04/11/2013 12:02 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

Theatre's Cue on the Tourism Stage

At this very moment, somewhere in Britain, an international tourist is buying a theatre ticket. It could be for The Book of Mormon in London, War Horse in Birmingham, or perhaps Richard II in Stratford-upon-Avon. They might have bought it in advance on VisitBritain's online shop, or gone for a last-minute option on the day of the show. Whatever they choose - and there's a big choice - experiencing our first-class theatre will be sure to enrich their holiday in Britain.

Theatre is not unfamiliar with playing understudy to football or shopping as a popular activity for tourists, but its appeal and contribution is strong regardless and our latest insights could change deep-rooted perceptions for good. More of our holiday visitors from overseas are going to the theatre, musicals, the opera or ballet (2.8million) than to a live sporting event (1.3million) across Britain, accounting for 14% and 4% respectively of all overseas holiday trips.

This alone is great news for theatre - but there's more. Overseas theatre-goers are surprisingly high spenders, injecting £2.7billion into the UK economy during their holiday, which is over double the £1.1billion spent by visitors including live sport in their trip.

London's West End understandably gets a lot of international attention and 24% of overseas visitors are likely to attend a performance in the capital. However, with Sheffield Theatres leading the wins at the recent 2013 UK Theatre Awards, the award-winning Wicked heading to Southampton and The Royal Shakespeare Company announcing record results over the last year (a total income increase of 30% to £62.6million), regional theatre is proving its worth.

Our latest regional data shows that outside the capital the West Midlands and North West regions of the UK show the most promise for theatre tourism. Of overseas holiday visitors staying in the West Midlands, 9% were likely to go to the theatre. Likewise, 9% staying in the North West during their trip were prospective theatre-goers. While there's still a way to go, people are clearly enjoying the pleasures that British regional theatre has to offer, including variety, originality and a sense of community. And what a variety! During November alone our countrywide offerings span Matthew Bourne's acclaimed all-male interpretation of Swan Lake in Salford, Twelfth Night in Hull, Crime and Punishment in Edinburgh and Tosca in Llandudno, Wales - to name but a few.

Yet regional theatre faces many challenges, particularly of the financial kind. This is where campaigns like My Theatre Matters! are so important. Launched earlier this year by Equity, The Stage and the Theatrical Management Association, the campaign aims to challenge funding cuts by encouraging audiences to speak up about why their local theatre matters to them.

Regional theatre certainly has a case for more support. The additional visitor spend (AVS) of international visitors attending regional theatre - eating out, programmes, refreshments, transport or buying local products - makes a significant difference to the local economy. Local theatre also produces future, bankable talent. The two men who brought us the ultimate theatrical production - the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony - started out locally. Danny Boyle was an usher at the Bolton Octagon and Stephen Daldry joined a youth theatre group in his hometown of Taunton.

It's this high quality of home-grown talent that puts British theatre on the international map. So, in order to enrich our nationwide cultural offering for years to come, we must do all we can to entice our international visitors to regional theatrical gems, as well as the big London shows.