ALVA 2018 attendance figures – what can visitor attractions learn?

Amongst an uncertain political landscape, the UK’s visitor attractions industry didn’t let the decline in in-bound tourism from Europe hugely impact attendance figures and revenue in 2018. According to Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA), the UK’s favourite visitor attractions, spanning arts, culture, leisure and entertainment, saw a climb in visitor numbers by 8.68% last year and a 2% increase in the value of visits which generated £63.8 billion. In London alone, visitor attractions achieved a 3.37% increase of people coming through their doors.

We could link this growth to the industry’s hunger for innovation and creativity as even some of the most traditional cultural institutions, art galleries and museums look to evolve by modernising their brand. Visitor attractions, new and old, are beginning to explore opportunities with digital to engage new and potential visitors and collaborate with brands within different markets, such as retail and film, to elevate their position in the market. We predict this will only grow in popularity as the brand environment becomes more hybrid and competitive.

But we could also link this growth to the shift in consumer spending which is favouring leisure and entertainment over FMCG and materialistic goods. With people seeking more immersive experiences to escape the doom and gloom of everyday life, the importance of visitor attractions is increasing, as are the domestic visitors who have access to an abundance of zoos, botanical gardens, art institutions and historical palaces on their door step. This is evident when we look at the attendance figures of attractions based outside of London which rocketed in 2018. Highlights include the World Museum in Liverpool achieving an impressive 111% increase in visitor numbers, Scottish sites outperforming the rest of the UK in terms of visitor numbers and Chester Zoo welcoming 1,969,768 through its turnstiles, making it England’s most visited attraction outside of London. While overseas tourists make up a large percentage of attendees, the visitor attractions industry should not lose sight of domestic visitors as they strategise for 2019 and utilise the demand for experiences to capture their interest.

Major installations and redevelopments at visitor attractions could have also driven spikes in attendance figures. For example, Kew saw an influx of visitors after the installation of The Hive in 2016 and again last year with the re-opening of Temperate House, while Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery welcomed almost 40% more visitors when it hosted Dippy on Tour: A Natural History Adventure. Their success demonstrates a clear demand for installations which enliven visitors’ senses, creating more immersive and memorable experiences. While openings such as the new wing at Tate Modern and the new gallery and entrance at the V&A, as well as the upcoming redevelopment project at the National Portrait Gallery, represent the start of an industry-wide effort to make the visiting experience at the UK’s historical institutions more attractive. As we look to the future, we expect that other visitor attractions containing a rich history will benefit from revamping their infrastructure to cater for the modern visitor.        

While attendance figures climb, growth has been steady. ALVA’s figures don’t include any head-turning drops or soaring increases which demand the industry to urgently act and dramatically rethink their brand strategies. The illustration of a market environment that can be maintained is promising – permitting that visitor attractions remain responsive to the cultural, social and economic landscape and the impact it has on their visitors needs.

Richard Huntrods, Director of Audience, Research and Insight