Industry experts say Paris attacks led to drop in visits to London attractions, as tourists avoided city centres
Three of London’s most popular tourist attractions recorded huge falls in visitor numbers last year, as industry leaders warned that the capital’s sights had been hit by fallout from the Paris terror attacks.
The National Gallery, Southbank Centre, and Tate Modern – which make up three of the nation’s five most popular galleries and museums – all posted significant drops in tourist visits, as the growth in visitor numbers to London attractions languished at only half that of the rest of the nation.
Bernard Donoghue, the director of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (Alva), which published the figures, said his organisation had noticed a fall in the number of visitors to the capital in the wake of November’s Paris attacks, in which 130 people died. A ban on French schools taking their children on foreign trips, brought in after the atrocity, also had an effect.
*British Museum had 6.8 million visitors last year*
Mr Donoghue said: “In the aftermath of the Paris attacks we surveyed our members to see if there was a ripple effect. We found that visitor numbers to city centre attractions had fallen. When there was no second attack they recovered again.
“However, the French government handed out an edict preventing French school trips both within France and outside France, which had an impact. We are vulnerable to lots of external factors – things we can never control; including currency fluctuations, and things like Paris.”
Alva’s figures showed a record 124 million visits to its top 230 sites in 2015, up 3.2 per cent on the previous year. But London’s attractions grew by only 1.6 per cent, to 65 million visitors.
The British Museum retained its crown as the most popular tourist attraction, with visitor numbers up two per cent to 6.8 million. But the National Gallery, which sits in second place, saw its figures drop eight per cent, to 5.9 million. A spokesman for the gallery said that it had been hit by more than 100 days of strike action by security guards, over plans to privatise some visitor services, which “led to frequent room closures”.
Despite posting a 1.9 per cent decline in visitor numbers, the Natural History Museum leapt two places to become the nation’s third most popular attraction. The Southbank Centre dropped to fourth, with an 18 per cent decline in visitors, after large portions of the building were closed for refurbishment.
The Tate Modern also dropped a place, to fifth, after recording a 19 per cent drop in visitor numbers, which stood at 4.7 million. A Tate spokesman said that the fall came because of a record number of visitors in the previous year, when the gallery hosted its wildly popular exhibition of Henri Matisse cut-outs.
St Paul’s Cathedral, and the Tower of London, which saw a huge rise in visitors in 2014 because of its ceramic poppy display, posted drops of nearly ten per cent.
Photo: Ian West/PA
But Somerset House saw visitors rise by nearly a third, after a string of popular temporary exhibitions, and the Victoria and Albert museum enjoyed an eight per cent bounce, on the back of its Alexander McQueen summer exhibition. The Royal Academy of Arts also entered the top thirty most popular sites, posting a massive 33 per cent rise, which it attributed to its critically acclaimed exhibition of the works of the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.
Mr Donoghue said that he had seen some anecdotal evidence that, on the weekend following the Paris attacks, country houses had experienced a rise in visitors – who had eschewed city centres. Blenheim, Chatsworth and Hampton Court all saw an annual bounce in numbers.
He added: “Stately homes are on an upward trajectory. Places like Blenheim and Chatsworth are using contemporary sculpture to great effect. Many people see them as tired and traditional, but they are some of the most forward looking venues in the country.”
Chester Zoo more popular than huge London attractions
Chester Zoo is now more popular than St Paul’s Cathedral and the British Library, after posting an 18 per cent rise in visitor numbers in 2015.
Nearly 1.7 million people visited the Cheshire conservation centre last year, making it the nation’s 12th most popular tourist attraction, ahead of cultural giants such as Stonehenge, Westminster Abbey, and Kew Gardens.
A spokesman for the zoo, which charges £16 for adults and £13 for children, said its rise in visitor numbers had come on the back of a BBC documentary series, Our Zoo, as well as the completion of its “Islands” development, a new attraction that houses critically endangered species such as Sumatran tigers and orang-utans.
Jamie Christon, the zoo’s managing director, said: “Islands has completely transformed the way people can view animals and has proved to be a step in the right direction for highlighting the endangered species that we work with out in the field across South East Asia.
“As a conservation and education charity, we rely solely on the income from our visitors to help us fund more than 80 conservation projects in 30 different countries and so, a huge thank you goes out to everyone that has walked through our gates as without their visit, we couldn’t help the hundreds of threatened species in the wild.”
Birmingham Library remains the most popular attraction outside London, with 1.8 million visitors. Other popular sites outside the capital include Edinburgh Castle, with 1.6 million visitors, which was the most popular paid-for attraction outside London before being overtaken by Chester Zoo this year, and Bath’s Roman Baths, which had 1.2 million visitors.
Photo: AP Photo/Frank Augstein
Biggest risers and fallers
- The Royal Academy of Arts 1,096,608 +33.0%
- Somerset House 3,235,104 +31.0%
- Imperial War Museum 1,104,670 +21.0%
- Chester Zoo 1,694,185 +18.0%
- Kelvingrove Art Gallery 1,261,552 +12.4%
- Tate Modern 4,712,581 -19.0%
- Southbank Centre 5,102,883 -18.0%
- St Paul’s Cathedral 1,609,325 -9.7%
- Tower of London 2,785,249 -9.6%
- The National Gallery 5,908,254 -8.0%
(Source: Alva, venues with 1m+ visitors)