Hintze Hall at the Natural History Museum

Terrorism fears see DCMS museums and galleries lose a million visitors

Patrick Steel, 11.10.2016
Alva blames security fears for drop in numbers
Terrorism fears explain the latest visitor figures from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) showing that visits to English national museums and galleries have fallen by more than one million since April, according to the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (Alva).

From April to August 2016-17, DCMS-sponsored museums saw 21,208,193 visitors compared to 22,478,905 for the same period last year, despite record numbers of inbound overseas tourists to the UK.

Nearly every national museum and gallery has been affected, with only seven out of 36 venues posting an increase. In London, the Geffrye Museum, the National Gallery, and Tate Modern showed an increase in visitor numbers.

Outside London there was a rise in visitors at National Museums Liverpool, Locomotion – the National Railway Museum at Shildon, Royal Armouries Leeds, and Royal Armouries Fort Nelson.

The Natural History Museum (NHM) has lost nearly half a million visitors, dropping from 2.54 million to 2.06 million, the V&A lost over 350,000 visitors, and Tate Britain dropped more than 100,000 visitors.

"We see it as a central London phenomenon," said Bernard Donoghue, Alva's director. "We have seen record inbound visitors from overseas and an increase in staycations, but there is a perception that central London is not as secure as it used to be because of terrorism across Europe."

Alva's monthly figures show a drop in overseas visitors, but also UK family groups and school groups, to central London attractions, said Donoghue, despite an increase in overall overseas visitors, and an increase in visitors to attractions outside London.

Anecdotal evidence from Alva members, the European Tourism Association, and VisitBritain points to perceptions of security being the biggest factor, he said.

Museum professionals contacted by Museums Journal were more cautious about the causes of the fall in numbers, citing a lack of concrete evidence and pointing to hot weather and programming changes as other possible factors.

A British Museum spokeswoman said: “We have seen a reduction in visitor numbers since April compared to the previous year, which was our most successful ever. It is too early to say with any certainty what the cause might be, but we will continue to monitor the situation.”

A spokesman from the NHM said: “Our visitor numbers mirror a wider trend in central London attractions and particularly reflects our lighter 2016 public programme as we prepare for the dramatic rehang of our iconic Hintze Hall next summer, when the Blue Whale takes centre stage.”

The closure of Tate St Ives in October 2015 for refurbishment has also had a small negative impact on the overall figures.

Of museums that posted increases, National Museums Liverpool received a boost from the Liverpool Biennial 2016 and the opening of The Oratory in July, while Tate Modern’s Switch House extension, which opened in June, attracted record visitor numbers.

The Scottish Household Survey 2015, published at the end of September, shows 32% of adults attended a museum in 2015, no change from 2014, while 20% of adults attended a gallery, 1% down from 2014.

The survey also found that satisfaction with local authority museums and galleries remained at 46%, the same level as 2014 and up from 42% in 2012.

The level of cultural engagement in Scotland has increased by around 5 percentage points since it was first recorded in 2007, while those with degrees or professional qualifications, and those from the least deprived areas of Scotland, were more likely to attend cultural events or places.

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