Investment in the past pays off as visitors boost tourism future

A MULTI-MILLION pound investment in some of the region's most popular museums has led to a record number of visitors and a boost a Yorkshire city's vital tourism industry.

The York Museums Trust has overseen a series of major schemes which have cost more than 4m and seen a dramatic rise in visitor numbers at its venues.

The latest data has revealed that the number of visitors at the city's Castle Museum, York Art Gallery, the Yorkshire Museum and a contemporary arts venue, St Mary's Church, has risen by seven per cent.

Official figures have shown that there were 445,000 visitors between April 1 and November 30 this year, compared to 416,000 visitors during the same period last year.

The dramatic rise has been welcomed by senior staff at the trust, who have attributed the success to the major investment.

The advent of the so-called "staycation", with Britons opting to holiday at home during the recession, is also thought to have played a part in the increases.

However, the York Museums Trust's commercial director, Mike Woodward, claimed that many of the city's own residents had also passed through the venues' doors after the improvement schemes were completed.

Mr Woodward said: "We have got great value out of the money that has been invested, and it is testament to the hard work of everyone involved in the trust that we have seen such a significant rise in visitor numbers.

"We are operating in a buoyant tourism market in a location like York, but there have also been a large number of visits to the museums and art gallery from the city's own residents.

"You are never quite sure what the impact will be of major investment but we are overjoyed by the increases in visitor numbers that we have seen since the work has been completed."

The multi-million pound improvements have been funded by a series of grants from trusts and foundations, as well as major contributions from York Council.

Increases in visitor numbers have helped bolster the city's tourism industry, which is responsible for employing nearly 23,000 people.

The city attracts more than 7.1m visitors a year who spend in excess of 443m.

The most ambitious project saw a 2m renovation of the Yorkshire Museum to bring it into the 21st century and ensure that the attraction can hold its own in the increasingly competitive tourism market.

Its Grade I listed building, which is one of Britain's oldest purpose-built museums, closed in November last year for the first time since it opened in 1830 to allow the work to be carried out.

It re-opened on August 1 after a major revamp of its interior to provide three new galleries.

Nearly 10,000 York residents visited the Yorkshire Museum in the first month after it re-opened.

There were 53,000 visitors to the Yorkshire Museum between August 1 and November 30, compared to just 20,000 during the same period in 2008 – a staggering 116 per cent increase.

Other projects include a 200,000 scheme that has re-developed the Castle Museum's entrance area to promote it as a cafe and team room by capitalising on the stunning views across the Eye of York and Clifford's Tower opposite.

More than 1m has been invested in the Castle Museum since the trust was formed in 2002, and a similar amount has funded improvements at the city's art gallery.

Renovation work on the venue's Burton Gallery is being carried out before it re-opens early next year, representing the latest phase of a major programme of work.

All the building's four main galleries have been renovated in the last eight years. Plans are being drawn up for a 6m scheme to introduce mezzanine floors above two galleries and improvements to the spaces outside are due to be carried out during 2011.