ALVA Press releases

Huge fall of 66% in visitor numbers at UK attractions in 2020.

31 March 2021: The Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA) releases the visitor figures of its members for 2020 today (Wednesday, March 31, 2021), which saw a very strong start to the year, thanks to an increase in overseas visitors, but then a huge average decline of 66% throughout the UK following the outbreak of COVID-19. The total number of visits to ALVA sites in 2020 was 45.4million, representing an annual decline of 70% on the 151.3million for 2019 on the top 294 ALVA sites.

When the initial lockdown commenced all visitor attractions were closed, but by early summer the situation became far more nuanced, with outdoor sites able to reopen to the public earlier than was the case for indoor sites. Further restrictions often applied to individual nations or English regions rather than the entire UK, meaning that the impact of COVID-19 restrictions was decidedly uneven, with many ALVA members able to reopen while others were forced to remain closed.

Unlike previous years, not all the Top 10 most visited attractions were in London. The most visited attraction in the UK was Tate Modern with 1,431,704 visits. The Natural History Museum (South Kensington) moved up two places to 2nd with 1,296,763 visits and British Museum 3rd with 1,275,466 visits. For the first time, two gardens appeared in the Top 10 - Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, which moved up 7 places to 4th with 1,226,289 visits and RHS Garden Wisley jumped 21 places into the 7th position with 993,516 visits. The most visited attraction outside London was Chester Zoo, which moved 8 places to 6th with 1,182,652 visits.

Significant increases were seen by some of the top 20 attractions and for the first time, the most visited attraction in Scotland was Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh which moved up 20 places to 17th and saw 452,479 visits. Other notable increases in the top 20 reflected the important role some attractions have played in providing people with access to safe and well-managed outdoor spaces during the pandemic. Horniman Museum and Gardens leapt 29 places to 12th with 606,329 visits; ZSL Whipsnade Zoo rose 45 places to 13th to 550,046 visits; Longleat moved 20 places to 14th with 495,037, while Westonbirt, The National Arboretum (Forestry England) moved 51 places to 15th with 484,533 and Attingham Park (National Trust) was 16th after also moving 51 places, with 483,946. In Northern Ireland, Titanic Belfast remained the most visited attraction with 159,044 visits and Mount Stewart (National Trust) was the 2nd most visited moving up 46 places and welcoming 155,928 visits.

Also of note was Kew’s wild botanic garden, Wakehurst, in Sussex which moved up 86 places from 114 to 28 with 342,545 visits and Edinburgh Zoo who welcomed 335,625 visits and moved 35 places to 29th.

However, numbers were badly impacted by COVID-19 and showed how vulnerable and detrimentally affected the UK’s attractions were. Two notable examples that would normally be among the most visited attractions were Royal Museums Greenwich which saw a 96% decline, with 111,263 visits and moved from 9th to 130th place on the table. Edinburgh Castle, which is normally the most-visited paid for attraction in Scotland saw an 87% drop to 276,950 visits and went down 31 places to 44th.

Bernard Donoghue, Director of ALVA, commented: “Our annual figures for 2020 reflect what a devastatingly hard year the Attractions sector and the wider visitor economy faced. Tourism is the UK’s 5th biggest industry and, as these figures show, was hit first, hit hardest and will take the longest to recover.”

“As we approach Easter, one of the economically important times for our members, we continue to question the Government’s decision to open non-essential retail but not indoor attractions, who will also miss the May Bank Holiday as well. In the past 14 months, most of our members have been closed for every Bank Holiday, and therefore we continue to ask the Government to introduce a new Bank Holiday for 2021 at the end of September to thank the NHS and key workers and help the tourism industry repair our balance sheets.

“In the Budget, earlier this month, we welcomed the fact that the Chancellor recognised several of our requests including an extension to the Furlough Scheme and keeping VAT at 5% until the end of September, and we ask him to keep an open mind on further extending that rate for as long as necessary.

“Although many of our members are still physically closed, they have been digitally open. Via innovative ‘virtual’ activities, our members have continued to inspire, teach us and remain at the forefront of our minds whether it be through downloadable jigsaws, behind-the-scene tours or bedtime stories with Zoo Keepers. When the attractions were open, they were open with much reduced capacity and the public’s feedback was that they were not only COVID-safe but the visitor experience was superb. This will continue when they reopen in April, May and June – so we urge you to visit them – whether they are in the city or in the country, you are likely to never see them so quiet again and be able to get so close to wonderful art, animals and performances. Our museums and galleries, historic houses and gardens, cathedrals and palaces, castles and zoos, safari parks and heritage sites, theme parks and churches need your support more than ever before.”

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