Richard Huntrods, AKA’s Director of Audiences, presented at the ALVA Council Meeting at the Museum of London this month, taking a light-hearted look at the contrast between the fortunes of the economy and the upward trends in the arts, heritage and leisure sector.

Often it feels like it’s all bad news. Every day it’s headlines of troubled household brands – last week it was John Lewis mega loses and this week its Thomas Cook going bust needs updating  – of stagnating productivity, declining business investment or the falling pound. Looking deeper into the figures we see declining growth in GDP and house prices, wages lagging behind 2008 in real terms, and in 2018 we saw falls in domestic day visits and in-bound tourism; not only that but consumer confidence is at a 5-year low – which is saying something! All of this against angst about what Brexit could mean and the growing climate emergency. No wonder it sometimes seems like all we have to look forward to is Bake Off…

In notable contrast, the long-term trends for our sector are in a very healthy direction and 2019 appears to be on track. We’ve seen 15 consecutive years of West End Theatre revenue growth, entertainment spending as a proportion of household budgets is up 22%, cinema admissions hit a 48 year high in 2018, ALVA members have seen 8 years of collective growth.

We reflected on the drivers of the sectors very positive trends. We highlighted some external factors, including the changing underlying demographics, the growing experience economy, the influence of social media and the need for real, surprising and different experiences as a means of defining their identity and memory making with friends and families; as well as an underlying growth in international tourism. 

And finally, we talked about the talent the sector has for tapping into cultural trends – Well-being and discovery, embodying positive social and ethical values – increasingly valued by consumers – and being great trusted brand in a world where multi-nationals dodge taxes, social media giants sell our data, and airlines over-sells seats. Being an innovative, welcoming and trusted organisation is valued more now than ever before and our sector is great at it.

Arts, Heritage and Leisure is a truly inspiring sector to be in right now.