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).
The economic value of heritage is not always recognised. The report on Heritage and the Economy 2020 by Historic England makes the point that heritage in England directly generated £14.7 bn GVA in 2019 (and £36.6 bn GVA taking into account direct, indirect and induced income), and directly created 206,000 jobs. Taking direct, indirect and induced GVA, the total generated by heritage for 2019 was £36.6 bn, and created 563,509 jobs.
The dataset accompanying the report, Heritage Economic Estimate Indicators, shows that the heritage sector generated over £5 bn directly and indirectly in the East of England and the South East, and £8 bn if induced income is taken into account. This regional amount represents approximately 20 per cent of heritage GVA for England.
The sector also provided over 80,000 jobs, directly and indirectly in the two regions in 2019; taking account of the induced element, this rises to 140,000 regional jobs in 2019. This regional amount represents some 25 per cent of the heritage jobs in England.
A healthy heritage sector is one of the keys for the recovery of the national economy.
I have just read a paper by Zhang et al. on the reproduction of consumer spaces as applied to the historic districts of Beijing city centre. It took its cue from theories around the social construction of space for touristic purposes, and further considered the historical development of that space over an extended period. Using some detailed property use analysis, the researchers considered statistically the differing concentrations which developed in the different historic districts of tourism-focused versus resident-focused businesses.
I will freely admit that some of the equations and graphs were beyond me, but the analytical commentary was clearly expressed, and the study showed the importance of looking at the intersection of different capital flows in urban historic districts with the influences of differing types of authority (i.e. control) on development. This in turn affects the agency of residents and behaviour of consumers which in a feedback loop affects the ongoing management and development (and indeed control) of those historic areas.
So what – all very obvious? Maybe, but having recently spent time over in workshops with colleagues thinking about climate vulnerability in Edinburgh’s World Heritage designated area, the paper got me thinking again about how different types of capital (beyond just money) ebbs and flows around the different and distinct historic ‘districts’ of Edinburgh’s WHS and where different types of authority and control are exerted, felt and influenced. Further, it got me wondering how does agency of resident and consumers change across those different districts as a result of those flows of capital, and what are the longer term implications for the city as a result?
Reference: Keer Zhang, Handuo Deng, Fang Wang & Ye Yuan (2021) Reproduction of consumer spaces and historic district touristification in Old Beijing City, Tourism Geographies, DOI: 10.1080/14616688.2021.1934724