The UK will beat a major tourism target two years early, VisitBritain has claimed.
Forty million annual inbound visits were expected to be recorded by 2020, but a total of 40.9 million will be achieved in 2018, according to the tourism organisation.
These visitors are expected to boost the economy by spending £26.3 billion.
Inbound visits reached a record 39.2 million in 2017 – up 4% on the previous year – while spending rose by 9% to £24.5 billion.
Tourism chiefs said the industry is a “£127 billion powerhouse” and urged the Government to give it more support through a sector deal under the Industrial Strategy.
There has also been a spike in domestic tourism, with visits and spending up 6% year-on-year in 2017.
Inbound tourism reached a record high in 2017 (Philip Toscano/PA)
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British Tourist Authority chairman Steve Ridgway said Brexit is the “most important” challenge facing the tourism industry.
“Whilst we address the initial fluctuations in currency and EU worker concerns, we soon will need to deal with the longer-term realities,” he warned.
“We want to ensure that the future relationship keeps our borders as frictionless as possible for visitors, our aviation as connected as ever, and our economic stability on track – because tourism depends on this.”
Mr Ridgway noted that despite the “good results” for the industry in 2017, there is a “trade deficit” with more spent overseas by British tourists than inbound visitors spend in Britain.
He said many young people are “finding it easier to jump on a cheap flight and head elsewhere than discover this country”, adding: “We want to reverse this.”
Tourism Minister Michael Ellis said Britain’s tourism industry is “booming”.
He went on: “Tourism shows the world the best of our nation.
“As we approach the UK’s exit from the European Union, we are absolutely committed to helping the industry continue to grow, promoting the country as a must-visit destination and ensuring that local communities benefit.”