VisitBritain statistics confirm a 3% increase in numbers on 2015, although spending, at £22.2 billion, remained the same as the previous year.
The figures show strong growth in 2016 from Canada and the US. The US remains Britain’s most valuable tourism source market, with 4.3 million visits, up 7% on 2015.
In addition, there was a record 25.3 million visits from the European Union in 2016, up 4% on 2015.
Overall, there were 7.5 million more visits in 2016 than 2010, an increase of 25%.
Tourism minister Tracey Crouch said: “As these record-breaking figures show, the UK is one of the world’s must-visit destinations. The industry makes a significant contribution to our economy, and we will continue to support tourism to grow the sector further and promote the UK across the world.”
VisitBritain chief executive Sally Balcombe added: “We must seize the opportunity to build on this, boosting visitor spending by driving home the message of welcome and value particularly in our high spending markets such as China and the US and the valuable European market.”
The figures show a boost in holiday visits to the UK towards the end of 2016, with a record 3.2 million from October to December, up 11% on the same period in 2015. Inbound visits to friends and relatives saw strong growth throughout 2016 with a record-breaking 11.5 million, up 10% on 2015.
Latest flight booking data shows 2017 off to a strong start, with bookings to the UK up 16% for February to April compared to the same period last year.