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 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 latest figures from the Hellenic Statistical Service have revealed the major impact on visitor numbers to museums and archaeological sites in Greece to the end of November 2020. I have already comments on the dramatic fall of visitors (museums; archaeological sites) and the picture continues to be bleak: 3.7 million visitors (to the end of November 2020) compared to 19.5 million visitors in 2019. However, the telling figure comes from ticket receipts: 21.1 million Euros (to the end of November 2020) compared to 130.9 million Euros in 2019. This is a significant loss of budget for the protection and conservation of heritage in Greece.
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.
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.