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Visits to UK tourist attractions still below pre-pandemic levels

by Staff

Many people feel “out of the habit” of going to UK tourist attractions as new research shows the numbers visiting them are still below pre-pandemic levels.

Numbers visiting UK venues were down 11 per cent in 2023 with 146.6 million visits, compared to 163.9 million in 2019 before the coronavirus crisis, according to the trade body the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (Alva).

However, last year’s visitor numbers represent a 19 per cent increase on the previous 12 months, with Alva’s director Bernard Donoghue saying attractions are “recovering well” but are “still not back to full recovery”.

He said this is partly down to people who “got out of the habit of going to museums and galleries” when they were closed during the coronavirus lockdowns.

These people may still be “anxious” about the virus, while the cost-of-living crisis is also having an effect as many potential visitors are making “tactical judgments about how they spend their leisure pounds”, he said.

Mr Donoghue said attractions are putting on “a great programme of events” and offering cut-price tickets to encourage people to return.

He stated that the limited return of Chinese tourists due to the country’s coronavirus travel restrictions is also affecting overall visitor numbers to UK tourism hotspots.

“They’re starting to come back now that they’re travelling out of China, and we hope that they’ll be back up to pre-Covid levels by the end of next year,” he said.

Mr Donoghue claimed that the government’s failure to reverse its 2020 decision to end tax-free shopping for inbound visitors has led to a “significant decrease” in spending in attraction gift shops by overseas tourists.

“We are absolutely missing out on expensive items being bought by visitors from around the world, particularly from America, the Middle East and the Far East,” he said.

“We know that we’re losing out to places like Paris, Milan, Madrid and Rome.”

The British Museum, in central London, was the UK’s most popular tourist attraction last year with 5.8 million visits, up 42 per cent from a year earlier.

This was partly attributed to the success of its China’s Hidden Century exhibition, which ran from May until October.

The second most-visited attraction was the Natural History Museum in west London, which had its best year for visits at 5.7 million.

In third place was Windsor Great Park, Berkshire, with 5.5 million visits.

The most popular attraction in Scotland was Edinburgh’s National Museum of Scotland, with 2.2 million visits and number one spot in Wales was taken by St Fagans National Museum of History in Cardiff, with [600,000 visits. Titanic Belfast had the most visits in Northern Ireland, with 800,000.

Updated: March 18, 2024, 12:01 AM

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