The value of cultural tourism

How valuable is art tourism?

Here are some figures for 2017 for “art museums,” taken from The Art Newspaper

Last year in England about 47% of visitors to the major art museums in the country were from overseas. People who aren’t familiar with the visitor numbers may be surprised.

These are the figures for the big eight in London (most figures in this article are rounded to the nearest 100,000).

• British Museum — 5.9 million

• Tate Modern — 5.6m

• National Gallery — 5.2m

• V&A — 3.7m

• Courtauld — 3.2m

• Saatchi — 1.8m

• Tate Britain — 1.7m

• National Portrait Gallery — 1.2m

That’s 28.3m people. About 13m of these people were from overseas – a huge draw.  But the domestic audience was also huge: another 15m, many of whom would have been domestic tourists from outside London.

London is, of course, a major cultural destination, so what about smaller cities?

Here are some cities that punch well above their weight.

• In Singapore (pop 5.8m) the National Gallery drew 1.5m.

• In Beijing (pop 21.7m) the National Museum of China drew 8m.

• In Taipei (pop 7.4m) the National Palace Museum drew 4.4m

• In Brisbane (pop 2.4m) GOMA drew 1.4m.

• In Melbourne (pop 4.8m) the NGV and the Centre for the Moving Image drew about 4m people.

• In Glasgow (pop 1.2m), Kelvingrove drew 1.3m.

• In Rome (pop 4.2m) the Vatican Museums drew 6.4.

• In Edinburgh (pop 1.3m) the Scottish National Gallery and the National Museum of Scotland drew 3.7m.

• In Bilbao (pop 350,000) the Guggenheim drew 1.3m.

Don’t quibble too much about the population figures as they can be difficult to assess by reference to local authority boundaries but the big picture is clear. The size of the city is not so important. If the art is interesting enough it can attract audiences that are far bigger than the local population. 

The standout example of this is the Dali Museum in Figueres which attracted about 1.2m people. Figueres has about 46,000 inhabitants. That’s 26 visitors for each of them!

The fact that no New Zealand art museum rates a mention in The Art Newspaper’s list of leading art museums is indicative of the far smaller visitation numbers here.

From a tourism perspective, our local authorities should understand that art does not have to be the preserve of a few people of rarified sensibility. Done well, art is not only a source of pleasure and interest for locals but it can also be a huge engine for national and regional wealth.

Disclaimer: Anthony Grant is a barrister who owns Sculptureum, an art attraction in Auckland.

This is supplied content and not commissioned or paid for by NBR.

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