ALVA reveals average increase of 7.3% on 2016 visitor numbers to UK attractions.

20 March 2018: On the eve of English Tourism Week, the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA) announced its members' visitor figures for 2017 today (Friday, March 16, 2018), which saw an average increase of 7.3% on 2016 visitor numbers to UK attractions. Attractions in Scotland have seen consistent growth and saw an increase of 13.9%, while in Northern Ireland, there was 6.5% growth. Overall 129,954,657 visits were made to the top 238 ALVA sites in the UK.

64,270,071 people – nearly the equivalent of the total population of the UK - visited attractions in London and therefore it is no surprise that the Top 10 most visited attractions were all London based.

The British Museum continued to be the most popular visitor attraction overall for the 11th year running with 5,906,716 visitors and moving to 2nd place was Tate Modern with 5,656,004. In 3rd position was the National Gallery with 5,229,192 visitors and the Natural History Museum remained in 4th place with 4,434,520, and the V&A moved up 3 places to 5th due to a 26% increase in visitors, which they attributed to the launch of the new entrance and courtyard on Exhibition Road, including a new purpose-built gallery space, as well as phenomenal success of three exhibitions; Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains; Plywood: Material of the Modern World and Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion. Tate Britain saw a 64% increase in visitors – resulting in a rise to 15th place from 29th – which they credited in part to the hugely successful David Hockney Exhibition in the first half of the year (1,777,877). The Museum of London Docklands saw a 21% increase, which they attributed to Tunnel: The Archaeology of Crossrail exhibition and Kensington Palace saw a 62.4% due to Diana: Her Fashion Story.

For the first time in 4 years, the most visited attractions outside London were in Scotland, where two attractions celebrated welcoming more than 2 million visitors. The National Museum of Scotland is the most visited attraction outside London – following the opening of ten new galleries in 2016 and moved to 11th place seeing 2,165,601 visitors and a 20% increase. The combined total for all 4 National Museums Scotland sites was 3,113,178. In 12th position was Edinburgh Castle with a 16% increase (2,063,709) – continuing to be the most visited paid for attraction in Scotland and seeing the combined total for the top 20 sites managed by HES (Historic Environment Scotland) being 4,464,126. For the 4 National Galleries Scotland sites visitor numbers were 2,564,726 with a 30% increase at Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern Two).

Continuum Attractions’ Mary King’s Close on the Royal Mile was a record breaking 9% up on visitor numbers to 245,700. These increases were attributed to a boom in inbound and domestic tourism to Scotland. One of the largest increases was Inverewe Garden in Wester Ross which saw 109.6% increase – located on the popular North Coast 500 route, and with Inverewe House open to the public for the first time ever after a restoration project by the National Trust for Scotland, the famous gardens are enjoying a visitor boom. Other strong increases included Glasgow Cathedral (36%) Stirling Castle (18%), People’s Palace Glasgow (19.34%); Culzean Castle (11.6%), Crathes Castle (23.7%) and Culloden (27.6%).

The most visited attraction in England outside London was Chester Zoo, which saw 1,866,628 visitors (13th place).

Northern Ireland saw a 5.1% increase, with the most popular attraction being the National Trust’s Giants Causeway, in 32nd place with 1,011,467 visitors followed by Titanic Belfast who secured 45th position with a 13.4% increase (771,038). The 3 sites of National Museums Northern Ireland had a combined total of 828,595 with the highest being the Ulster Museum who saw the impact of their 77 metre Game of Thrones ® Tapestry, inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry and the Poppies Weeping Window generating a 15.9% increase to 533,153. In addition, Mount Stewart (also a National Trust property), where the house has now re-opened after a 3-year long restoration project, saw a 20% increase (218,692).

Notable increases included Shakespeare’s New Place in Stratford-upon-Avon which opened in the summer of 2016 following a two-year, £6m capital project to re-present the site of Shakespeare’s family home marking the 400th anniversary of his death. This saw a 191% increase to 142,325 visitors. York Minster rose 10 places to 51st after seeing an increase of 13.4% (691,716), and Birmingham Museum Trust’s Sarehole Mill saw a 28% increase to 23,977 visitors by expanding its events programme. This includes a series of Baking Experiences and markets, in addition to the continued support of the local festival ‘Middle-earth weekend’ - JRR Tolkien, author of the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogy lived across the road from the mill. Later in life he stated how the mill and rural surroundings inspired his writings of Middle-earth. Elsewhere, The National Museum Royal Navy welcomed 1,081,909 visitors and a 17% increase at its various museums combined with a record breaking year in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard where it has its headquarters – which was partially due to the spectacular views of £3billion aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth - one of the most advanced warships ever built by the Royal Navy – which is docked nearby.

Among English Heritage’s top sites Stonehenge achieved 17th place and an increase of 14.5% (1,582,532), while Dover Castle saw a 13.9% increase and Osborne rose 11 places after a 16.1% increase.

The Churches Conservation Trust welcomed over 300,000 visitors to nine of its most visited sites. St Nicholas’ Chapel in Kings Lynn saw an increase of 8% due to increased events including its first ever Gin Festival! Champing (church camping) continued to go from strength to strength with more than double the amount of bookings compared to 2016.

Gardens and outdoor spaces continued to be popular - Wakehurst in Sussex, part of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew had a 17.8% increase, WildPlace Bristol (part of Bristol Zoo) achieved 28.5% increase, WWT Welney in Cambridgeshire attracted an increase of 25%, while the Magic Garden at Hampton Court Palace continued to prove popular, particularly with families with younger children (10.6%) and Trelissick, the National Trust’s garden in Cornwall saw a 13% increase.

The six Oxford University museums, libraries and gardens (which include the Ashmolean Museum, Botanic Garden, Bodleian Libraries, Museum of the History of Science, Museum of Natural History and the Pitt Rivers Museum) had a phenomenal year with a combined increase of 13% and for the first time three Oxford University institutions are in now the top 50 most visited attractions. The Oxford University Museum of Natural History saw a 15% increase, while the University of Oxford Botanic Garden saw a 23.5% rise, the Bodleian Library had a 25% increase and the Museum of the History of Science had an increase of 11.8%. This growth was attributed to Oxford’s first joint marketing campaign, Mindgrowing which resulted in a 14% increase in visitor numbers during the spring and a 19% increase during the summer. This was also enhanced by a number of hugely popular exhibitions, including Raphael: The Drawings at the Ashmolean, Volcanoes at the Bodleian Libraries, and Brain Diaries at the Museum of Natural History.

Bernard Donoghue, Director of ALVA, commented: “This has been another fantastic year for tourism, and attractions in particular. We know from research that overseas leisure visitors say that their primary reason to visit the UK are to experience our history, heritage and world-leading cultural institutions, and this is borne out by 2017 visitor numbers.

“A number of our London members have seen exceptional growth reflecting a record year for London tourism and the popularity of their temporary exhibitions, whilst some saw a decline in visitor numbers following 5 years of unprecedented growth in numbers. Economic factors have also had an impact on UK visitors to central London, with associated evidence that the costs linked with a visit such as travel and food and drink have played an important part in deciding where to visit. Undoubtedly there have been some concerns about global security issues, but economic concerns are playing a more crucial part. Other travel issues such as the semi-closure of Waterloo station in August as well as the inconsistent train service from South and South East England also deterred people from travelling to London and encouraged people to visit attractions nearer to home.

Our members such as English Heritage and National Trust, who offer membership schemes, which are seen as value for money in times of austerity, to a variety of sites saw an increase in visitors.

He continued; “2018 should be another exciting year for ALVA members with lots of innovative and fascinating events and developments. The Royal Academy of Arts is celebrating its 250th birthday with Charles I: King & Collector (open until April 15) and on May 19, they will open the doors to a newly transformed RA; to commemorate the Centenary of the RAF, the Royal Air Force Museum London will reopen three of their halls in the summer with new permanent exhibitions located in them. Scotland’s first design museum - V&A Dundee – will open on September 15 and Tate St Ives is now re-open and double its original size with an exciting permanent collection.

Tate Britain is currently hosting an exhibition All too Human: Bacon, Freud and a Century of Painting Life (until August 27); Michael Jackson: On the Wall will show at the National Portrait Gallery between June 28 - October 21; The Credit Suisse Exhibition: Monet & Architecture opens at the National Gallery on April 9; the British Museum will host Rodin and the art of ancient Greece from April 26 while the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Wakehurst will be celebrating Easter with Peter Rabbit™ from March 30 to April 15.

Elsewhere, the World Museum in Liverpool is holding China's First Emperor and the Terracotta Warriors until October 28; Rembrandt| Britain’s Discovery of the Master will be at the Scottish National Gallery from July 7 – October 14, while Emil Nolde | Colour is Life will open at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern Two) in Edinburgh on July 14; Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of Glasgow architect, designer and artist Charles Rennie Mackintosh with a major new temporary exhibition which opens on March 30 and the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford is focusing on America’s Cool Modernism O’Keefe to Hopper from March 23.”

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ALVA’s Members are the UK's most popular, iconic and important museums, galleries, palaces, castles, cathedrals, zoos, historic houses, heritage sites, gardens and leisure attractions. The 66 ALVA members manage some nearly 2,200 tourist sites and welcome over 119 million domestic and overseas visitors each year; some 28% of the visits made annually in the United Kingdom.

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