Odd, though, when you consider the fact that, in VIsitBritain’s opinion, Liverpool’s performance is the most newsworthy.
    Still, it’s good to know that you get the full regional picture on our publicly funded news channel, isn’t it?

  • http://www.robinparker.co.uk Robin

    Poor news judgement? Editorial oversight? Bias?
    All of the above

  • Sean

    There is no doubt that manc will always get favourable coverage on BBC manchester (and I’m not a scouser, I’m from Preston) the visit britain report says exactly what you claim in does, and is available on their website. Once again, lazy journalism from the BBC, they just skimmed the front page of the report without spending time trying to find the real regional success story, which is ‘buried’ on page 4. Great site, at least you got it right!

  • Claire

    The city is doing well as a tourism destination, and the bbc should have mentioned it, but how safe is Liverpool’s position? It would only take Easyjet to stop flying into John Lennon airport for the weekend break market to go elsewhere. That’s the real worry.

  • Al

    it’s not my intention to turn this into a “you never cover Liverpool” thang. Just to point out that “you never look beyond the press releases…”.
    Lazy. And not good enough from the BBC. Well done DL.