Governance and corporate reporting in heritage: reflecting on The National Trust Annual Report 2019-20

Catching up on various aspects of heritage organisations’ governance and corporate planning in advance of the 2020 annual reports publication season meant I was reading again through The National Trust’s 2019-20 annual report which was published just as the coronavirus pandemic forced the country into lockdown just over a year ago.

The 2019-2020 financial year had been the most successful ever for the Trust in terms of visitor numbers, membership recruitment and retention and fundraising. These successes also coincided with the Trust celebrating its 125th anniversary and the half way point through its 10 year strategy ‘Playing our Part’. As with all good corporate planning cycles, the midway point gave the Trust the opportunity to review progress and refine the strategy and it took the opportunity to relaunch it under the banner of ‘Nature, beauty and history. For everyone, for ever.’

The revised focus for the strategy has been all the more important given the year of lockdown which immediately followed the annual report publication – with aims for environmental enhancement, further broadening of the experience for visitors, and most potently “…addressing unequal access to nature, beauty and history by working with others to increase access to parks and green spaces in, around and near urban areas.”

The effect of the pandemic has been huge on the organisation as widely reported elsewhere, with anticipated effects already noted in the published annual report prior to the realisation of the year of turmoil from 2020 into 2021. The upcoming corporate reporting for 2020-21 will therefore prove fascinating reading not only for an overarching assessment by the organisation on how it has coped with pandemic’s huge effects on it as a charity and employer with major reliance on the tourism economy, but also how it feels it has corporately fared through the media storm of culture wars, the organisation’s response to the Black Lives Matter movement, and its role in addressing the identified social need for connection and access to greenspace, fresh air and a healthy natural environment.

The publication of an annual report, apart from being a statutory requirement for accounting and governance purposes, are the location where fact (accounts and KPIs) and narrative (report and review) combine in a regular annual cycle enabling the lifecycle and development of an organisation to be charted. They are a vital and fascinating part of the story in an organisation’s administrative history, and are always worth a closer inspection.

Heritage Tourism in 2020: Historic Royal Palaces

© David Gill

One of the last heritage sites I visited in London prior to lockdown was the Tower of London (for the Heritage Alliance conference). ALVA has now released the visitor numbers for three of their properties in London: the Tower, Hampton Court Palace, and Kensington Palace. The combined number of visitors in 2019 was 4.5 million; in 2019 it fell to 730,816.

Visitor Numbers for Archaeological Sites in Greece: 2020

© David Gill, 2021

The Hellenistic Statistical Service released the visitor numbers for archaeological sites in Greece today (31 March 2021). They cover the period up to the end of September and show a fall of 79.8 per cent due to the pandemic: a fall from 11.2 million visitors in 2019 to 2.2 million visitors in 2020. Olympia saw the largest fall with just over 85 per cent. Overall this represents a fall of some 9 million visitors for the period to the end of September. It also represents a drop of 84.2 per cent of income through ticket sales: from just over 90 million Euros in 2019, to 14.2 million Euros in 2020.

Museum Visitors and Greece: 2020

© 2021

The Hellenic Statistical Service released the latest visitor numbers for museums in Greece today (31 March 2021). Although the numbers are only available up to the end of September 2020, they show a drop of 79.5% due to the pandemic. The Archaeological Museum in Herakleion showed a drop of over 90 per cent. The January-September comparison between 2019 and 2020 shows the impact: a fall from 4.7 million visitors to 976,805. (In 2019 there were 5.8 million visitors to museums in Greece.) This is reflected in a decrease of ticket sales of 82 per cent: from 19.2 million Euros in 2019 to 3.4 million Euros in 2020.

Museums in London: Visitors in 2020

The Great Court at the British Museum © David Gill

The publication of the ALVA visitor figures for museums in London demonstrates the impact of COVID restrictions. A selection of 11 museums in London received over 36.6 million visitors in 2019, reduced to 8.2 million in 2020. This represents lost income that will need to be addressed by the sector.

© David Gill, 2021

Heritage Tourism in 2020: English Heritage

© David Gill, 2021

The ALVA figures for 2020 have been released. The Top 10 English Heritage sites in 2019 received 3.4 million visitors; in 2020 that dropped to 1,083,480. Visitors to Stonehenge dropped by 80 per cent.

The impact on English Heritage has been less than sites managed by Historic Environment Scotland.

Heritage Tourism in 2020: Oxford University Museums

© David Gill, 2021

The release of ALVA visitor figures have shown the impact of the pandemic on visitors to Oxford University Museums. The 3.3 million visitors in 2019 dropped to 887,516 in 2020. (This is still more than the number of visitors to University of Cambridge Museums.)

Heritage Tourism in 2020: University of Cambridge Museums

© David Gill, 2021

The ALVA figures for 2020 have shown the impact of the pandemic on museum visitors through the figures for the University of Cambridge Museums. The total number of visitors has dropped from 1.3 million in 2019 to 471,408 in 2020. However if you remove the Cambridge University Botanic Garden from the figures this leaves 277,918 visitors to all the other locations.

Heritage Tourism in 2020: National Trust for Scotland

© David Gill, 2021

The ALVA figures for 2020 have been released. I have chosen the top 10 locations for the National Trust for Scotland where there is easily accessible data for 2019. I have not included Corrieshalloch Gorge (56,060), Ben Lomond (54,266), or Balmacara Estate & Lochalsh Woodland Garden (45,957). These 10 sites attracted 934,938 in 2020, down from 2.1 million in 2019.

Based on Top 10 sites for 2019 © David Gill, 2021

Using the Top 10 sites for 2019, the fall is from 2.1 million to 888,159 in 2020.

The figures reflect how landscapes and gardens have been used to allow the public to re-engage with heritage sites and locations.

Heritage Tourism in 2020: Historic Environment Scotland

© David Gill, 2021

ALVA has released the visitor figures for 2020 and they are showing the harsh impact of the COVID-19 on the heritage visitor economy. The top 10 Historic Environment Scotland (HES) sites (for 2o2o) have dropped from just under 4.4 million visitors in 2019 to 517,210 in 2020. Edinburgh and Stirling Castles saw a fall of 87 % and Urquhart Castle saw a drop of 89 %. Some sites, unsurprisingly, given the circumstances, saw a fall of over 90 %.

Based on Top 10 locations for 2019 © David Gill, 2021

Using the Top 10 visitor numbers for 2019, visitor numbers fell from 4.5 million to 512,203.

These numbers indicates the impact of the pandemic both on a specific heritage organisation as well as on the tourism sector more generally.