UK tourism has weathered the double dip recession but 18% fewer people are holidaying abroad than before the downturn, a new study shows.

The number of trips taken by Britons overseas has declined by 12.6 million, from 69.4 million to 56.8 million between 2007 and 2011, according to the research by Travelodge.

This means that 5.9 million holidays and trips have come out of the market all together when the number of domestic holidays and trips are factored in.

This is shy of the government’s stated ambition for domestic trips to replace the number of missing overseas trips, the report says.

However, the analysis shows that ‘staycation’ breaks were up by 5.6% as the recession proved that holidays are an essential rather than a luxury.

UK city breaks account for 23% of domestic tourism but seaside towns are in decline by 5%.

Total tourism revenue was up 12.6% to £40 billion between 2007-2011 against the general economy up 8%.

Employment numbers in tourism have bucked the wider trend, thanks to strong growth in 2011 when 120,000 new jobs were created.

The UK’s appeal as a tourist destination endured during the double dip, with overall visitor numbers up by 3.1% to 157.4 million, the report shows.

Staycations form the backbone of the tourism economy, with domestic trips and holidays increasing by 5.6% to 126.6 million.

“This shows that Britons have reacquainted themselves with holidaying at home, and city breaks emerge as particularly popular, accounting for almost a quarter (23%) of all domestic breaks. This shows that when cities get their tourism strategy right, the results can be spectacular,” according to the report.

But five previous giants of UK tourism – Bournemouth, Great Yarmouth, Blackpool, Torquay and Newquay – have all suffered a slump in visitor numbers with an average decline of 5% between the five.

The report calls on the government to do more to ensure that its ambitions for tourism are realised and to aid the UK’s economic recovery. This includes reinstating a tourism minister.

The budget chain’s chief executive Grant Hearn said: “Our report confirms UK tourism has successfully weathered the recession and outperformed other key sectors which is great news.

“However, as one of Britain’s biggest business sectors it deserves the chance to unlock its true potential. We have a real opportunity within our grasp which can play a significant part in helping our economy to recover; our lack of immediate action is costing jobs, growth and investment.”

“As the UK’s fifth largest sector we are creating jobs and providing long lasting career opportunities, something very few industries in the economy can say at present.

“The issue we face is that tourism is quite low on the agenda for the Department for Culture, Media & Sport, therefore it is essential that the government takes action and moves our industry to where it belongs – the Department for Business, Skills and Innovation (DBIS).

“It is in our national economic interest and this has to happen now. We need to be treated as a serious business sector.”

The study shows that the UK, which is the sixth biggest tourist destination in the world, is lagging behind the rest of the world in terms of visitor numbers.

On a global level, visitor numbers are up by 23.4%, whereas inbound visitors to the UK have fallen by two million (-6.1%) to 30.8 million. The UK is losing out on attracting tourists from fast growing markets such as China, India, Brazil and Russia.

As a result of these missing visitors the report demonstrates that the government’s target for four million new overseas visitors by 2014 will be one million short at the half way mark.

Travelodge outlines a ten point action plan for tourism success:

  1. Move tourism higher up the government’s agenda, with the first step being to move the industry to where it belongs – the Department for Business, Skills and Innovation. DBIS has both the authority and responsibility to ensure that tourism can flourish.

  2. DBIS to take responsibility for setting a national strategy and policy which includes introducing performance targets and better collaboration across the industry.

  3. Reinstate a full time tourism minister.

  4. Create a united tourism working party with the Scottish Government, Welsh Assembly Government, Northern Ireland Assembly and the Mayor of London.

  5. Develop a dedicated plan and regional tourism fund to help the national tourist boards develop a “London and beyond” strategy that considers where investment in regional tourism can deliver the strongest results.

  6. Assess the business case for regional tourism zones that enjoy allowances on capital expenditure and investment in new projects.

  7. Ring-fence funding for hospitality apprenticeships to drive growth and jobs in the sector.

  8. Simplify the visa process for visitors from emerging markets, especially China. Some steps have been taken recently, which is good news, but a lack of further action will cost jobs, growth and investment.

  9. Reduce the current VAT rate of 20% for the hospitality industry to 5% in line with our European neighbours. This will create 236,000 jobs by 2015, 475,000 jobs by 2020 and annually boost the economy by £150 million.

  10. Target the investment industry especially companies who invest in pension funds and savings plans to invest in tourism business ventures as an alternative long term investment.