Olympic visitors give UK economy mild lift in August

Over half a million foreign visitors to the London Olympics and Paralympics may have helped lift the British economy out of recession, although total tourist numbers fell during the Games.

Just over 3 million overseas residents visited Britain in August, 5 percent fewer than in August 2011, the Office for National Statistics said on Thursday.

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But Britain's earnings in August - including Olympic and Paralympic tickets bought before and during the Games - rose 9 percent on the year.

"The average amount of money spent by those people who either made their visit for an Olympics or Paralympics purpose or attended a ticketed event was almost twice as much as the average spent among other visitors," the ONS said.

Based on its surveys, the ONS estimates that some 590,000 visitors came to Britain during July and August either for the Games or at least attended one ticketed event.

The noticeable lack of visitors in London's theatres, museums and on buses and trains during the Olympics have raised concerns that the Games could hurt British businesses as other tourists stayed away to avoid the crowds.

IHS Global Insight economist Howard Archer pointed out that the weak economic situation in many countries across the globe might have also been a reason for the fall in tourist numbers.

"While the impact of the Olympic Games and the Paralympics on the number of overseas visitors coming to the UK in August may be open to differing interpretations, it is evident that the Games did boost spending by overseas visitors to the UK," he said.

The British economy is widely expected to have posted some growth in the July-September period as production bounced back from a hit caused by the extra public holiday in June.

Economists in a Reuters poll expect growth of 0.6 pct in the quarter, which would mean an end to the recession after three consecutive quarters of contraction.

The ONS has already said that all ticket revenues from the July 27-August 12 Olympics and the August 29-September 9 Paralympics will be accounted for in the third quarter, boosting quarterly GDP growth by 0.2 percentage points.

(Reporting by Sven Egenter; Editing by Hugh Lawson)