We speak to Bernard Donoghue, OBE, from ALVA about how important group tourism is and what attractions are doing to be more appealing to coach groups. 

How important is group tourism to UK attractions?

Bernard Donoghue OBE is the director and CEO of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA)

Bernard Donoghue. 

It’s hugely important. Because of the pandemic and the lockdowns, group travel took some time to get back going but we’re really pleased to see that there has been a significant increase in group travel particularly last year and we’re very optimistic about a further increase this year.

Groups aren’t just visiting many of our iconic destinations but they’re going to attractions in rural areas which is great because it helps spread the economic benefits of group tourism. We are huge fans of group travel at the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA). 

We are talking about groups, all the way from individual tour operators through to U3A groups. They are realising that places a bit more out of the way and more rural are going to be less crowded and perhaps provide more exclusive experiences as a result. 

Westminster Abbey, London

Bernard said they have seen an increase in visitors to places like Westminster Abbey since the Coronation. 

Have you seen a rise in group tourism?

Group travel is really coming back with a vengeance, it feels like groups are being braver and more exploratory in the places they are visiting.

It’s great to see that even with the cost of living crisis, people want to prioritise exploring different places. We have also seen the effect of the Coronation on visits to places like Westminster Abbey as well as fantastic exhibitions like China’s Hidden Century display at the British Museum.

ALVA has released its visitor figures from 2023, with many attractions seeing a huge rise. Almost 150 million people visited ALVA sites throughout the year, an increase of nearly 20% on the previous year. 

Read the full story and find out the top 20 most visited attractions here.

Do you think UK attractions have benefited from a rise in people taking ‘staycations’?

Because of Covid, we almost had an enforced staycation for a couple of years but it meant that people became reacquainted and fell back in love with places on their doorstep and places they hadn’t visited for years.

Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire

Source: © 2022 Anneli Marinovich

There are a string of major openings throughout 2024 including Icons of British Fashion at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire. 

We remain optimistic that there is going to be more of a staycation effect this year and when you look at what’s coming up at many of our attractions this year, there are some really compelling reasons to stay in the UK.

The 2023 figures show an increase in visits to indoor attractions, why do you think that is?

It’s partly due to the weather and also reflective of the fact that outdoor attractions were really popular immediately after the lockdown was lifted. Huge numbers of people flocked to parks and gardens; that has levelled off last year and this year and we are back to an equilibrium.

In your experience, are attractions going all out to offer visitors something new?

In a survey of our members, we asked, if you do have reserves (and it’s a big if), what are you spending them on. By a country mile, the number one answer was on outdoor/all-weather play activities for kids. Attractions are making sure that children and families are really welcomed back.

The Plotters Forest at Raby Castle

The Plotters Forest at Raby Castle in County Durham is one of several new adventure playgrounds to have opened in 2023 - something Bernard says has been a focus for attractions. 

The other thing that’s really encouraging is that people are prioritising day trips to visitor attractions above things like subscriptions and takeaways. Days out with each other are important and being prioritised.

Group travel is really coming back with a vengeance, it feels like groups are being braver and more exploratory in the places they are visiting.

Are attractions doing what they can to attract group visitors?

More of our members are making sure they are as welcoming, inclusive and supportive of group travel as possible because attractions know that groups are really important in economic terms. But they are also a constant source of visitor numbers in the shoulder months. Making sure attractions are prepared, and catering for, groups is a priority.

Bernard Donoghue has been the director of ALVA since September 2011. To find out more about the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions and its members go to www.alva.org.uk