Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

2016 London visitor attractions down

Johnathon Knott, Visitor numbers at London attractions fall, Museums Association, 27 March 2017

Attractions in London did not see an increase in visitor numbers last year, despite an average increase of 7.2% in visits to UK attractions as a whole, according to the latest figures from the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (Alva).

In 2015 visitor numbers to attractions in the UK capital grew by 1.6%, but in 2016 several of the capital’s most popular museums saw visitor numbers fall.

The number of people visiting the British Museum fell by 6% to 6.4m, although the institution held its position as the country’s most visited attraction.

Visitor numbers also fell at other large London museums. Visits to the Natural History Museum were down by 12% to 4.6m. The number of people going to the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) also fell by 12%, to 3.0m, and visits to the National Portrait Gallery fell by 9% to 1.9m.

Respectively, these institutions were the fourth, eighth and 11th most visited attractions, both in London and the UK.

Bernard Donoghue, the director of Alva, said that there were several reasons for London’s relatively weak performance. For example some institutions, including the V&A, had seen their figures return to more normal levels after a “blockbuster year” in 2015. He also pointed to the “dysfunctional service” provided by Southern Rail, and concerns over terrorism in central London following attacks in other European cities.

“We absolutely know that the inability to depend on Southern Rail, and the huge number of strikes they had last year, had a deterrent effect,” said Donoghue.

“We also know from research into overseas visitors and domestic families that there was a concern about central London’s security threat,” he said.

Visitor numbers at the Southbank Centre fell by 23% to 3.9m. Alva said that this decrease was largely down to the closure for refurbishment of its Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and Hayward Gallery, which will reopen in 2018.

There was better news for the National Gallery, which received 6.3m visits – 6% more than last year – making it the country’s 2nd most visited attraction. And Tate Modern was the country’s third most visited attraction in the UK, with visitor numbers rising by 24% to 5.8m. The gallery opened its new Switch House extension in June.

Both the National Gallery and Tate Modern saw their visitor numbers fall in 2015.

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