More than 26 million visitors are expected to descend on Britain this year, making it a record 12 months for tourism.
The figure will smash the previous record for inbound visitors of 25.7 million in 1998. VisitBritain, the authority for tourism in Britain, announced the latest estimates on international visitors alongside its annual report for 2003-04.
It also predicted that 2005 would herald more growth, with a further 3% rise in visitors to 27.1 million.
The estimates make a refreshing change for Britain's beleaguered tourism industry, which suffered following 11 September and the foot-and-mouth crisis. Inbound visitors to the country dropped to only 22.84 million in 2001.
Visitor spend has not risen on a par with visitor numbers, increasing by 9% in the first eight months of the year, compared with a 13% increase in visitors. The total value of inbound tourism is forecast to grow by 4% this year to £12.3b and by a further 3.2% in 2005 to £12.7b.
VisitBritain chairman Sir Michael Lickiss said: "British tourism is now well on the road to recovery following the challenges of the last three years. Tourism is one of the UK's most important industries, employing more than 2.1 million people and accounting for 4.5% of GDP.
"To achieve our joint vision of building a British tourism industry worth £100b a year by 2010, we need effective strategies to ensure that visitors have a first class experience. Investment in tourism is absolutely essential to achieving this aim."
Roads to Recovery
Short breaks campaign: A £4m campaign to showcase British cities in Europe. It contributed to a 10% increase in the number of visits from Western Europe, with £162m incremental spend being generated.
US campaign: VisitBritain spent £2m to attract US visitors back to Britain. It targeted key gateway cities including New York, Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago.
New markets: VisitBritain extended its international marketing to Russia, Poland, South Korea and China. China is considered a key market for the future.
England: 2003 saw the launch of the first marketing campaign in a decade to promote England, at a cost of £4m. The campaign received more than £1.7m worth of media coverage and 240,000 requests for brochures as a result of TV advertising.