Tourists flock to the great outdoors as leading attractions witness huge slump in visitor numbers

In a year quite like no other, the desire to be outdoors has never been greater.

The Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal estate in North Yorkshire has moved up a national league table of the most visited major attractions nationally. (Photo: National Trust Images/Andrew Butler).

The chance to escape the confines of home has seen droves of people turn to outdoor venues, with membership of some of Yorkshire’s leading tourism attractions showing a dramatic rise.

While the tourism sector has been decimated throughout the past 12 months with many venues having to remain closed during the repeated lockdowns, those attractions which have offered the chance to explore gardens or parklands have fared far better.

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Figures from the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (Alva) which have been published today have revealed that some of the region’s destinations such as the Fountains Abbey and the Studley Royal estate and RHS Harlow Carr have risen up a leader board of the nation’s most visited locations.

Castle Howard in North Yorkshire has seen a surge in membership by 35 per cent since the first lockdown in March last year. (Photo: James Hardisty).

Overall, Alva’s figures have shown that the UK’s leading tourist attractions suffered a “devastatingly hard year” due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Some 45.4m visits were recorded across 294 sites last year, down from 151.3m during 2019. However, Alva’s chief executive, Bernard Donoghue, told The Yorkshire Post that people’s desire to re-engage with nature and the outdoors had minimised the impact on some attractions.

He said: “It has been an extraordinarily tough year for the tourism sector, it was the first to be hit by coronavirus, it has been hit the hardest and it will take the longest to recover.

“However, people have been cooped up for so long that they are desperate to get out and enjoy what is often on their doorsteps. It may well take another 18 months for tourism to recover, especially as there will not be any overseas tourists for the foreseeable future.

"But if there is ever a summer to get out and enjoy attractions, it is this year. This is the summer to enjoy culture, heritage and the arts without the queues.”

While Harlow Carr saw a 34 per cent fall in visitor numbers to 296,043 last year compared to 2019, it still rose up Avla’s national rankings from 83rd place to 39th spot.

Meanwhile, Fountains Abbey rose from 87th place to the 42nd position in the national league table, despite visitor numbers falling to 287,900 - a 30 per cent reduction in 2020 compared to the previous 12 months.

Some of Yorkshire’s attractions have witnessed a significant rise in membership, as more people look towards supporting local tourism.

Castle Howard has witnessed a 35 per cent increase in membership, rising from 10,000 members in March last year before the first lockdown to more than 15,000.

Abbigail Ollive, the head of marketing and sales at the North Yorkshire estate, said: “It has been an unexpected bonus for us.

"Everyone does want to get out and enjoy the outdoors, but there are also a significant number of people who have signed up for membership on more philanthropic grounds because they want to help support us financially.

"That has been really heartening, and we are so grateful after such a difficult year for everyone.”