The value of cultural tourism

Anthony Grant compares cultural visitors to city population.

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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4 Comments & Questions

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Auckland population ~ 1.4 million, visitors to Auckland War Memorial Museum ~0.9 million. As good or better than all but last two in the list above (Melbourne figures include 2 centres). Important draw for Auckland, hopefully current Cultural Review by Auckland Council will drive further investment into the sector (Auckland has other key attractions like the Art Museum, Maritime Museum) and not be a cost reduction exercise.

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Just visited Te Papa's new revised NZ art exhibition and must say I was very disappointed.
Much more space (great) but the concentration on contemporary art at the expense of NZ's historical art history, influences and leading artists, was IMO very sad.

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I used to like the old fashioned museums of the type that used to be up next to the Wgton high school. They used to have an atmosphere about them. These new ones all come across as a bit plastic to me, what with their shops and games rooms etc. They're just not the same anymore.

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Its seems to me Te Papa is designed for Junior education and Asian and possibly Asian tourists. high Culture like 18/19C or Modern art is seen as too sophiticated in NZ and possibly reflecting intellectual arrogance by the limited kiwi electorate. High brow art sophisticate and social libertarian Hamish Keith found Helen Clark very disappointing at a PM he like me failed ot see she was a country girl in her political and personal sensibilities with little sympathy for the high brow or modern art or music .
Its more than tragic in the 1960s to mid 1980s NZ was on a trajectory to be a modern very advanced nation. Muldoon, Clark and Billy Boy English threw it all away for the support of cheap votes and the masses.

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