Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA
Visitor numbers at top UK attractions are still nearly a quarter lower than before the pandemic, thanks to a perfect storm of Covid, Brexit, energy prices and the wider financial crisis, according to the UK’s trade body. sector.
Data released Friday by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions shows that while the number of visits to its sites increased 69% in 2022 over the previous year, this was still 23% lower than in 2019.
Bernard Donoghue, the organisation’s director, described the annual increase as “probably as good as we could have hoped” given the unprecedented challenges facing its members, which include the Kingdom’s most famous museums, galleries, cathedrals and parks United.
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“We as an industry have never been hit by so many variables, which are completely out of our control, all at the same time,” he told the Guardian. “Not just Covid, but also the cost of living crisis, energy costs and the Brexit hangover.
“Staffing and recruitment is one of the biggest challenges for tourism and hospitality, and part of that big challenge is replacing people… who have left during Covid – but partly because of Brexit – to return to their home countries in the EU or abroad.
“That whole basket of uncontrollable variables has never hit us like this before. So it’s still remarkable that our visitor attractions are growing, surviving, thriving on a daily basis despite all of that.”
While some attractions, notably free attractions and those in London, saw strong year-on-year growth, the picture was mixed elsewhere in the UK. The capital has seen the greatest average growth, with visits up 152%, with Scotland up 128% and Northern Ireland up 120% in 2021.
The most visited indoor attraction and second most visited overall (after Windsor Great Park) was the Natural History Museum, which saw a 196% increase in visitors to 4.6 million in 2022. The British Museum, up 209% to 4.1 million, it moved from sixth place to third.
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The National Museum of Scotland, up 199% to nearly 2 million visitors, placed 9th overall. Visitors to Titanic Belfast increased by 177% to 624,000.
In London, the continued scarcity of visitors from China and the Far East was a significant challenge in 2022, Donoghue said, adding that elsewhere fee-paying attractions and especially those outside city centers have taken the brunt of the prices of the petrol and the wider financial crisis.
“When the cost of petrol was a real issue, urban centers were fine, because they could count on people arriving by public transport. But remote places have been hit with people saying, ‘actually, it’s going to cost me a lot of money to drive there.’
He welcomed the extension of tax breaks for museums and galleries in this week’s budget but called on the government for more support with energy costs (“the biggest threat to our financial viability”), a reduction in VAT for tourist attractions and a renewed marketing push for foreign tourists.
“I have to say that global media coverage of the Queen’s funeral and forthcoming coronation will be of great help. It will make a difference for those people who are attracted to the UK because of these things,” she said.