An influx of Eurozone leisure visitors was insufficient to offset the number of inbound travelers to Britain falling for the first time in seven years.
British tourists also made fewer visits abroad last year, choosing instead the growing trend of “staycationing”, as a result of the downturn.
The figures for 2008, published in the annual Travel Trends report from the Office for National Statistics, showed there were 31.9 million foreign visits to Britain last year, a 2.7 percent fall on the previous year.
In May, numbers fell 14 percent year-on-year, with a sharp decline in business travel cited as the greatest factor. There were also 12 percent fewer visitors in the first five months of 2009 compared to the same period last year.
Arrivals from North America fell the sharpest, down 19 percent in the first five months of the year. Visits from the Eurozone were down by five percent compared to the same period in 2008.
Arrivals from other parts of the world (Central and South America, Africa, Middle East, Asia and Australasia) were down by 15 percent.
Outbound visits by UK residents in the first five months were down by 17 percent, with travel to North America down by 25 percent, visits to Europe down 16 percent, and visits to the remaining parts of the world down by 15 percent.
The national tourism agency, VisitBritain, brushed off the declines as expected given the current economic climate.