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These 2.8 million visits include 14% of all overseas holiday trips, whilst visits incorporating a live sport event make up just 4%.

Overseas theatre-goers are also surprisingly high spenders, injecting £2.7 billion into the UK economy during their trip – over double the £1.1 billion spent by traditionally high spending live sport visitors. The average spend by theatre-keen visitors whilst in the UK is also high at £983 (a regular visitor spends around £600), which could include theatre souvenirs, programmes and refreshments, along with dinner and hotels. Further insights reveal that theatre-goers also generate higher spending than music tourists (festivals and live gigs), at £2.2bn across Britain.

With Sheffield Theatres leading the wins at the recent 2013 UK Theatre Awards and its production of The Full Monty heading to London following a hit tour of the UK, and the award-winning Wicked heading to Southampton, the popularity and diversity of regional theatre is clear. The Royal Shakespeare Company, based in Stratford-upon-Avon, just announced record results for 2012/2013, with total income increased by 30% to £62.6 million, achieved through 75% growth in box office receipts.

Based on VisitBritain’s latest regional data, 24% of holiday visitors who stay in London will go to the theatre, resulting in an estimation of just over 2 million international tourists overall enjoying a show in our capital last year. However, whilst theatre as an activity for overseas visitors is still predominantly London-centric, the West Midlands and North West regions of the UK show particular promise for theatre tourism interest. Of overseas holiday visitors staying in the West Midlands, 9% go to the theatre. Likewise, 9% of holiday visitors staying in the North West during their trip were theatre-goers.

English-speaking countries dominate the top 20 markets for highest volume of visits incorporating a trip to the theatre, musicals, the opera or ballet. The USA leads with 426,000 visits, followed by Australians with 209,000 visits.

When studying propensity to include a theatre visit, at 24% the Israelis - one of the smaller markets for Britain - are the highest proportion out of all markets that fancy tapping their toes to the like of The Lion King, followed by Australians (19%) and Brazilians (19%).

Looking at age groups throws up some equally interesting results. It’s not just the over 55s who are avid theatregoers - some 38% of the overseas visitors who go to theatre are aged 25 to 44. Women are the keenest, with 55% of overseas audiences being female. They tend drive the decision to go to a show and will bring along their partner.

Musicals are by far the most popular choice, chosen by 64%, followed by 25% that prefer plays, 3% who go to the ballet and 1% who choose the opera.

In terms of who buys tickets prior to travel, a number of long haul markets lead the way, including several relatively small markets for Britain where the first language is not necessarily English, such as Denmark, Argentina and Norway. Regarding the likelihood of buying theatre tickets during their trip, the Taiwanese, Argentinians and Mexicans lead the way, but it's USA, Australia, Germany and France who buy the biggest volume of tickets overall. Tickets to theatre shows are popular sellers on VisitBritain’s online shop.

In general, theatre ticket sales have had a strong year. Encore Tickets, which sells West End musical tickets to customers from over 157 different countries, has seen a 20% growth in sales in 2013, which is strongly related to the increase of overseas visitors this year. Only last month, VisitBritain revealed that 2013 has seen the strongest visitor numbers since 2008, attracting 22 million visitors in the first eight months of 2013 alone. Spend is also up 11% (£13.7bn), leaving us on track for a record year.

Sandie Dawe, CEO of VisitBritain, said: “The vitality of our theatre – whether London's West End or our major regional centres – provides a great holiday experience for our international visitors. In Britain you can see cutting edge theatre by new writers, big blockbuster musicals and plenty of Shakespeare with actors that are known across the globe. If you like the theatre, Britain is a great place to enjoy it.”

British lyricist and musical theatre Producer Tim Rice said: “Theatre is not only one of Britain's strongest exports - it is also enjoyed in the UK by visitors from all over the world. In the forty-plus years I've worked in musical theatre, from Jesus Christ Superstar (1971) to From Here To Eternity (2013), I have seen the number of foreign visitors to the West End Theatre soar to magnificent proportions, to the extent that tourism is now an absolutely crucial factor in our industry's well-being. I am not remotely surprised to learn from this report that more than twice as many visitors go to the theatre than go to sporting fixtures. British theatre is one of the great reasons to come to Britain - we must make every effort to ensure that it remains so.”

Jonathan Mountford, managing director of made said: “As a tourism marketing, representation and PR agency working for many different West End productions we know only too well just how much of an international draw these shows are. Our most popular musicals speak the international language of London’s theatreland at its very best. But more importantly, our attendance at VisitBritain sales missions around the world has proved just how much potential there is in promoting this country’s world-beating entertainment industry to an audience that wants to come here and take part in that magic”.

For more information contact:

VisitBritain Media Team

pressandpr@visitbritain.com

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