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Visitor Economy

Visitor Economy

The West of England has a rich and varied visitor economy – from the rural attractions and villages of North Somerset and South Gloucestershire to the cultural vibrancy of Bristol and its waterfront; from the traditional seaside attractions of Weston-super-Mare to the World Heritage City of Bath.

Key West of England facts

  • 3 million overnight tourist visits per year to the West of England
  • 28 million day visitors
  • £1.8 billion annual expenditure by tourists
  • Direct tourism gross value added of  £0.95 billion
  • 55,000 people employed in tourism
  • 3.2 million visits to the top ten visitor attractions

Sector overview

The area is bordered on two sides by the Cotswold and Mendip Hills, providing a setting leisure pursuits in picturesque villages and market towns within some of country’s most prominent areas of natural beauty: whilst the eastern border with the Bristol Channel offers a mix of seaside resorts, from the traditional attractions of Weston-super-Mare with its long beaches and newly built pier to the quaint character of Clevedon.

The city offer of Bristol and Bath is both different and complementary: Bath’s appeal is firmly rooted in its spa and heritage product and heavily biased to leisure markets, whilst Bristol’s commercial strength supports business and corporate markets.

Spending on retail is a significant element of the visitor economy: shopping centres at Cabot Circus and Cribbs Causeway are important regional facilities, whilst Bath’s mix of high street and independents is set within the historic centre of the World Heritage City.

A full and varied programme of festivals and events – including the nationally renowned Badminton Horse Trials, Bristol Balloon Festival and Bath International Music Festival - play a significant role in attracting visitors to the area and raising its profile. 

High spending business and conference tourism, along with corporate business, is attracted by ease of access and a variety of good quality products. Significant recent investment, particularly in Bristol, by national and international hotel brands is a reflection of the performance of the corporate market. 

Opportunities for collaboration have been identified and focus on partnership working with Bristol Airport, to grow international arrivals and joint activity to support the corporate and incentive markets.

Domestic Overnight Tourism

The West of England LEP area currently attracts around 2.5 million domestic overnight trips annually. Figures for 2006-8 to 2008-10 are given in Table 1 below:

Table 1: Domestic Tourism: Average Annual Trips (000)









South Gloucestershire




Bath & North East Somerset




North Somerset




Total West of England




Inbound Overnight Tourism

The International Passenger Survey (IPS) provides inbound figures for the Bristol Urban Area, Gloucestershire and for Somerset, including Bath. Between 2007 and 2011 there has been a varied picture with mixed periods of growth and decline, as illustrated in the chart below. The number of inbound visits in 2011 is shown in the legend.

Inbound tourism chart

For 2011, total overnight trips by inbound visitors to the West of England is estimated to be approximately 640,0001. Combined with the estimate of domestic overnight trips, this gives a figure of approximately 3.1 million overnight tourism trips to the West of England.

1Calculation based on IPS data for the wider area (Bristol, Gloucestershire and Somerset), together with proportions derived from “The Sub-Regional Value of Tourism” report discussed below.

Day Visitors

In 2011, an estimated 28 million tourism day visits were made to the West of England LEP area. Visits by local authority area are shown below:

Table 2 : Tourism Day Visits 2011


Visits (millions)



South Gloucestershire*


Bath & North East Somerset


North Somerset*


Total West of England


Source: Great Britain Day Visits Survey, 2011, Visit England, Visit Scotland, Visit Wales
*Note: small sample size so figures are subject to a large margin of error

Value of Tourism in the West of England

In 2011, the Tourism Intelligence Unit, within the Office for National Statistics, published a paper, “The Sub-Regional Value of Tourism in the UK in 2008” which calculated tourism spending and contribution at sub-regional and county/unitary authority level.  Estimates of tourism spending within the West of England LEP area are given below:

Table 3: Tourism Spending by Type of Tourism (£m, 2008)


Inbound (£m)

Domestic Overnight (£m)

Domestic Day (£m)

Total (£m)

City of Bristol






Bath & NE Somerset, N.Somerset, and S.Gloucestershire





Total West of England





Source: “What is Tourism Worth?”, Visit England (Note: rows may not add due to rounding)

In total, an estimated £1.83 billion was spent by tourists in the West of England in 2008.  63% of expenditure was by day visitors, 23% by domestic (UK) overnight tourists and 14% by inbound tourists (from overseas).

Direct gross value added (GVA) of tourism is estimated at £0.95bn. It equates to 3.6% of the area’s total GVA (a similar proportion to that for the UK as a whole).

An estimated 54,800 people are employed in tourism2 in the West of England. This equates to 10% of total employment in the area (total employment is 552,400 people (source: Nomis, Office for National Statistics, October 2010 – September 2011)).

2Figures for tourism employment are based on employment in the set of industries defined as tourism by the UN World Tourism Organisation.

Table 4: Tourism Employment (2009)


Tourism Employment

Bath & North East Somerset


City of Bristol


North Somerset


South Gloucestershire


Total West of England


Source: “What is Tourism Worth?”, Visit England

Visitor Attractions

The top ten visitor attractions in the West of England together attract over 3 million visits annually.  They are:

Table 5 : Major Attractions in the West of England


Local Authority

Free/Paid admission

Annual Visits (2011)

Grand Pier, Weston Super Mare

North Somerset



Roman Baths

Bath & NE Somerset



M Shed








Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery








Bristol Zoo Gardens




Bath Abbey

Bath & NE Somerset







Brunel’s SS Great Britain




Bristol Aquarium




Dyrham Park

South Gloucestershire



Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm

North Somerset




North Somerset



Fashion Museum

Bath & NE Somerset



Victoria Art Gallery

Bath & NE Somerset



The Holbourne Museum of Art

Bath & NE Somerset



Sources: Annual Survey of Visits to Visitor Attractions, 2010, Visit England; Bath Tourism, Destination Bristol
*2009 figure            ** 2010 figure          ***(rounded)

Across the LEP area, support for the sector is organised around the 4 local authority leads, as described below. In addition, the 4 partners meet regularly to identify opportunities for partnership and collaboration: recent successes have included joint marketing activity in North America in partnership with Bristol Airport.

Bath and North East Somerset

Working with the public and private sectors, Bath Tourism Plus is Bath and North East Somerset’s destination marketing organisation with more than 480 members. It operates England’s second busiest Visitor Information Centre; promotes Bath and the surrounding area to leisure and business travellers; delivers PR activity to attract the national and international travel writers; runs a conference office; and maintains Bath’s official destination website with more than 2 million unique visitors per annum.

In 2003, the Bath & North East Somerset Council and the Bath Chamber of Commerce sponsored the formation of Visit Bath as the local destination marketing organisation, independent of both bodies. It is structured to operate under private sector management, with a Board which comprises of representatives of the local visitor economy.

By 2012, the turnover of Bath Tourism Plus was £1.85m (in 2003/04, turnover was £900,000K) and public sector funding support was only 20% of total turnover - down from 50% in 2003/04.

Five crucial targets have been set in its 2012 Strategy that will provide the key to increasing the value of tourism. These are:

  • Building on the destination’s success in the domestic market by boosting the value of overnight visitors by 12%
  • Growing the value of high spending international visitors by 12% (focusing on the US, European and selected emerging markets such as China)
  • Increasing business tourism by 9%
  • Growing the value of day visitors by 12%
  • Increasing the number of visitor nights spent in Bath by 10%

Critical to the success of this Strategy will be an additional £500,000 marketing budget which is being made available to BTP from 2012/13 to 2014/15 from Visit England’s Regional Growth Fund programme.


Like Bath, the visitor economy in Bristol is led by a public/private sector partnership that was formed in 1999 through a collaborative agreement between the city council and Business West. The organisation was re-formed in 2008 when it merged with the partnership responsible for the management of the Broadmead shopping area. 

For a long period of time, Destination Bristol managed a number of contracts for the South West RDA and the Learning and Skills Council delivering workforce development programmes across the region, while between 1996 and 1999, the teams managing the tourism briefs for Bristol and Bath collaborated extensively to deliver a 3-year marketing programme funded through the European Union.

Shortly after its establishment, Destination Bristol formed a strategic partnership with South Gloucestershire Council and the two bodies now work closely to develop their shared interests in an economically successful visitor economy in the greater Bristol area.

Bristol’s visitor economy has grown steadily and currently, visitor spending is annually in excess of £1 billion, while the city is the fourth most visited city in England for overnight trips after London, Manchester and Birmingham, and is consistently placed 7th or 8th in the ranking of destinations visited by overseas visitors to the UK.

Destination Bristol’s corporate plan for 2010-15 has established some ambitious targets for growth that will be challenging to meet given the wider pressures on the world economy, but its diverse and high quality product offers, provide a realistic opportunity to meet these targets.

Like Bath Tourism Plus, Destination Bristol will benefit from a £600,000 allocation from Visit England’s Regional Growth Fund programme which is in turn expected to deliver real employment growth within the local economy.

North Somerset

North Somerset is a unitary authority and does not have its own Destination Management/Marketing Organisation. The tourism function sits within the economic development service and is primarily a strategic rather than delivery service.

North Somerset’s tourism businesses have the option to become members of Destination Bristol to the north and/or the recently formed community interest company the Somerset Tourism Partnership to the south (which aims to cover the historic county of Somerset).  The district council has contact with both these organisations and with Bath Tourism Plus and aims to work with in partnership with them to deliver tourism development in the area. The district covers 3 distinctive coastal towns, and inland are smaller towns and villages going east into the Mendip Hills area of outstanding natural beauty. 

Situated on the Bristol Channel, Portishead near Bristol, has undergone major development over the past 10 years, with a new business quarter and a new housing development overlooking a 250 berth marina. Further down the coast Clevedon has fine Victorian and Georgian buildings leading down to the restored Grade 1 listed Pier dating from 1869. To the south of the district is the traditional seaside resort of Weston-super-Mare which is North Somerset’s main visitor destination, with a long sandy beach, level promenade and the famous Grand Pier, rebuilt following a devastating fire in 2008.

Since 2000 Weston-super-Mare town centre and seafront has been undergoing major regeneration, including the £29 million seafront enhancement project, which has seen the substantial upgrading of the promenade and the sea wall. Further investment including a new hotel, shops and leisure facilities are underway, and there are plans for a major sports attraction on the edge of town – the £50m Leisuredome development will include a 210-metre ski slope and an indoor 40-metre indoor climbing wall as well as an indoor surfing centre and sky-diving facility, children's centre, BMX skateboard park, gymnasium and meeting facilities.

As well as working to build relationships with adjoining tourism organisations, the district council has recently reviewed its 10 year old tourism strategy, after consultation with the leading tourism sector businesses. Out of this has come a plan to re-invigorate the product, using social media to connect and aid joint working between businesses and the council, which is due to start this autumn.

South Gloucestershire

South Gloucestershire does not have a dedicated area based tourism organisation. Tourism and visitor economy development is currently delivered through partnership working with Destination Bristol. Development and implementation of the Destination Bristol Strategic Development and Marketing plan incorporates South Gloucestershire.

South Gloucestershire does not have a major city such as a Bath or Bristol. It is a predominantly rural area with a number of large urban towns spread over its 49,700 hectares. Each town has a distinctive character from the historic market towns of Thornbury and Chipping Sodbury where their heritage can be seen and felt by visitors to the more traditional High Streets of Kingswood, Downend and Staple Hill through to the modern feel town of Yate and the popular shopping mall at Cribs Causeway. 

Although not recognised as a major visitor area South Gloucestershire has many sites to visit such as, Country Homes and Heritage sites, a variety of picturesque walkways, and cycle-ways leading to the Cotswolds and Frome Valley, Museums and Heritage Centres. It also hosts annual events such as the Badminton Horse Trials that attract an average of 250,000 visitors. South Gloucestershire is recognised as being a base for easy access to Bath, Bristol and the Cotswolds. It is acclaimed as a great place to live, work and visit.

To maintain and increase valuable inward investment South Gloucestershire continues to work strategically with partners in Destination Bristol and with the Cotswolds Conservation Board, supporting the priorities of the AONB.

Sector group information
For more details on this group, please contact Melissa Houston.

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