UK outdoor attractions bounce back better after pandemic restrictions | UK bank holidays

Visitor numbers to Britain’s museums, galleries, zoos, castles and country houses rose 25% last year, but are still down 57% from pre-pandemic levels.

Unsurprisingly, figures released on Friday showed striking year-over-year increases in outdoor attractions. However, those that rely primarily on foreign visitors have yet to recover pre-2019 numbers.

The Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA) said its venues recorded a total of 67.8 million visits in 2021, down from 45.4 million the previous year, but still down significantly from 156.6 million in 2019.

The most visited attraction was Windsor Great Park, which attracted 5.4 million visitors – the first time the list was not topped by a London attraction. In second place was the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, which saw a 61% increase in visitors to 1.9 million.

Chester Zoo, normally England’s most visited attraction outside of London, was in third place. Other outdoor sites in the top 20 include RHS Garden Wisley, Jeskyns Community Forest in Kent, Moors Valley National Park in Dorset, Longleat in Wiltshire and London Zoo.

Overall, primarily outdoor venues saw only 17% fewer visitors in 2021 than two years earlier. Mixed venues such as cathedrals saw a decline of around 51%, and primarily indoor venues such as museums and galleries saw their numbers drop 73% from pre-pandemic levels.

The most visited indoor attraction in the UK was the Natural History Museum, which took fourth place overall with a 21% increase to 1.5 million visits, while the British Museum came in sixth, with a 4% increase in the number of visitors. The Tate Modern, Britain’s most visited attraction before the pandemic, fell to seventh place after a 19% drop in its annual total, although daily visitor numbers were 60% higher in 2021 only after its reopening in 2020.

Somerset House, which offers cultural activities in its open-air neoclassical courtyard, bucked the trend with a 36% increase, climbing two places to eighth place.

Sites that provided a figure said that only 4% of admissions in the past year were from foreign visitors.

Bernard Donoghue, director of ALVA, said the figures showed tourism was “hit first and hardest” by Covid-19. “A wide range of these attractions, mostly outdoors, are recovering well, but many, primarily those that typically rely heavily on overseas visitors, are still surviving.”

According to Donoghue, the number of foreign visitors is unlikely to reach pre-pandemic levels until 2024: “For many of our most iconic attractions, this means not regaining financial resilience four or five years after closing their doors for the first time”.

The National Museum of Scotland was in 20th place overall. Photograph: Getty Images

He called on the government to reverse its decision that EU schools and youth groups need passports rather than identity cards to travel to the UK. “This means that the EU school and youth market has suffered significantly.” He added that the decision to end tax-free shopping should also be reversed: “It makes the UK uncompetitive in the very lucrative retail tourism market, and the reduced level of VAT for accommodation and attractions should be kept at least for the next financial year”. year.”

Since 2020, attractions in Scotland have seen a 45% increase in visitors, while London has seen the smallest year-on-year increase, with visits up just 17% from 26% for other parts of England. London sites were closed for an average of 148 days in 2021.

The most visited Scottish attraction was the National Museum of Scotland (in 20th place overall), followed by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

ALVA said one of the highlights of 2022 will be the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, with three special exhibitions marking significant occasions from the Queen’s reign held at the royal residences.

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