House of Commons Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee Inquiry: Tourism

NMDC response
March 2007

1. Introduction

The National Museum Directors' Conference (NMDC) is a membership organisation of the leaders of the UK's national collections. These comprise the national museums in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the British Library, National Library of Scotland, the National Archives and the Ministry of Defence sponsored national museums. NMDC exists to represent the interests of the national museums to government and other stakeholders; to play a key role in the development of policies and a national agenda for UK museums; to increase awareness of the work of its members and their contribution to society and the economy; to discuss and present views on matters of common interest to its members. The current chair of NMDC is Mark Jones, Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Further information about our activities can be found on our website at

We welcome the opportunity to make a submission to the Culture, Media and Sport Committees inquiry into the tourism sector in the UK.

2. Museums as drivers of tourism

Britains museums and galleries are a vital part of the mass visitor attraction business. According to research by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, seven out of the top ten leading visitor attractions in the UK are national museums[1]. A recent NMDC report by Tony Travers[2] found that visits to Britain's major museums and galleries are 50 percent higher than the annual number of visits to the West End and Broadway theatres combined. Tate has over six million visitors per annum, followed by the British Museum and National Gallery with over four million. The National Museum of Science and Industry, the Natural History Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum and Imperial War Museum each have between two and four million visitors every year[3].

Data about overseas visitors is less easily available than for total attendance. Nevertheless, the Travers report suggested that in the years 2002-03 to 2005-06, there were a total of 10 to 11 million overseas visitors per year to the major institutions covered by the study[4]. It is clear therefore that these institutions are a key component in Britains tourist offer.

These cultural tourists make a significant contribution to the UK economy. In the NMDC's Valuing Museums report, published in 2004, it was estimated that around £320 million per year was spent in the UK by overseas visitors solely as the result of the time they were willing to attribute to museums and galleries. And the Travers report suggests that it would be realistic to assume that at least £350 million a year is now generated by overseas visitors attracted by major museums and galleries[5].

Museums and galleries are major drivers of British tourism and generate significant tourism income. It is therefore crucial that the Government continue to recognise the importance of museums and galleries as tourist attractions and invest in them accordingly. The bodies responsible for promoting inbound tourism (DCMS and VisitBritain) must also reflect in their work the attraction of the museum sector to visitors from overseas.

3. Challenges facing museums as major tourist attractions

The Committee has recognised in its terms of reference that the domestic and inbound tourism industries face a number of challenges including the growth in cheap flights abroad. It is important to recognise that these issues do not only have an impact on traditional tourist resorts but on a wider range of attractions.

We are concerned that the UK is at risk of falling behind as a venue for cultural tourism. As the table below illustrates, figures published by The Art Newspaper show that in 2006[6] London dropped from second to sixth place for total number of visits to major exhibitions, falling behind Paris, Washington, Tokyo and San Francisco for the first time. London has averaged about four million such visits in each year from 2000 to 2006, while the New York number is almost double that. While visits to exhibitions in London are high, the latest figures show that these have not kept pace with the scale of increases in New York, Paris, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Tokyo.

One particular concern is that the public realms in which the museums operate are poor by international standards. The Trafalgar Square scheme has significantly improved the visitor experience to major the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery. Yet other important museum environments such as Exhibition Road, home to three of the major national museums, remain neglected. In addition, museum transport links, particularly outside London, are often inadequate and prohibitively expensive. This is a particular issue for National Museums Liverpool as they prepare to participate in European Capital of Culture in 2008.

As well as the change in inbound patterns of tourism we believe the growth in visits to major exhibitions in international cities is, at least in part, due to the relative ease with which UK residents can now travel abroad to visit galleries.

There are concerns at present within the sector that a less than favourable settlement in this year's Comprehensive Spending Review will further undermine the ability of our museums and galleries to host major exhibitions to attract tourists from both within and outside the UK.

We would welcome the Committee's support for increased funding for the sector to maintain the position of Britains museums and galleries as world class tourist attractions.

We ask that the Committee draw the Government's attention to the under-investment in the public realms and transport systems in which the museums and galleries operate.

4. Museums and the Olympics

The Olympiad is a unique opportunity to showcase Britain's cultural institutions to an international audience and the Government has long recognised that museums and galleries, along with other cultural, heritage and tourism institutions, have a leading role to play in the 2012 London Olympic Games, starting as early as 2008.

Cultural venues such as museums and galleries will also have a significant role to play in ensuring the Olympics reach beyond the capital and into the nations and regions. Many of the national museums and galleries are based outside London and hence will play an important part in delivering a strong cultural offer across Britain through to 2012 and beyond.

We welcome proposals for the Great Exhibition. It will be important to ensure that adequate investment is made in our cultural institutions including museums and galleries in the run up to the 2012 Olympic Games to ensure that they help to promote the UK and make a full contribution to the Games and their legacy.

[1] Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, Visits Made in 2005 to Visitor Attractions in Membership with ALVA

[2] Travers, T. (December 2006) Museums and Galleries in Britain: Economic, social and creative impacts, National Museum Directors Conference & Museums, Libraries and Archives Council

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] The Art Newspaper, No.178, March 2007, Exhibition Attendance Figures 2006