The ALVA figures for 2021 allow us to gain a glimpse of visit numbers across the heritage sector. Visitor numbers in London have not bounced back; indeed, they are marginally down on 2020. Is this due to the lack of visitors from outside the UK? Are members of the public concerned about visiting such venues where it is not possible to maintain social distancing?
Such a dramatic drop in numbers (from 36.6 million in 2019 to 7.7 million in 2021) will have an impact on income in terms of special exhibitions, retail outlets and catering. What is not clear is if this will be reflected in the numbers retaining membership of friends’ organisations.
Three Historic Royal Palaces feature in the ALVA visitor figures for 2021. The Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace and Kensington Palace attracted just over 1 million visitors in 2021: this is down from 4.5 million visitors in 2019, and slightly up from 730,816 in 2020.
The release of the ALVA visitor figures for 2021 allows us to see how the heritage sector has been responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. The eight properties designated as ‘The Treasure Houses of England’ attracted 2.4 million visitors in 2021: the same eight attracted 1.4 million in 2020, and 3.1 million in 2019.
Visitor numbers for the top 10 sites in the care of Historic Environment Scotland (HES) suggest that the road to recovery will be a long one. These top 10 sites attracted 855,626 visits in 2021: in 2019 the same 10 sites attracted 4.3 million.
The 2021 visitor figures for English Heritage are now available. Stonehenge remains the most visited site: 334,087 visits in 2021 compared with 1.6 million in 2019. Brodsworth Hall and Gardens has made an appearance in the top 10 with 93,614 visits in 2021. Tintagel, with 267,094 visits, had a particularly popular season perhaps reflecting the popularity of Cornwall as a holiday destination: in 2017 it had 246,039 visits.
The visitor figures for the National Trust in 2021 are now available. The top 10 NT locations attracted 4.3 million visitors: the most popular was Attingham Park with 597,154 visitors, followed by Cliveden with 553,041. These same ten properties (except for Clumber Park where the information is not easily accessible) attracted 4.6 million visitors in 2019, and 3.2 million in 2020. The figures for 2021 are higher than those for 2018 (4.2 million).
The top 20 National Trust properties attracted 7.2 million visits in 2021, up from 7.6 million for the same 20 in 2019.
The National Trust has recovered best best with 4.3 million visits to its top 10 properties, down slightly from 4.6 million visits to the same 10 properties in 2019. In contrast Historic Royal Palaces attracted just over 1 million visitors in 2021, down from 4.5 million in 2019.
These 51 properties attracted 11.7 million visitors in 2021, compared to 21.8 million in 2019 (7.7 million in 2020).
English Heritage has been asking its members for its top 10 castles. The list consists of: Dover, Kenilworth, Tintagel, Bolsover, Portchester, Warkworth, Dunstanburgh, Carisbrooke, Middleham and Beeston.
Many of these would be in my personal top 10 English Heritage castles especially Bolsover. But what would I want to include? Leaving aside the artillery forts like Pendennis and Tilbury, I would want to consider:
One of the most dramatic castles is Peveril standing above the Derbyshire village of Castleton famous for its Blue John mines.
Scarborough Castle has dramatic views over the bays on each side. It also contains a Roman signal station.
Brougham Castle lies on the site of a Roman fort on the Roman road that crossed the Pennines.
Farnham Castle dominates the town.
Castle Rising has a wonderful keep standing within earthworks.
Orford provides magnificent views over the Suffolk coast.
Hadleigh Castle provides dramatic views over the Thames estuary.
Helmsley Castle lies on the edge of the Yorkshire market town.
Historic Environment Scotland has issued Version 7 of its Covid-19 Operational Policy & Minimum Operating Standards for Property Management and Visitor Operations.
The open sharing of this evolving publication by the organisation has been great to see. The first version was showcased publicly by the HES Director of Conservation, David Mitchell, back in June 2020 as part of the Covid-19 Historic Environment Resilience Forum (CHERF) event on Re-opening Venues which I chaired.
The document has been an incredibly useful resource for considering operational issues and decision-making system design for the sector to use as a comparator resource to adapt to their own situation.
From a heritage management teaching point of view, it has also been an excellent live case study to enable students to consider the organisational requirements and ramifications of decisions/actions which aren’t always obvious at visitor sites and organisational hubs.