UK tourist attractions eager to welcome foreign visitors 'in droves'

Footfall at tourism hotspots dropped by 70 per cent during year of lockdowns

International tourists will visit the UK in droves once Covid-19 restrictions are fully lifted, a major tourism body said.

The Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (Alva), which represents the UK’s major tourist drawcards, said it remained confident in Britain’s overseas appeal as new figures released on Wednesday showed visitor numbers went into freefall because of lockdowns.

A total of 45.4 million people visited Britain’s major attractions throughout 2020 – a 70 per cent drop on the previous year.

During that time, England faced three national lockdowns, while Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland suffered similar social restrictions.

Alva’s director Bernard Donoghue said that despite the dire figures, “people realised how important attractions are to them when they’re taken away”.

He said there had been an “explosion in digital activity”, mainly through virtual tours.

“These figures show how vulnerable attractions of whatever kind are to something completely beyond their control,” he told The National.

“It goes on to underline the importance of people visiting attractions and spending their leisure time and leisure pound with them.”

In London, Royal Museums Greenwich experienced the biggest decrease in visitor numbers, with a 96 per cent drop in footfall.

Kensington Palace, the home of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, recorded an 86 per cent reduction – the second-largest drop among London’s attractions.

Tate Modern was the most-visited tourist attraction in the UK, with more than 1.4 million visitors in 2020, though this was still a 77 per cent decrease on the previous year.

The Natural History Museum, the second most-visited UK attraction, drew more than 1.2 million visitors – down 76 per cent.

For the first time, two gardens appeared in Britain’s top 10 tourist attractions. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, moved up seven places to fourth with 1,226,289 visits, while RHS Garden Wisley jumped 21 places to seventh with 993,516.

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh was the most visited attraction in Scotland for the first time.

The rise of outdoor attractions reflects lockdown restrictions preventing most indoor attractions from opening, but Mr Donoghue said there was a “huge appetite” for international tourists to visit once travel resumes.

“International tourism is the lifeblood of the UK tourism industry. We are really looking forward to extending a warm welcome,” he said.

“We’re just waiting for the government to be very clear when international tourism can come back to the UK.”

Coronavirus in the UK - in pictures

Updated: March 31, 2021 10:56 PM

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