Terror fears cause plunge in visitor numbers at London attractions


Visitor numbers plummeted at some of London's most popular tourist attractions last year because of fears the city "might be next" for a terror attack, an industry leader said.

The British Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum welcomed more than a million fewer people in total in 2016 compared with the previous year.

Attractions across London as a whole saw an overall increase of just 0.1%, whereas the UK average growth across 241 sites was 7.2%, including 15.6% in Scotland.

Bernard Donoghue, director of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (Alva), which published the figures, said terrorist attacks in Brussels, Paris and Nice had made some people reluctant to visit major cities.

He told the Press Association: "There were some security fears about central London and city centre attractions, both on the part of overseas visitors and also UK domestic families.

"We did see a displacement out of central London for some people going to visitor attractions.

"Whilst there were some terrorism attacks on mainland continental Europe, there was also some concern among overseas visitors that London might be next."

Mr Donoghue said the growth figures for London attractions were also hampered by a fall in the total number of leisure travellers visiting the UK, some venues undergoing refurbishment and others coming off a "blockbuster year" in 2015.

He added that the UK referendum had a positive impact on visitor numbers as the fall in the value of sterling helped encourage a surge in visitors from September through to the end of the year.

Asked if he was concerned that last week's attack in Westminster could lead to a cut in tourism trade in the capital, Mr Donoghue replied: "We've always been well regarded as being a safe destination and one that's always dealt well with security and terrorism concerns.

"All of our historical research indicates that if there's a one-off terrorist incident the market doesn't react at all, it's quite a muted reaction.

"There's much more significant reaction in cancellations if there's a similar sort of incident within a week or two weeks. Then you see a profoundly negative effect on tourism.

"So far we've seen very little indication of any cancellations or a fall in forward bookings to London and the UK."

The British Museum maintained its position as the most popular tourist attraction despite suffering a 5.9% drop in visitors to 6.4 million, ahead of the National Gallery (up 6% to 6.3 million) and the Tate Modern (up 23.9% to 5.8 million).

The Royal Academy credited its 17% increase to 1.3 million visitors to several exhibitions including Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse last spring.

Chester Zoo was the most popular attraction outside of London, in 12th place overall with 1.9 million visitors, up 12%.

The National Museum of Scotland, which opened 10 new galleries last year, took the top spot in Scotland due to a 16% rise to 1.8 million visitors.