ALVA Press releases

Scotland out performs the rest of the UK for the 6th year running

16 March 2018: 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 5.1% growth. Overall 129,954,657 visits were made to the top 238 ALVA sites in the UK.

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 had 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%).

64,137,632 people – just less than 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.

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

Tourism Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “Scotland boasts high-quality attractions that, as these latest figures confirm, are continuing to draw increasing numbers of visitors.

“Our tourism sector is of vital importance to Scotland’s economy. We have a rich heritage, a global reach and confident of our place in the world.

“We will continue to work with our tourism industry, including our visitor attractions, to make Scotland a world-class and welcoming visitor destination.”

Bernard Donoghue, Director of ALVA, commented: “2017 was a remarkable and record-setting year for Scottish attractions. The fact that Scottish visitor attractions are outperforming the rest of the UK in visitor growth reflects years of strong investment by central and local government in Scotland, and by organisations such as the Heritage Lottery Fund, in Scotland’s visitor economy and cultural landscape.

We know from research that overseas leisure visitors say that their primary reason to visit the UK, and Scotland especially, is to experience our history, heritage and world-leading cultural institutions, and this is borne out by 2017 visitor numbers – from Cornwall to Skara Brae.

A few of our London members have seen 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.

Our members such as Historic Environment Scotland and the National Trust for Scotland, who offer membership schemes, which are seen as value for money in times of austerity, 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 including Scotland’s first design museum - V&A Dundee – will open on September 15.

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 and 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.”

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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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