With summer finally abating and a new series of the globally popular Downton Abbey set to begin this weekend, insights from VisitBritain reveal that visiting castles, stately homes and famous buildings in Britain is now a top priority for overseas visitors. Nearly 30% of all visits to Britain include a trip to built heritage sites, with the amount spent by those who do so amounting to £6.5 billion over the entirety of their trip.
Overseas visitors have a consistently high perception of Britain’s built heritage. In a poll of 15,000 respondents, 47% recognised “interesting built heritage” as a top holiday attribute associated with Britain – a 10% increase on pre-Olympic perceptions. Britain’s “interesting built heritage” was also ranked 2nd against that of France, the USA, Australia and Italy – higher than its previous 3rd place ranking prior to the London 2012 Games and subsequent GREAT marketing campaign launch.
Much of the appeal of Britain’s built heritage is attributed to the charm of castles and stately homes, tied to medieval and Celtic history and of course the people who once lived there. Buildings made famous through literature, film and TV, such as Highclere Castle - home of the phenomenally successful ‘Downton Abbey’ TV series - are also helping to increase interest. With the eagerly awaited fourth season of ‘Downton Abbey’ starting on 22nd September, British tourism businesses such as Ellenborough Park Hotel are capitalising on the attention of a worldwide audience upwards of 120 million by promising private access to Highclere Castle as part of an exclusive package. Alnwick Castle, the home of Harry Potter, has experienced a 230% increase in visitor numbers since 2011, boosting the local economy by an extra £9 million.
Over 1 million US visitors have taken a tour around some of our finest built heritage, spending over £1 billion while in the UK. Castles and historic houses welcomed 418,000 visitors from the emerging BRIC markets, with Chinese, Russian, Indian and Brazilians injecting £485m into the British economy. In terms of likelihood to include a visit to a castle or historic house in their trip, those from emerging markets are amongst the most likely to do so - 51% of Brazilian visitors, 42% from Russia and China and 35% from India.
Women are more likely to visit a palace or stately home - 34% compared to 25% of men. And perhaps surprisingly it is our youngest visitors who are particularly likely to visit castles or historic houses, with 49% of those under 16 and 38% of those aged 16 to 24 doing so, compared to between 25% and 31% of older age groups.
Joss Croft, Marketing Director at VisitBritain said: “With our rich history and culture, Britain has some of the most iconic buildings in the world that visitors want to come and see. As an all year round location we know that people are drawn here by the chance to see castles like those at Alnwick, Conwy, Edinburgh and Windsor. Alongside that, adaptations of classic novels by Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters - as well as the growing success of period dramas such as Downton Abbey - are helping to increase interest in visiting stately homes across the UK.
“Britain’s built heritage is a fantastic asset and one of the key strengths of our visitor experience. As we look to entice 40 million overseas visitors a year by 2020, we will be increasing our promotional activity in key markets around the world by using images that highlight the mystical charm of castles and romantic appeal of historic houses.”
Minister for Tourism Hugh Robertson said: “Britain’s castles and heritage sites, like Downton Abbey style stately homes, are some of our biggest tourist attractions for visitors from overseas. Leeds Castle in Kent is a particular favourite of mine – a stunning place. With its rich history dating back to Norman times and lots to see and do, it’s a great day out for the family.”
Luke Whitcomb, Marketing Director at English Heritage said: ‘‘This August a record number of visitors, over 1,066,000, enjoyed the castles, abbeys and historic homes in our care. From the Battle of Hastings to Charles Darwin’s home, it appears that more than ever visitors - from home and abroad - want to stand on the spots where history was made.”
Fiona Hyslop, Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs said: “Scotland’s fascinating heritage, history and culture continues to attract visitors from around the world. This August we saw record-breaking visitor numbers at our sites including Edinburgh Castle, Linlithgow Palace, the birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots, Iona Abbey and St Andrews Castle. There has also been an increase in visitors coming from the emerging tourism markets of China and Russia.”