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Visitor numbers to the UK’s top tourist attractions plummeted this year after the wettest summer for 100 years and the disruption of the Olympics, triggering the worst trading period “in living memory” for key destinations in London, stark new figures have revealed.
Some major London attractions hosted 60% fewer visitors during the two weeks of the Games, the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (Alva) said, while many further afield suffered one of the worst trading periods since foot and mouth disease gripped the British countryside in 2001.
Visits to gardens and heritage spots in London were particularly badly hit this summer by the “appalling weather”, with the amount spent during visits in cafes, restaurants and shops also falling. Among the attractions that suffered a dip in numbers this summer were London Zoo, the Tower of London and the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew.
Alva has 43 members managing some 2,000 tourist sites across the UK and typically welcomes more than 100 million domestic and overseas visitors each year. Overall, those in London saw an average decrease of 15% in visitor numbers in May-August compared with the same period last year.
In the capital, gardens and outdoor attractions suffered the largest single decrease of 21.3% in visitor numbers, as heavy rainfall made visitors turn their backs on normally popular destinations such as London Zoo (run by the Zoological Society of London) and the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew. Retail and catering spend fell by 9.7% and 12.5%.
But heritage sites and cathedrals – including the Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Houses of Parliament – were also casualties, with visitors numbers slumping by 20.3% and retail and catering spending by 20.2% and 8.6%. Visitor numbers to museums and galleries in London fell by 13.1%.
Bernard Donoghue, chief executive of Alva, said: “In the first couple of weeks of the Olympics, some of the key central London attractions experienced a huge fall of up to 61% in visitor numbers compared to the same weeks last year. Overseas visitors who stayed away from London during the Olympic period and Londoners who avoided the city led to media headlines of London being described as “a ghost town”.
Donoghue admitted that the figures made “sobering reading” and showed that “the summer of 2012 has been a difficult time financially for our most popular and best-loved visitor attractions. It is our belief that for gardens and outdoor attractions across the UK, the appalling weather during much of the year has led to one of the worst trading periods since 2001 and foot and mouth. For London attractions the Olympic period was one of their worst trading periods in living memory and for visitor attractions the summer is their equivalent of retailers’ Christmas; once lost the business can’t be won back.”
But Alva said it was now working with local and national tourist boards and others “to turn the millions of Olympic TV viewers who loved how Britain looked into visitors who will come here in the next months and years”.
The figures were published as the government faced accusations that it is continuing “a deplorable policy of neglect” towards tourism. The prime minister, David Cameron, had promised upon his election that tourism would be a priority, the editors of the influential Good Hotel Guide said. But Adam Raphael and Desmond Balmer, joint editors of the 2013 edition of the guide, said Britain had squandered a “golden opportunity to develop tourism” in the year of the Queen’s jubilee and the Olympic Games, and the government had slashed the tourism budget by one-fifth.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk