Economic concerns have led to interesting changes in visitor numbers to UK attractions. Words: John Fitzsimons
The British Museum has been named the number-one tourist attraction in the UK once again, with 5.9 million visits in 2017. However, even though the musuem retained the top spot, visits actually fell by 8% from 2016. It was a similar story for the National Gallery, which was the second most popular free attraction. Despite its overall popularity, visits dropped sharply from 6.3 million in 2016 to 5.2 million last year, a fall of around 16.5%.
The latest figures from the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA) show that the UK’s top 10 attractions had nearly 1.7 million fewer visitors than the previous year. London dominated the list of free attractions, with the Natural History Museum, the V&A, the Science Museum, the Southbank Centre, Somerset House and the Royal Museums Greenwich all featuring in the top 10.
There are various reasons for the drop in overall visitor numbers. Bernard Donoghue, director of ALVA, said: “Economic factors have had an impact on UK visitors to central London, with associated evidence that the costs linked with a visit such as travel, food and drink have played an important part in deciding where to visit.” While terror attacks may helped to discourage visitors, it seems that finances are to the fore. “Undoubtedly there have been some concerns about global security issues, but economic concerns are playing a more crucial part.”
However, not all attractions saw a drop — while most saw visitor numbers fall by between 4% and 17%, the V&A had an incredible year, with visitors numbers rocketing by 26%. This has been attributed to the launch of the new entrance and courtyard on Exhibition Road, including a new purpose-built gallery space, as well as three phenomenally successful exhibitions; Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains; Plywood: Material of the Modern World and Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion.
The highest placed attraction from outside of London was the National Museum of Scotland, which came 11th. Visitors increased by 20% in 2017 to a total of 2.2 million, with guests keen to see the 10 new galleries which opened in 2016.
Other free attractions which enjoyed a strong year include Scottish Highland locations Glenfinnan, which saw visitor numbers rise 58%, and Inverewe Gardens, which enjoyed a jump of 110%.
Bernard Donoghue, director of ALVA, said: “We know from research that overseas leisure visitors say that their primary reason to visit the UK is to experience our history, heritage and world-leading cultural institutions, and this is borne out by 2017 visitor numbers.”
2017 visitor figures
1 British Museum: 5,906,716, down 8%
Planning an enormous renovation project over a decade, culminating in a complete redisplay of its galleries
2 Tate Modern: 5,656,004, down 3%
Currently showing a blockbuster Picasso show focusing on his work in 1932, it runs until September and may provide a welcome boost in visitor numbers
3 National Gallery: 5,229,192, down 16.5%
This summer’s popular Monet and Architecture show is the first time an exhibition at the gallery has cost over £20 for a ticket — it’s £22 at weekends
4 Natural History Museum: 4,434,520, down 4%
The NHM has this year launched a virtual reality experience, which takes users behind the scenes of the museum on a guided tour of highlights with Sir David Attenborough
5 V&A South Kensington: 3,789,748, up 26%
The V&A is hoping for another successful year with its exhibition of Frida Kahlo’s personal artefacts and clothing, which opens in June and has never been seen outisde Mexico before
6 Science Museum: 3,251,000, up 0.17%
Visitors can currently get up close to a full-size engineering model of BepiColombo, the European Space Agency’s first ever spacecraft to explore Mercury
7 Southbank Centre: 3,232,655, down 17.3%
Continuing a series of interactive exhibitions, visitors can immerse themselves in the world of Swedish pop superstars until the end of July at the ABBA: Super Troupers exhibition, narrated by Jarvis Cocker
8 Somerset House: 3,223,350, down 6.8%
This venue continues to make the most of its beautiful courtyard, with Film4 Summer Screen showing a variety of classic movies this summer, as well as concerts from the likes of Metronomy and De La Soul
9 Tower of London: 2,843,031, up 3.7%
The perenieally popular home of the Crown Jewels is hosting outdoor theatre performances this summer exploring the tragic final days of Anne Boleyn
10 Royal Museums Greenwich: 2,607,099, up 6%
This covers a clutch of attractions: the Royal Obesrvatory Greenwich, historic sailing ship Cutty Sark, the National Maritime Museum and the Queen’s House art gallery – the Maritime Museum is currenlty hosting The Great British Seaside photography exhibition, with new work by Martin Parr