Museums and galleries saw a 77% fall in visits last year, according to the latest data from the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (Alva).
National and regional lockdowns, along with other Covid restrictions, meant that the total number of visits to all Alva sites (including zoos, gardens and churches) was 45.4 million during the year, compared to 151.3 million in 2019.
The data reveals visitors changing habits, with gardens and venues with outdoor spaces rising up the charts. While the top three visitor attractions were Tate Modern, the Natural History Museum and the British Museum, for the first time they were joined in the top 10 by two gardens – Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and RHS Garden Wisley.
Unlike previous years, a non-London venue – Chester Zoo – made the top 10.
In Scotland, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh moved up 20 places to 17th with 452,479 visits, while in Northern Ireland while Mount Stewart (National Trust) was the second most visited, moving up 46 places with 155,928 visits.
While venues with outdoor spaces, such as the Horniman Museum and Gardens in London, rose in the charts, overall museums and galleries suffered the biggest fall in Alva’s categories, with gardens and leisure falling 37%, zoos 44% and heritage and cathedrals 66%.
Two venues that would normally be among the most visited attractions – Royal Museums Greenwich and Edinburgh Castle – saw particularly large visitor falls, down 96% and 87% respectively.
“Our annual figures for 2020 reflect what a devastatingly hard year the attractions sector and the wider visitor economy faced,” said Bernard Donoghue, the director of Alva. “Tourism is the UK’s fifth biggest industry and, as these figures show, was hit first, hit hardest and will take the longest to recover.”
He warned that with the whole of the UK in lockdown for the first part of 2021, tough times lie ahead for the sector.
“As we approach Easter, one of the economically important times for our members, we continue to question the government’s decision to open non-essential retail but not indoor attractions, who will miss the May bank holiday as well.”
Alva is calling for the government to introduce a new bank holiday at the end of September.
As it currently stands, indoor museums in mainland Scotland will be permitted to reopen from 26 April and those in England will follow on 17 May. More information is expected soon on when those in Wales and Northern Ireland can reopen.