BUSINESSES in Hereford and Worcester are on course to earn around £54.4m from international visitors this year, according to new figures.

The numbers, compiled for British Travel Trade Fair, are based on the projected growth rates for the UK as a whole.

Latest official figures show the county made £51m from overseas business and leisure travellers in 2003. That is expected to rise by £3.4m in 2005.

And according to Worcester City Council, retail outlets and catering facilities will be the big winners, sharing the majority of the money pot.

Andrea Watkins, the tourism and marketing manager for the council, described why the area is so popular.

"There is a lot of heritage in the two counties and that is a big attraction to overseas tourists," she said.

"We have two cathedrals and in Worcester we have the pottery and Elgar.

"There is also the appeal of national sporting venues such as race courses, and the Worcester rugby club and cricket grounds.

"We are also ideally situated for the rest of England, with an excellent motorway network close by."

Last year, 2.2m tourists, both from this country and abroad, raised a total of £89m in Worcester. The retail sector accounted for 39 per cent of that, with catering receiving 32 per cent. Transport came third, taking 12 per cent, with entertainment and accommodation benefiting from the rest.

"These figures highlight the importance of the travel and tourism industry to local and regional economies," said Graeme Barnett, BTTF's event director.

This year's trade fair opens on Wednesday, March 2, at Birmingham's NEC. For more information log onto www.british

."They demonstrate a clear need for exactly the kind of informed, professional and businesslike approach that we promote - and inspire - at BTTF."

This year's trade fair kicks off on Wednesday, March 2 at Birmingham's NEC. For more information log onto www.britishtraveltrade