The UK's major visitor attractions recorded just 45.4 million visits during 2020 – a 70 per cent fall from the 151.3 million visits they received in 2019.
Visitor figures for the year, released by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA) today (31 March) show how badly COVID-19 has impacted the sector.
The UK's most visited attraction during 2020 was Tate Modern with 1,431,704 visits – down from 6.1 million in 2019.
Two attractions particularly affected by the pandemic were ones that would normally be among the country's most visited sites. The Royal Museums Greenwich saw a 96 per cent decline in visits (111,263 visits, down from 2.9 million in 2019), while Edinburgh Castle saw an 87% drop – falling from the 13th most visited attraction to the 44th.
When the initial lockdown commenced in March 2020, all visitor attractions were forced to close their doors.
Further restrictions during the year were then applied to individual nations or English regions – rather than the entire UK – meaning that the impact of COVID-19 restrictions was decidedly uneven.
While some attractions, especially those outdoors, were able to reopen for business, many others were forced to remain closed and were among the last to reopen during the summer – before being told to shut again, as further pandemic waves began to hit the UK.
Bernard Donoghue, director of ALVA, said: “Our annual figures for 2020 reflect what a devastatingly hard year the attractions sector and the wider visitor economy faced.
"Tourism is the UK’s 5th biggest industry and, as these figures show, was hit first, hit hardest and will take the longest to recover.”
Donoghue added that the government's approach to open other businesses ahead of visitor attractions will do nothing to help the pressures faced by the sector.
“As we approach Easter, one of the economically important times for our members, we continue to question the government’s decision to open non-essential retail but not indoor attractions, who will also miss the May Bank Holiday as well.
"In the past 14 months, most of our members have been closed for every Bank Holiday, and therefore we continue to ask the government to introduce a new Bank Holiday for 2021 at the end of September to thank the NHS and key workers and help the tourism industry repair our balance sheets.
“In the Budget, earlier this month, we welcomed the fact that the chancellor recognised several of our requests including an extension to the furlough scheme and keeping VAT at 5 per cent until the end of September, and we ask him to keep an open mind on further extending that rate for as long as necessary. "
The ALVA membership comprises more than 2200 tourist sites, ranging from museums, galleries, palaces and castles to zoos, historic houses, heritage sites and leisure attractions.