Foreign tourists spend GBP 2.3 billion a year watching and playing UK sport

Wednesday 14, July 2010


Foreign tourists spend GBP 2.3 billion a year watching and playing UK sport


Three million foreign visitors spent a phenomenal GBP 2.3 billion in the UK in 2008 watching and playing sport, according to a new survey by VisitBritain, the national tourism agency.


It is not just the thrill of watching Rafael Nadal win Wimbledon, being awed by the skilful football at Old Trafford or catching a rugby international at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium that lures foreigners to the UK.


A huge number make the pilgrimage to participate in amateur sport, ranging from a round of golf on the Scottish links, cutting a dash on the hockey field or getting covered in mud during Yorkshire’s Three Peaks Challenge.


The VisitBritain survey shows nearly two million visitors watched sport in Britain in 2008, the most recent year for which full figures are available. They often did this at an iconic venue such as Lord’s or Hampden Park spending more than £1.3 billion in the process. Meanwhile 1.4 million visitors played some form of amateur sport at more modest British locations, contributing another £1.3 billion. Some both watched and played.


That means sporty foreign tourists account for about 14% of all spending by visitors in 2008. A sporting visitor spends far more – an average of £900 per trip - than an ‘ordinary’ foreign tourist who typically spends £500.


With the Open Golf Championship getting under way at St Andrew’s in Scotland this week, the Ryder Cup due in October at Celtic Manor in South East Wales and the Commonwealth Games coming to Glasgow in 2014, the power of sport to draw overseas visitors to these shores – creating jobs and economic growth - is expanding fast.


The survey shows Britain’s world-class football is the key attraction for foreign spectators. Around 1.2 million went to a match of whom 267,000 were Irish, 95,000 Americans, 88,000 Germans, 86,000 Norwegians, 75,000 Spanish, 65,000 Italians, 55,000 Australians, 52,000 Dutch, 46,000 French and 39,000 Swedes.


But other sports are highly significant. For example, 94,000 Americans came to play golf. They were joined by 66,000 Germans, 44,000 French, 30,000 Spanish and 28,000 Irish. After football, horseracing is the biggest spectator sport in the UK, with over 8,000 races annually at courses all over the country attracting crowds totalling 6 million people, many from abroad.


Far more men than women can be found watching sport, with men aged between 25 and 44 the most avid.  For most age groups more men than women play sport during a visit, but for the 16 to 24 years age group slightly more females than males played sport during their trip. Most sporting visitors arrive unaccompanied by children, often as groups of friends who share similar interests and a taste for a particular game.


The proportion of visitors either watching or playing sport increased from 6% in 2001 to nearly 10% in 2008.


The largest national group watching sport in Britain was from the Irish Republic, which accounted for nearly 400,000 sporting visitors in 2008.  Eight out of the top ten nationalities were European, but in addition 176,000 Americans and 85,000 Australians watched sport while they were here. Nearly seven out of ten Irish said sport was the main reason for their trip as did Swedes, Norwegians, Finns and Danes.


Americans were the most enthusiastic when it came to playing sport. Some 193,137 visitors from the USA took part in an activity while they were here. One in three visitors from both Ireland and India who played sport said it was the main reason for their trip as did a quarter of visitors from the USA, New Zealand, Sweden and Denmark.


Nearly one-in-three visitors who watched sport during their visit in 2008 were on holiday, a further 30% were visiting friends and relatives and 30% had a ‘miscellaneous’ reason for their journey although most of these had travelled with sport mainly in mind. 


More than two-in-five of visitors who played sport during their visit were on holiday, with nearly a third of this group in Britain primarily to visit friends and relatives. Among those for whom playing sport was a primary reason for visiting we can see that more than 80% were on holiday.


Sandie Dawe, Chief Executive of VisitBritain said: "this survey clearly demonstrates British sport is growing in popularity with foreign visitors. Millions are travelling to watch our world-class events and participate in our famous, sometimes quirky, sporting traditions. It is a hugely encouraging sign that Britain has the sporting expertise to stage an Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012 that we hope will win the hearts of the world and deliver a tourism legacy, jobs and economic growth for this country."



Bookmark and Share


^ back to top


Find the best deals available today

The grey menu on the right is your best friend. Always check before you travel.

Plan your trips with the help of great resources

More and more travellers think that researching and planning a European city break is half the fun and they're not interested in pre-arranged trips or escorted tours. Self-guided tours offer a lot of advantages but require some guidance and good resources.


Clean, green and very pristine

Top 10 most environmentally pure countries

With the recent wild fires, disrupting flights and increasing air pollution, environmental quality is a growing factor in attracting tourists.



Top 15 most spectacular hotel rooftop views

The hotel price comparison site has put together a list of the fifteen most spectacular hotel rooftop terraces in the world.

Latest offers, discounts and more...

Accor “3=2 offer”
Why not extend your stay? 3 nights for the price of 2.
Columbus Direct travel insurance
Quality cover at low prices to customers all around the world.
Priority pass
Access VIP lounges no matter where which airline and class you fly.
European City Cards
See more and pay less! Get your "passport" to European cities.
Rail Europe
Comfortable and affordable on European trains.
Lonely Planet Magazine
Packed with insider knowledge, hints and tips.
Sandemans New Europe City Tours
Free walking tours in 13 cities within 9 countries.
Sol Melia Wednesdays
Search your exclusive special offers now for the coming weekend!
Low-cost shuttle and private transfers in over 70 countries.
IMEX Frankfurt 25-27 May
The essential worldwide exhibition for incentive travel, meetings and events.
Subscribe to Travelio News Summary via RSS Follow our news titles on Twitter Become a fan of on Facebook Bookmark and Share