Overseas trump domestic visits at flagship museums

Free entry ‘failing in its mission’ to make museums more inclusive
Gary Noakes and Patrick Steel
Overseas tourists accounted for more visits to many of the national museums in England than domestic visitors in 2013-14, according to figures just released by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

Overall visits to DCMS-sponsored national museums were 49 million in 2013-14, an increase of 4% on the previous year, but at least half of all visitors to the Royal Armouries, National Gallery, British Museum and Tate were from overseas. The percentage of domestic visitors 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. In 2013-14, £36.7m was generated through admissions, an increase of 17.7% on the previous year.

Matthew Tanner, the chairman of the Association of Independent Museums, said: "Overseas visitors are good for independent museums as much as for the nationals and international tourists are generally quite happy to pay an admission price for the quality experiences that they have at our member museums.

"Given this, and the pressures on national museums' funding, perhaps it is time to re-consider whether free admission is delivering the results it was intended to."

The Warwick Commission report, an investigation into the role and future of the culture and creative industries in the UK, which was published this week, found that free entry to national museums “has failed in its declared mission to make Britain’s flagship museums more inclusive”.

The report noted: "Visits by UK residents [to sponsored museums] fell by 3% over the period 2008-09 to 2011-12 while visits from UK residents from lower social groups fell even more, by 12%. The higher social groups accounted for 87% of all museums visits, the lower social groups for only 13%."

Sharon Heal, the director of the Museums Association, said: “While the DCMS figures demonstrate that museums and galleries are a critical part of the cultural mass that attracts tourists to the UK we should be concerned about any drops in domestic audiences.

“In my view all publicly-funded museums have a responsibility to attract diverse audiences that represent their local communities. It's great to cater for tourists and they can provide a much-needed economic boost but local audiences matter and museums should be prioritising them.”

The most visited museum in 2013-14 was Tate Gallery group (comprising four branches) with seven million visits in 2013-14, despite a fall in numbers of around 750,000.

The British Museum and the National Gallery were the next two most visited, with 6.8 million and 5.9 million visits, respectively.



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.

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