Attraction visitor statistics for 2021: with NHM as the most visited museum 4 Apr 2022

The Association of Leading Visitor Attractions has published visitor numbers for its 300+ members for 2021, ranging from museums to heritage sites, parks and zoos. The figures show recovery from the first year of the pandemic, with 67.8m visits – an increase of 25% overall. However, this is still 57% below 2019 figures (156.6m) and outdoor venues were more likely to perform strongly. Figures also show that:

  • On average, venues were shut for 99 days when they would usually be open, or around 31% of usual visiting time. However, London venues were typically shut for 148 days.
  • Gardens are nearly back to pre-pandemic visitor figures, zoos are down only 20%, but heritage sites are down 51% and museums 73% on pre-pandemic figures – often but not always correlating to the extent of outdoor space.
  • Windsor Great Park (5.4m), Royal Botanic Gardens Kew (1.96m) and Chester Zoo (1.6m) received the most visitors.
  • In fourth place, NHM was the most visited museum in 2021. Compared with 2020, the museum had a 21% rise in attendance with 1.57m visits. NHM figures continue to improve, with 2m visitors already recorded for the 2021-22 financial year. NHM Director Douglas Gurr said “I couldn’t be prouder of these phenomenal figures given the enormous challenges posed by the pandemic – not least the closure of the museum for more than five months.” He also pointed to the draw of three temporary exhibitions, Our Broken Planet, Wildlife Photographer of the Year and Fantastic Beasts.
  • Other museums in the top ten are the British Museum (1.32m, up 4%), Tate Modern (1.15m, down 19%) and the Science Museum (955k, up 11%). Tate’s fall is down to the number of opening days in 2021 – it attracted an increase of 60% in visitors on the days when the gallery was open. It is showing recovery in 2022, with 40,000 reportedly in the online queue for its Kusama exhibition at one point in mid March.
  • Beamish Museum, which has extensive outdoor space had nearly 594,000 visits – a 95% improvement on 2020.
  • By region, attractions in Scotland have recovered most quickly, gaining 45% more visitors than in 2020 – with the National Museum of Scotland the most visited in the country and in 20th place overall, followed by the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh. NMS Director Dr Chris Breward said "we worked hard to make our visitors feel as safe and inspired as possible when we opened our doors after lockdown and it’s wonderful to see more and more people back in the museum.”
  • Venues that tracked overseas visitors said that only 4% came from abroad in the year, and those with large international audiences have found it harder to recover.
  • This is likely to be the main factor in London being the slowest to recover by region – gaining only 17% more visitors than in 2020. Other regions in England averaged a 26% rise.

ALVA’s Director Bernard Donoghue does not expect full international tourism return until 2024, and has called on Government to reverse post-Brexit rules meaning that EU school and youth groups needs passports, not ID cards, to visit the UK, saying that this has led this market to ‘suffer considerably’. He also said that a decision to end tax-free shopping should be reversed: “it is making the UK uncompetitive in the highly lucrative retail tourism market, and the reduced level of VAT for accommodation and attractions should be retained for at least the next financial year.” ALVA (table), ALVA (overview), NHM, Guardian, BBC, M + H, Evening Standard, Edinburgh News (NMS)