17 March 2023: The impact of Covid hasn’t ended and the cost-of-living crisis sees an increase in visitors to free attractions.

The Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA) has released the visitor figures of its members for 2022 today (Friday, March 17, 2023) at the start of English Tourism Week and during Scottish Tourism Month. The total number of visits to ALVA sites in 2022 was 123.4million, which was a 69% increase on the previous year (73.1 million) but represented a decline of 23% on the 161.2 million visits in 2019 to the top 349 ALVA sites.

Indoor sites enjoyed the strongest year-on-year growth with a 176% increase, ahead of mixed sites at 44% and outdoor sites reported a far more modest increase of 5%. The most-visited attraction in the UK continued to be Windsor Great Park, which is managed by the Crown Estate, and saw 5,636,844 visits – a 4% increase on 2021 numbers.

London saw the strongest year-on-year performance with visits up 152% followed by Scotland up 128% and Northern Ireland up 120%. The region of England outside London with the biggest year-on-year growth was the North West which was up 49%.
The most-visited indoor attraction and second most visited attraction overall was the Natural History Museum (South Kensington) which saw a 196% increase in visitors to 4,654,608. While moving to 3rd place (from 6th) was the British Museum who saw a 209% increase and welcomed 4,097,253 visitors. In 4th place was Tate Modern who saw a 202% increase and moved from 7th place with 3,883,160 visitors, while the Southbank Centre moved up 8 places to 5th with a 275% increase to 2,947,155 visitors. The National Gallery saw a 274% increase and returned as one of the top 10 most-visited attractions with 2,727,119 visitors and the Tower of London moved from 33rd place to 10th with 2,020,121 visitors and a 284% increase.

While in Scotland, the highest free attraction on the table continued to be the National Museum of Scotland, which rose 9 places to 11th and saw a 199% increase to 1,973,751. It was followed by Edinburgh Castle, which was the highest paid for attraction in Scotland. In the 2021 figures, the castle had been in 41st place, but in 2022, it saw an increase of 218% to 16th position (1,346,168). In 17th place – moving 47 places with 1,277,230 visitors was the Scottish National Gallery. Glasgow’s Riverside Museum also featured in the top 20 with a 276% increase to 1,173,242 visitors (19th place) compared to 61st in 2021.

In Northern Ireland, Titanic Belfast was the most visited attraction. It saw a 177% increase to 48th place after welcoming 624,294 visitors.

Among the largest percentage increases was new ALVA member, the Design Museum which saw a 515% increase to 511,863 visitors. Also in London, Westminster Abbey saw a 551% increase to 1,063,063 and rose 105 places to 21st and The Monument to The Great Fire of London had a 729% increase with 81,291 visitors. Another notable rise was The Royal Shakespeare Company that moved 116 places with an increase of 557% and 672,487 visitors. Several Scottish attractions were also among the largest percentage increases with the People’s Palace in Glasgow seeing a 4,411% increase to 146,389 visitors, while Glasgow Cathedral (part of Historic Environment Scotland) saw an increase of 658% with 256,001 visitors and Doune Castle (also part of Historic Environment Scotland) saw a 1,650% increase to 55,484.

Museums & Galleries reported a surge in visits (+158%) compared with 2021. Visits to Heritage & Cathedral sites increased 55% and Zoo visits by +15%.

Gardens & Leisure attractions (-0.3%) experienced the weakest performance, with visits virtually unchanged on the tally for 2021. However, when comparing 2022 with 2019 by attraction type, it was revealed that both Gardens & Leisure (+3%) and Zoos (-4%) were welcoming similar volumes of visits as before the pandemic. While the remaining types of attraction all ended 2022 with visitor numbers still between 23% to 32% below their 2019 figures.

The cost-of-living crisis was also reflected in the annual figures for 2022 with attractions who offer free entry except for special exhibitions and events reporting the strongest year-on-year growth in visits with a 183% increase. In comparison, those who charged admission experienced a 101% rise in visitors.

Bernard Donoghue OBE, Director of ALVA, commented: “These figures show that visitors flocked back to their favourite places in 2022 to breathe, heal, repair and to enjoy special moments with special people in special places. The year ended strongly with attractions reporting a very busy Christmas, strong visitor numbers and strong retail sales. People clearly wanted to create special memories with their loved ones after two difficult years and a challenging economic climate.”

“Many attractions are still not back up to 2019 visitor levels due, mainly, to the absence of international visitors, notably from China and the Far East, but I am confident that they will return this year and we will see a continuing healthy recovery."

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