The first half of this year proved the most popular period for tourism to Britain since records began, according to Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures.

Inbound visitor numbers were up 8% year on year to 16.4 million between January and June.

June also saw a record number of arrivals — up 10% to 3.18 million, with holidays rather than business accounting for almost half the trips.

Visitors from elsewhere in Europe were largely responsible for the increase.

The number of Britons travelling abroad also rose, by 4% in the first half of the year to 27.1 million. However, the numbers in June dropped by 3% to 5.8 million.

Britons spent far less on trips abroad, despite favourable exchange rates. Spending dipped by 16% in the first six months of 2014 compared with the same period last year.

The number of trips abroad increased by 5% in the 12 months to June but expenditure on these visits fell by 3%. Travel to North America was up by by 6% year-on-year, Europe by 4% and other countries by 5%.

Visits to friends or relatives rose by 9%, holidays by 4% and business trips by 2%.

A rise in the amount spent by foreign tourists to the UK in June was offset by a dip in spending during March, April and May, meaning that the record number of visitors did not bring gains to the economy overall.

VisitBritain head of research and forecasting David Edwards said: “These first six months have set us up for what could be another record year.”

An Abta spokeswoman described the statistics on travelling abroad as “encouraging”.

She told the BBC a drop in spending by British tourists abroad was “likely to be due to the continued squeeze on family finances, as well as the holiday budget going further abroad thanks to a strong pound”.