Return to visitor attractions ‘an oasis in a coronavirus desert’

Many sites are 'vastly oversubscribed' as people tick off places on their 'wish list'.

Returning to visitor attractions as coronavirus restrictions ease is a “very emotional experience” for many people, according to a trade body.

Bernard Donoghue, director of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (Alva), said many sites are “vastly oversubscribed” as people tick off places on their “wish list” created during lockdown.

He made the comments as Alva published figures showing that 145 million visits were made to 266 of the UK’s most popular sites in 2019, up 6% on the previous 12 months.

Asked about people’s response to being able to return to attractions, Mr Donoghue said: “They’ve been confined to their house for three-and-a-half months, they’ve been drawing up a wish list of places that they want to go back to, and very often going back to their favourite places is a very emotional experience.

“One person who went back to the grounds of Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire said it was like coming back to an oasis in a coronavirus desert.

“You’re seeing that a lot. People have got such built-up expectations and anticipation of going back to their favourite places that it’s quite an emotional experience for them.”

Mr Donoghue said most of the savings from the VAT reduction for attractions, which comes into force on Wednesday, will go towards helping venues “repair their finances as opposed to being passed on to customers”.

But he went on: “There is unprecedented demand on the part of the public to go back to their favourite visitor attractions.

“The pre-booked slots are vastly oversubscribed.

“We’re really confident that there’s a big movement, a big desire on the part of the public to come back to not only their favourite places but places they might not have considered going before.”

Mr Donoghue said parks, gardens, zoos and safari parks have seen a particular spike in demand as people are “prioritising going to outdoor spaces” and are “slightly hesitant” about visiting big cities due to the pandemic.

He hopes the strong performance of the UK’s visitor attractions in 2019 acts to “remind people of how popular and globally successful” the sites are.

The top ten most visited venues were in London, with the British Museum maintaining its number one spot in the annual ranking with 6.24 million visits in 2019.

This increase of 7% from 2018 was partly driven by exhibitions on Edvard Munch, Troy and Manga.

The latter – which showcased Japanese comics and graphic novels – was seen by the museum’s youngest and most diverse audience for a temporary exhibition, according to Alva.

Visits to attractions in Scotland were up by an average of 10% in 2019.

Edinburgh’s National Museum of Scotland was the UK’s most popular attraction outside London, with 2.21 million visits, putting it in 12th place overall.

Edinburgh Castle (2.20 million visits) and Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum (1.83 million visits) were ranked 13th and 15th respectively.

Chester Zoo, which took 14th place with 2.09 million visits, recently warned it was “at risk of extinction” and could end the year £24m in debt due to the coronavirus lockdown.

But it has seen a surge in demand since being allowed to reopen on June 15, with all tickets sold out. 

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