UK tourism: Visitor attractions suffer from Covid for a long time

Indoor attractions like the Natural History Museum saw a strong recovery in 2022

UK tourist attractions are suffering from ‘long Covid’ as fewer tourists travel from overseas, an industry body has warned.

Millions of people returned to museums and galleries in 2022 as Covid restrictions lifted, the Association of Leading Tourist Attractions (ALVA) said.

But fewer international tourists meant visitor levels were still nearly a quarter lower than before the pandemic.

The Crown Estate, Windsor Great Park remained the most popular attraction.

Indoor sites saw a 176 percent increase in visitor numbers over the previous year, ALVA said.

For much of 2021 masks and social distancing had been required within premises to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Big ticket-free London attractions such as the Natural History Museum, British Museum and Tate Modern have seen their numbers recover by around 200%.

Overall visits to UK attractions were up 69% on 2021, but saw 37.8 million fewer people walk through their doors than in 2019.

ALVA, which represents more than 2,200 sites, attributes the 23% deficit to lower levels of tourism, particularly from China and East Asia.

A long shot of Windsor Castle

The Crown Estate, Windsor Great Park was the UK’s most visited attraction in 2022, the year of Queen Elizabeth’s platinum jubilee and death

The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square

The top 10 was dominated by London attractions, including the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square

The Queen's Guards at the Tower of London

The Tower of London was the most visited major attraction with an admission ticket in 2022

Despite a very busy Christmas period, Bernard Donoghue, director of ALVA, warned the sector “is still experiencing the tourism equivalent of ‘long Covid'” due to fewer holidaymakers arriving in the UK.

While there are ongoing challenges, he said he is “confident [tourists] will return this year and we will see a healthy and continued recovery.”

The figures also reveal that people are opting for free attractions amid the cost-of-living crisis: Places that charged an entry fee saw a 101% recovery, but free sites saw a 183% increase .

Mr Donoghue also said the railway strikes had impacted people visiting theatres, particularly during the Christmas period.

He added that he is confident the Chinese market will return in 2023, driving “really strong growth.”

London dominated the top ten, but popular venues in the UK saw growth.

In Scotland, the most popular attraction was the National Museum of Edinburgh. In Northern Ireland it was Titanic Belfast and in Wales it was Bodnant Garden in Conwy.

Top 10 UK tourist attractions 2022

1. The Crown Estate, Windsor Great Park, Berkshire – 5636844

2. Natural History Museum (South Kensington) – 4,654,608

3. The British Museum – 4,097,253

4. Tate Modern – 3883160

5.Southbank Center – 2947155

6. The National Gallery – 2.727.119

7. Victoria & Albert South Kensington – 2.370.261

8. Somerset House – 2,346,580

9. Science Museum – 2.334.930

10. Tower of London – 2.020.121

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