The National Gallery in London

Should overseas tourists pay to visit national museums in England?

Rebecca Atkinson, 02.03.2015
Vote in the poll and have your say
Figures published last week revealed that overseas tourists accounted for more visits to many of the national museums in England than domestic visitors in 2013-14.

According to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the percentage of domestic visits to Tate, the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery has declined since 2008-09, while the percentage of overseas visits has increased.

The figures also revealed a big increase in those paying to see a temporary exhibition.

As national museums continue to face funding cuts, is it time to reconsider free entry? Should overseas tourists pay to visit the national museums in England?

Vote in the poll and have your say in the comment box below.


We changed "England's national museums" to "national museums in England". We used the original formulation in the context of the DCMS figures, which are specific to England, but changed it for the avoidance of doubt.


Should overseas tourists pay to visit national museums in England?


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MA Member
04.03.2015, 17:53
In museums we are not managing expectations - in this case the expectation to pay for a quality experience by overseas and UK wide visitors with local people the possible exception. We cannot afford to be romantic about free access. Take Tate Modern for example. Worn out overused toilets, expensive cafe & shop, lounging areas full. At the RMG the NMM too frequently becomes a creche, a joint venture by local Mums. The notion of museums providing social and community space was fine a decade ago. There are two consequences in the second decade of 21st Century. First, tourist numbers are growing exponentially year on year. At the NMM many cannot get near the cafe to buy the expensive food and drinks without disturbing the local gossip! Second, there is the question of respect. Are free museums fully appreciated or valued in a global world where, like it or not money is the recognised means of exchange for goods and services. HRPs are an example of high costs and high levels of service with an active approach to local communities and inspiring learning. Cafes and shops still expensive but less crowded with a regular clientele! Museums are part of the creative (service) industries. Should their creative endeavours be diminished by familiarity, in cases leading to a lack of recognition of the amazing energy and thought and care that has gone into safeguarding and displaying collections?
04.03.2015, 16:17
I don't think that foreign visitors should pay for entry into the nationals. We need to keep in mind that it will mean losing a percentage of visitors who want to cut costs, and do so by visiting free attractions, or who walk through the door simply because it's free. It could possibly alienate others who feel that they are being singled out or made to feel unwelcome. What about foreign nationals who live in the UK- would they have to prove that they live here and how would they do that? I think it would be difficult to bring about, enforce and there is a risk of losing foreign visitors. I think one of the best things about museums and heritage in the UK is the amount that's free- it's heritage for all, not heritage for those from " 'round here".
Jonathan Gammond
MA Member
Access & Interpretation Officer, Wrexham County Borough Museum
02.03.2015, 23:59
I am sure a lot of people are in two minds about this; I certainly am. As a tourist i have stood in queues at the Louvre, outside the Hermitage, inside the Prado (that was a mistake) and elsewhere in order to purchase a ticket to see displays that aren't a patch on those visitors from abroad can enjoy for free in London, Edinburgh, Liverpool and elsewhere. However, once we start charging one group of visitors just to cross the threshold, then charging others would rapidly follow. The problem is that although anyone with the slightest knowledge of international tourist behaviour realises our heritage and museums are a massive, if not the most important draw for foreign visitors, it appears as if the UK Government appears completely unaware of how our museums are the great loss leaders for our private sector tourist industry and that if they aren't properly funded then they will slowly lose their attraction.

If we want to squeeze money out of tourists, we would do far better to slap a tourist tax, per person per night, as they do in many countries across Europe rather than penalise those who visit museums.

As for increasing domestic visitor numbers, the more enlightened nationals are building partnerships with local museums across the country as that is proving a very effective way of ensuring national museums serve more audiences than just those who live in our capital cities or within easy travelling distance.

Sorry to bore on, but it will be a sad day when the British Museum, the Science Museum, the V&A and the Natural History Museum are seen as solely England's national museums. These museums care for collections that belong to the people of the United Kingdom. I know nationalists and politicians are h*ll bent on drawing as many borders as possible on the map (as long as it suits them), but it would be nice to think that more enlightened attitudes could continue in the museum sector.
Patrick Steel
MA Member
Website Editor, Museums Association
03.03.2015, 10:33
Hi Jonathan -

Take your point about England's national museums - we have changed the form of words in the poll and article.

The reason we used the original formulation was because the figures referred specifically to DCMS-sponsored museums in England, so England's national museums in a geographical rather than possessive sense.

Hopefully the new formulation clears up any doubt about this.

All best,