Inbound visitors to the UK have hit an all time high, with more than 32 million international tourists arriving in the country last year.
New data from the Office of National Statistics shows there were 32.17 million visits made to the UK between January and December 2006, up 7% from the previous year.
Inbound tourist spend also rose to a new high of £15.4b in 2006, up 8%.
Tom Wright, chief executive of VisitBritain, said the figures represented another step towards raising the value of Britain's visitor economy but called for a push to get tourists to stay longer and spend more.
Wright said: "The inbound tourism industry is a vital component of Britain's national economy. We must explore ever-more creative means of attracting them in an increasingly competitive global tourism environment."
Tim Helliwell, head of hotel finance at Barclays, welcomed the news but echoed concerns raised in this week's Caterer (8 January) over the relative decline in profitability of hotels, compared with increased revenues.
He warned: "Although hoteliers will welcome the top line figures, there may be concerns about profitability. Average spend per visitor is not yet back up to the highs of 2000 and margins are being squeezed by rising costs."
By Emily Manson