THE value of tourism to York’s economy has surpassed the half a billion pound mark for the first time.

Research commissioned by Visit York, has revealed that visitor spend in 2012 hit a record £606 million.

The figure is a third higher than the previous estimate of £443 million when research was last carried out in 2008.

The research combines the results from the tourism industry’s “Cambridge model” and the UK Events Market Trends Survey, which both provide estimates of the economic impact of tourism for destinations.

Findings also revealed that the proportion of visitors who stay overnight has risen from 17 per cent to 22 per cent since 2008; up from 1.2 million to 1.5 million.

Thanks to the seven million annual visitors, York’s tourism industry now supports an estimated 20,200 jobs which accounts for 20 per cent of the city’s workforce, putting York in the top ten destinations for the percentage of its workforce employed in tourism.

Kate McMullen, of Visit York said: “These statistics are fantastic news and mean we have exceeded our targets.

“It’s our strong partnership approach, working closely with York’s tourism businesses and their innovation that continually enables York to stay ahead of the competition.”

The research showed overnight visitors contribute £399 million, compared to £207 million from day visitors.

A quarter of visitor spend is attributable to conference and event visitors, despite them representing only 15 per cent of visitors.

Food and drink is the leading area of spend, followed closely by shopping, with leisure visitors spending £125 million and £116 million in each area respectively, up from £92 million and £54 million in 2008.

Jane Lady Gibson, chairman of Visit York, said: “These excellent results show we are on the right track and we now have ambitious plans, with partners in the city, to create a billion pound visitor economy for York by 2024.

“To successfully deliver on this we will raise our game still further, creating a sharper, more innovative approach to take tourism in York to the next level.”

Coun Sonja Crisp, City of York Council cabinet member for tourism, said: “Our aim has always been to concentrate on increasing the value of tourism in York, so we’re delighted with these latest results and we will continue to build on this success.’

Economic impact results for 2013 will be published later this year, however Visit York says early indications from its hotel occupancy and attractions surveys are positive, with both surveys anticipated to show a record year.