43% of adults visited a garden attraction in the 12 months to August 2020, marking the highest visitation for an attraction type in the last four years, and pushing it to the top spot for the first time. This highlights consumers’ appetite for natural, outdoor environments, which have appealed to more consumers due to indoor venues being closed or deemed less safe as a result of the pandemic.

COVID-19’s biggest legacy will be in the accelerated integration of digital services throughout the sector. The pandemic has spurred 3-4 years of technological innovation in the space of months. As a result, we have seen venues connect with potential visitors virtually, and will continue to see more sophisticated end-to-end solutions that visitors can interact with from booking to visiting and beyond.

Lower demand for domestic travel, particularly for overnight stays and significantly reduced levels of inbound tourists are the biggest threats facing visitor attractions currently. Venues must prioritise their local communities with targeted marketing efforts.

In the medium term, one of the biggest opportunities in the market lies in investing in the outdoors. By merging the indoor and outdoor visitor experience with new concepts and activities, brands can not only keep people safe amidst the viral threat but also encourage visits throughout all four seasons. Combating consumers’ seasonal behaviours will be critical to compete against other out-of-home leisure options during the warmer months, and against the comfort of home when it is cold.

Key issues covered in this Report

  • The impact of COVID-19 on the visitor attractions market.

  • Demand for visiting attractions in the next 12 months.

  • Willingness to use digital services when interacting with attractions virtually and while attending.

  • Opportunities for premiumisation.

COVID-19: Market context

The first COVID-19 cases were confirmed in the UK at the end of January, with a small number of cases in February. As the case level rose, the government ordered the closure of non-essential stores on 20 March. 

A wider lockdown requiring people to stay at home except for essential shopping, exercise and work ‘if absolutely necessary’ followed on 23 March. It was not until 15 June that non-essential stores were allowed to re-open, as well as some outdoor visitor attractions such as zoos and safari parks. However, most visitor attractions opened on 4 July along with much of the hospitality sector.

By September, it had become clear that the UK was at the start of a second wave, and social distancing measures were intensified.

On 9 September 2020, HM Government published guidance for England centred on the ‘rule of six’. Venues following COVID-19 secure guidelines can host more than six people in total, but no one should visit in a group of greater than six. It will be illegal to be in a group of more than six from outside of one household from 14 September. Those visiting one of these places, such as a pub, shop, leisure venue, restaurant or place of worship, should:

  • Avoid social interaction with anyone outside the group

  • Provide contact details to the organiser to be contacted if needed by the NHS Test and Trace programme

On 22 September 2020, the government announced that from 24 September 2020 pubs, cafés and restaurants in England would only be allowed to provide table service, operating until 10pm, while people have been told to work from home if they can. On 12 October 2020, the government outlined a standardised three-tiered system of local COVID Alert Levels in England.

Continued increases in infection numbers led to Wales implementing a two-week national lockdown from 19 October, England announcing a full month-long lockdown from 5 November and Scotland introducing a new five-level system of coronavirus restrictions. 

On 23 October, the government outlined an updated three-tiered system of local COVID-19 Alert levels in England which come into force at the end of the second national lockdown on 2 December:

  • Tier one “medium” alert level includes the ‘rule of six’ applying both indoors and outdoors, while spectator sports can resume with a crowd of 50% capacity, or 4,000 spectators, whichever is smaller.

  • Tier two “high” alert level aims to reduce household-to-household transmission by preventing all mixing between households or support bubbles indoors. The ‘rule of six’ will apply in outdoor spaces, including private gardens. Most leisure venues, including pubs, restaurants and visitor attractions are allowed to remain open.

  • Tier three “very high” alert level applies where transmission rates are causing the greatest concern. In these areas, the government set a baseline of prohibiting social mixing indoors and in private gardens, with the ‘rule of six’ allowed in open public spaces like parks and beaches. People will be advised not to travel in and out of these areas. Leisure venues, including visitor attractions, must close.

Economic and other assumptions

Mintel’s economic assumptions are based on the Office for Budget Responsibility’s central scenario included in its July 2020 Fiscal Sustainability Report. The scenario suggests that UK GDP could fall by 12.4% in 2020, recovering by 8.7% in 2021, and that unemployment will reach 11.9% by the end of 2020, falling to 8.8% by the end of 2021.

The current uncertainty means that there is wide variation on the range of forecasts, however, and this is reflected in the OBR’s own scenarios. In its upside scenario, economic activity returns to pre-COVID-19 levels by Q1 2021. Its more negative scenario, by contrast, would mean that GDP does not recover until Q3 2024.

The Welsh and English lockdowns will inevitably have an impact on GDP and consumer finances, potentially shifting the UK closer to the OBR’s downside scenario. The market forecasts in this Report reflect this new reality.

From the start of the outbreak, we have made the assumption that an effective vaccine would not be widely available until well into 2021. On 9 November, Pfizer and BioNTech announced highly encouraging results from trials of their vaccine, followed by similarly positive results from Monderna. This means that a vaccination programme may be brought forward, but a full rollout will take many months, meaning that Mintel is still making the assumption that we will be living with COVID for some time to come.

Products covered in this Report

For the purposes of this Report, Mintel has chosen to examine the following types of visitor attraction as the core focus of this Report:

  • Country parks

  • Gardens

  • Heritage and visitor centres

  • Historic properties (including historic houses, palaces, castles, forts, historic monuments, archaeological sites, historic ships, windmills, watermills and other historic properties)

  • Museums, art galleries and science centres

  • Places of worship (cathedrals, churches when visited specifically as a visitor attraction, not as a place of regular worship)

  • Steam/heritage railways

  • Theme parks

  • Zoos, wildlife parks and aquariums

Mintel primarily follows VisitEngland’s definitions of the above categories of visitor attraction. VisitEngland defines a visitor attraction as follows:

“An attraction where it is feasible to charge admission for the sole purpose of sightseeing. The attraction must be a permanently established excursion destination, a primary purpose of which is to allow access for entertainment, interest, or education; rather than being primarily a retail outlet or a venue for sporting, theatrical, or film performances. It must be open to the public, without prior booking, for published periods each year, and should be capable of attracting day visitors or tourists as well as local residents.”

Although consideration is given in the Report to both domestic UK visitors and inbound visitors from overseas, the focus of Mintel’s exclusive consumer research is the domestic market.

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