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London sees fall in long-haul visitors

London has suffered a decline in long-haul visitors and bookings so far this year while rival cities have seen growth, according to the latest transaction data.

The analysis by travel data firm ForwardKeys shows long-haul visitors to London down 3.7% year on year in the first four months of 2015 against a 3.9% rise in long-haul visitors to other major European cities.

The shortfall appears to be from the US, London's biggest market by revenue, and China - the target of a major VisitBritain marketing campaign.

And the decline appears set to continue, according to ForwardKeys, which reports long-haul bookings to London between May and August down 1.8% on last year against a 3.7% increase year on year to other cities.

ForwardKeys bases its analysis of up to 14 million transactions a day taken from global distribution systems (GDSs) and airline booking systems.

Chief executive Olivier Jager said: "These numbers must be a worry for London as it would expect to be the highlight of a long-haul trip to Europe. When Europe grows, London should grow with it."

He added: "When we look in more detail at the data, three important source markets, the US, Australia and China, are all down by 4%."

The downturn in long-haul visitors comes after Britain recorded a record number of overseas visitors last year.

However, Office for National Statistics figures released last week showed business travellers from mainland China fell almost 13% last year on 2013.

That led International Airlines Group (IAG) chief executive Willie Walsh to complain: "The government's plans to increase numbers [from China] have failed miserably."

The ONS figures did show an 18% rise year in year in leisure visitors from China, although there was a 35% decline in those visiting friends and relations.

Jager reported London had maintained its leading position among Europe's cities by volume of visitors with 14% of the long-haul market to Europe so far this year.

But Amsterdam and Milan have been the winners for growth in arrivals and bookings, with Amsterdam up 10.7% for visitors and 13% for bookings, and Milan showing close to 11% growth in both. Milan hosts the World Expo 2015 this year.

Jager said: "The disproportionately good performance of Amsterdam is most noticeable in leisure-related categories, while Milan is attracting business and leisure tourists."

Barcelona showed 12% growth in visitors to April with ForwardKeys reporting the city "has picked up tourism business from all over the world".

It reported Istanbul as 10% up year on year for bookings to August "thanks to improved air connectivity".

Published: 26.5.2015