Gardens benefit from 7.2% average rise in visitor numbers to leading visitor attractions in 2016

Gardens and visitor attractions with gardens benefitted from a good year for tourism in 2016 in the UK as visitor numbers rose 7.2% on 2015 among The Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA) members.

Magic team: Frosts site manager Martin Wiles (l) with RMA founder Robert Myers and Magic Garden dragon. Image: HW
Magic team: Frosts site manager Martin Wiles (l) with RMA founder Robert Myers and Magic Garden dragon. Image: HW

Scottish attractions had the greatest increase of 15.6% growth. Some National Trust for Scotland properties saw huge rises, Crathes Castle was up 134.5% on its 2015 numbers, Pitmedden Garden up 112.5% and Inverewe Gardens up 62.2%, although the large increase in the first two was due to historic undercounting and new counting systems being introduced, an NTS spokesman said.

Three of the largest increases in visitor numbers were at gardens and outdoor attractions; Hampton Court Palace (part of Historic Royal Palaces), which saw an increase of 34% and 21 places up on last year’s figures (903,270 and 39th place) – largely due to the opening of the Magic Garden that attracted many families. The Magic Garden was designed by landscape architecture firm Robert Myers Associates (RMA), with soft landscaping by in-house gardeners and hard landscaping and site management by Frosts Landscaping.

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew had an increase of 18.6% (13th place at 1,828,956) following the installation of The Hive from the UK Pavilion at the Milan Expo 2015 and the opening of its Great Broad Walk Borders. Westonbirt, The National Arboretum in Gloucestershire saw a 15.5% increase following it’s hosting of The Gruffalo and the installation of a new treetop walkway, which attracted families.

Royal Botanic Garden Kew’s Sussex Garden, Wakehurst Place was up 20.3%. Other big winners included National Trust properties, Tyntesfield, up 24%, Cliveden, up 17%, Calke Abbey, up 16%, Erddig up 19% and Sissinghurst, 13%. However visitor numbers at Hardwick Hall were down 90%.

English Heritage property Wallmer Castle and Gardens saw a 19.4% rise. RHS Wisley saw visitor numbers rise 2%. The other RHS gardens are not included in the figures. Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh bucked the trend with a 3% drop on 2015’s figures, although its regional sites either saw no change or a modest increase.

Three of the wetland landscapes run by the The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) also had a good year, with WWT Washington up 43%, WWT Castle Espie up 15% and WWT Llanelli up 11%, although WWT Wenley and WWT Caerlaverock were both down 2%

Overall 130,248,728 visits were made to the top 241 ALVA sites in the UK.

In  total, 66.9m people visited attractions in London. The British Museum continued to be the most popular visitor attraction overall for the tenth year running with 6.4m visitors and remaining in 2nd place was the National Gallery with 6.3m visitors – seeing a 6% increase. 3rd place was achieved by the Tate Modern, which saw 5.8m visitors; the Natural History Museum moved to 4th place, and Southbank Centre was 5th.

The most visited attraction outside London was Chester Zoo, which saw a 12% increase and remained in 12th place (1,898,059), while in 15th place was the most visited attraction in Scotland - the National Museum of Scotland – which opened 10 new galleries in 2016 (1,810,948), and this was closely followed by Edinburgh Castle in 16th position (1,778,548) as the most visited paid for attraction in Scotland.

Northern Ireland saw a 7.4% increase, with Titanic Belfast securing 49th position with a 9.4% increase (679,690). Cornwall also saw a record number of visitors in 2016.

ALVA director Bernard Donoghue, Director of ALVA, said: "Many of our members in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Cornwall had record years in 2016, although the first nine months of 2016 were unquestionably hard for our members, particularly in London, for many reasons. However by the end of the year nearly all attractions were reporting growth from visitors from overseas and the rest of the UK."

"Like the 2015 figures, Scotland has continued to outperform the rest of the UK with a substantial increase in their visitor numbers. 2016 was a great year for Scottish Tourism – proving that Scotland is reaping the benefits of significant capital investment in attractions and creative programming by its institutions."

The figures have been released to coincide with English Tourism Week.

For more on how gardens achieved big visitor number increases, see this Friday’s issue of Horticulture Week.



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