Hopes that the weak pound will boost domestic tourism have yet to materialise with visits from foreign tourists to the UK in the first three months of 2009 falling 13% compared to the same period last year.
Foreign residents made 6.28m visits to the UK between January and March, down from 7.19m last year, with the biggest decline in the number of visitors from North America and eastern Europe, the Office for National Statistics said.
Overall, visitors spent £3.13b, virtually unchanged from last year despite the fact that sterling has lost around a fifth of its value against major currencies over the period.
Sandie Dawe, the newly appointed chief executive of VisitBritain, said: "The figures illustrate the continuing challenges of maintaining Britain's popularity as a destination in the face of the global economic downturn and increasing competition from rival destinations.
"Although these are traditionally lower months for inbound tourism, we know that a weak pound is not sufficient in itself to offset the full impact of the recession on international travel."
However, there was a glimmer of light for the rest of the year, with a 2% increase in the number of visits to the UK in the quarter, when compared to October to December 2008.
A spokesman for Travelodge said: "The slight pick up in visitor numbers between January and March reflects the added appeal of the UK to continental visitors thanks to the weakness of the pound.
"For the rest of the year it is critical that we are marketed abroad as a leading value destination, offering locations and an experience that cannot be matched anywhere else in the world."
By Daniel Thomas
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