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2011 Figures Suggest Investment in Museums Pays Off

Revamped British Museum will tell 'more coherent and compelling stories'

Visitor figures released today by The Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA) have shown that new and refurbished museums saw renewed interest from visitors last year.

Exhibits in the earth in space gallery museum of scotlandGuests on a local, national and international level visited updated attractions, with the revamped National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh seeing the highest increase at 141%. Following a £47 million improvement, the museum opened its doors in July 2011 and welcomed just under 1.5 million visitors. This smashed the museum’s original target of one million within just four months and it was the most visited attraction outside of London.

The Riverside Museum, Glasgow also proved to be a popular attraction, seeing just over one million guests through its doors between June 21st and the end of the year. The impressive waterfront building was designed by internationally prominent architect Zaha Hadid.

The Museum of Liverpool, located at the edge of the Mersey, attracted 667, 526 in 2011 and this could be set to increase this year following the opening of four new galleries last December. The museum explores how the history and culture of Liverpool has been shaped by the port, famous names and sporting history of the city.

The British Museum, London proved once more to be the most popular attraction for the fifth year in a row at 5, 848, 534, whilst the National Gallery increased numbers by 6% to 5, 253, 216. It is thought that the success of the latter was due to the runaway success of the ‘Leonardo’ exhibition.
Another attraction reaping the rewards of investment was the National Maritime Museum, which saw a 22% increase in visitor numbers, following its bust of augustus statue roman british museumrevitalisation and opening of the £35 million Sammy Ofer Wing in July.

Westminster Abbey saw a whopping increase of 36% in 2011 in the wake of the royal wedding and achieved top ten placement in the most visited attractions for the first time. Not far behind the Abbey was the Old Royal in Greenwich which saw a 31% rise, due in part to it being featured in blockbusters ‘The Iron Lady’ and ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’.

English Heritage site Wrest Park in Bedfordshire, a significant yet secret garden, opened last August following the completion of a 20 year refurbishment and greeted around 90, 000 visitors. In addition to this, EH site Wroxeter Roman City in Shropshire saw an increase of 177% following its appearance on Channel 4’s ‘Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day’.

“The figures demonstrate that for Brits who holidayed at home in record numbers last year and for overseas visitors who came to the UK in record numbers last year, our iconic attractions are a ‘must see’ and a ‘must experience’”, commented Director of ALVA, Bernard Donoghue.

“Even at a time of economic restraint those attractions which have invested in refurbishment, new exhibitions, new marketing, new catering and retail pranimal world giraffe at museum of scotlandoducts have seen a real return on investment and more money for the visitor economy.”

“Domestic visitors have prioritised visits to free attractions but not exclusively; they are mindful of getting value for money and experiencing great quality and they are finding plenty of examples of both. Attractions in rural areas, away from large conurbations, have struggled however, not because of the quality or the attractiveness of the properties but because of the price of petrol to drive to them.”

Some of the UK’s most popular attractions last year proved to be zoos and gardens with Chester View increased visitor attendance by 11%, London Zoo 7.85% and the Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew and Edinburgh and all of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Gardens improving on 2010.

2012 looks likely to be a bumper year for museums and attractions too, thanks to the global media attention garnered by the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympic and Para Olympic Games. This should be further bolstered by exceptional exhibitions such as the Damian Hurst at Tate Modern and Picasso at Tate Britain.

Other exhibitions set to take place this year include: ‘Lucien Freud‘ at the National Portrait Gallery, David Hockney at the Royal Academy, Masterpieces from the Bute Collection at the Scottish National Gallery, Turner, Monet and Twombly at Tate Liverpool and British Design and Hollywood Costumes exhibitions at the V&A.

Late March will bring the reopening of Kensington Palace following a £12 million renovation and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery is also expected to bring in more visitors after completion of a recent refurbishment and addition of new exhibits.

ALVA’s 42 members include the UK’s most popular and iconic attractions which see more than 100 million visitors per year. The 2000 sites include galleries, museums, gardens, zoos and more and attract guests from all over the world.

In order to qualify for membership, attractions must host over one million visitors per year.

Images: top and left, kind courtesy of the  British Museum, second from top and above right kind courtesy The National Museum of Scotland

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