Visit England has recently published the official visitor attraction figures for 2013. Whilst the overall 4% rise in visitor figures for museums is to be welcomed, it is not as strong as the 5% rise across attractions as a whole. A look at the detail of the report sheds some interesting light on these figures.
The Visit England report states:
Overall there was a +5% annual increase in in total visits to attractions in 2013, representing a strong recovery following the -1% decline reported in 2012.
This increase was driven by a recovery in visits to attractions charging for admission, where there was growth of +7%, following the -3% decline observed in 2012. Visits to free attractions grew by +3%.
Despite being more likely to be closed seasonally in 2013, historic attractions experienced strong growth, historic houses/castles increasing visits by +7% and other historic properties by +10%. Visits to this sector are now around a quarter higher than they were in 2008.
Revenues from admissions rose by 5%, attributed to a 4% rise in prices and the increase in visitor numbers. The percentage of attractions increasing their spend on marketing rose for the first time in eight years. 18% now offer some form of mobile app and 21% offer online booking. Facebook and twitter are now used widely by even small attractions, corresponding with the findings from AIM’s Visitor Verdict benchmarking, although use of mobile apps is much lower amongst museums and galleries (8%) than for many other types of attractions.
Larger attractions with more than 50,000 visitors have seen the highest rates of increase. Smaller attractions (fewer than 20,000 visits p.a.) have grown at the slowest rate.
The report also looks at family and school visits:
There was a strong bounce-back in visits to family attractions in 2013, with a +6% increase in visits to attractions with over 30% of their visits accounted for by children. This contrasts with a –2% decline in 2012. …
Schoolchildren admissions also saw a strong increase in 2013. Although increasing at a rate lower than admissions as a whole (+4%), this was a notable turnaround on the -16% decline observed in 2012.
Overseas visits increased for almost all types of attractions and in all English regions apart from the South West. However it was driven by free attractions, primarily by the national museums.
Other than country parks and gardens, all attraction categories reported 2013 local visitor numbers up on 2012. The lower overall performance of attractions in terms of visit numbers in the North West and West Midlands appears to have been driven by declines in local visitors. These are the only two regions in which local visitor numbers fell in 2013.
Local visitors appear to have driven the increase in visits to paid admission attractions in 2013. Local visitors to these attractions increased by +11% in 2013 compared with an overall +7% increase in visits to paid attractions.
The report also looks at trends in admission prices:
41% of attractions charging admission, charge £5 or less for entry – a slight decline on the 43% observed in 2012. One in six charge over £10. The average entry charge stands at £7.30 in 2013. The average child admission charge amongst those sites charging is £5.18. A quarter of charging sites (23%) charge over £5 for child entry, with 6% now charging over £10.00.
The average increase in adult admission fees is 4% this year – consistent with increases during the previous five years, with increases of 4% (2012), 5% (2011), 5% (2010), 4% (2009) and 5% (2008).
The average increase for museums and galleries was 5%, giving an average charge of £4.41 and for ‘other historic properties’ the average increase was 7% giving an average charge of £5.38.
Growth in visitor numbers was stronger for attractions that offered deals or discounts (offered by 61% of charging attractions), particularly in relation to chid admissions (the family market). However the impact on revenues was less noticeable between those offering deals/discounts (6% increase) and those that did not (5% increase).
The report looks at the link between revenues, visitor numbers and marketing spend and notes that those attractions that increased their marketing spends saw bigger rises in both compared to those that did not.
In relation to employment, the report notes across visitor attractions that the previous trend of declining employment has been arrested:
Heritage attractions appear to have driven the increase in full-time permanent staff, plus visitor / heritage centres and places of worship. Conversely, museums and art galleries, country parks, gardens, farms and workplaces continue to be more likely to be reducing these members of staff. Paid admission attractions have led the drive in taking on full-time permanent staff in 2013.
It also notes a strong increase in volunteering in almost all types of attraction, paid and unpaid.
The report also has information about regional variations, employment and volunteering and long-term trends in visitor numbers across different types of visitor attractions.
One of the most interesting parts is the graphs on pages 14 and 16, showing the long-term visitor trends for different types of attractions. Museums and galleries have just out performed the market since 1989 but this is largely driven by the 150% increase in visits to national museums since free admission was introduced in 2001. Historic properties have under-performed the market since 1989 but since 2008 have seen very strong growth. Heritage Railways had been outperforming the market until 2011 but have since had two years of decline or stagnation in visitor numbers. Gardens, farms and heritage/visitor centres have seen extremely strong growth across the whole period since 1989 and have been the best performers. Whilst some AIM members fall into these categories, the report left us wondering if there are things we could be learning from other types of visitor attraction?