London has been a destination for visitors from abroad for many centuries, but it was during the 20th century that the tourist industry became a significant part of the capital's life and economy.
The development of modern tourism in Britain began in the 1940s with the growth of air travel, although at first, the opportunity to fly was available only to the rich. Working-class families tended to holiday at home. In Britain, for example, they travelled by road and rail to the coast, particularly holiday camps such as Butlins or Pontin's.
By the 1990s, travel had become available to ordinary people in all countries, thanks to new transport infrastructure such as the building of the Eurotunnel and the shrinking price of air travel. Many people could afford to visit London for the day and return home the same evening.
During the last years of the 20th century, London attracted 30 million tourists a year who, between them, spent 15 billion. Britain as a whole raised an annual total of 75.1 billion through international and domestic tourism. There were an estimated 1.4 million jobs in the British tourist industry, which amounted to 5% of national employment. Most of the overseas visitors came from the United States, followed by France, Germany and Ireland. People aged between 16 and 34 made half the visits.
By the end of the century, London's top ten London tourist attractions were:
The British Museum
Visitors during 1999: 5.46 million
The National Gallery
Visitors during 1999: 4.96 million
Visitors during 1999: 2.64 million
Tower of London
Visitors during 1999: 2.43 million
Visitors during 1999: 1.82 million
Natural History Museum
Visitors during 1999: 1.7 million
Chessington World of Adventure
Visitors during 1999: 1.55 million
The Science Museum
Visitors during 1999: 1.48 million
Visitors during 1999: 1.26 million
The Victoria and Albert Museum
Visitors during 1999: 1.25 million
London's tourist attractions reflected the 20th century's growing demand for more sophisticated, culturally led tourism. London's historic buildings, museums and galleries are key to London's attraction, although there is no doubt that shops and entertainment also add to capital's draw for both domestic and international visitors.
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