02/10/2013 09:05 BST | Updated 02/12/2013 05:12 GMT

King of the Castles: Britain's Built Heritage Rules

Britain is fortunate to be the home of some of the most iconic buildings in the world. Our magnificent built heritage makes Britain an all-year round attraction, with tourists drawn by the chance to see famous castles and historic houses such Edinburgh Castle, Chatsworth House or Highclere Castle - otherwise known as Downton Abbey. As the fourth series of ITV's phenomenally successful series hit our screens with its biggest audience to date (more than 9.5 million viewers tuned in), we had some positive figures of our own to celebrate.

Visiting castles, stately homes and famous buildings in Britain is now a top priority for overseas visitors, with a built heritage site incorporated into the itinerary of 8.9million overseas visits a year. That's nearly 30% of all overseas visits to Britain. Over the entirety of those visits, £6.5billion is spent in this country.

Whilst built heritage has always been one of Britain's biggest attractions - with much of the appeal attributed to the drama and charm of castles and stately homes enriched with medieval and Celtic history - the growing success of British period dramas such as Downton Abbey provide a fantastic showcase for the stately homes and historic houses featured in them. This, in turn, is boosting interest and visitor numbers. Alnwick Castle, the 'Hogwarts' home of Harry Potter, is a massive draw and has experienced a 230% increase in visitor numbers since 2011 - boosting the local economy by £9 million.

Whilst our overseas visitors have a consistently high perception of Britain's built heritage, the global coverage of last year's Olympic Games, combined with our GREAT marketing campaign, appears to have boosted recognition and interest further. In an Ipsos Mori poll of 15,000 respondents, 47% recognised "interesting built heritage" as a top holiday attribute associated with Britain - a 10% increase on pre-Olympic perceptions (37%). Britain's "interesting built heritage" was also ranked 2nd against that of France, the USA, Australia and Italy - higher than its previous 3rd place ranking.

I am pleased to see that over one million visitors from our highest spending market - the US - have taken a tour around some of our finest built heritage, spending over £1 billion while in the UK. VisitBritain's vision is to inspire the world to explore Britain, so it is also encouraging that castles and historic houses welcomed 418,000 visitors from the emerging BRIC markets, with Chinese, Russian, Indian and Brazilians injecting £485m into the British economy whilst here. In fact, in terms of likelihood to include a visit to a castle or historic house in their trip, those from emerging markets are amongst the most likely to do so - 51% of Brazilian visitors, 42% from Russia and China and 35% from India.

Britain's built heritage is a huge asset and one of our major strengths as a tourism destination. Looking forward, we are capitalising on this forte by upping our promotional activity in key markets around the world, using images that highlight the drama of our castles and romantic appeal of historic houses. As we aim to welcome 40 million overseas visitors a year by 2020, built heritage's role in the growth and success of British tourism will continue to reign supreme.