London museums struggling to regain visitors after Covid closures, our survey shows

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After two years of closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic, visitors returned in large numbers to museums and galleries across the world, new research by The Art Newspaper reveals.

Every year, The Art Newspaper conducts a comprehensive worldwide survey of art museums’ visitor numbers. The data for 2022, which will be published in full on 27 March, shows that the top 100 museums received 140 million visits, double the amount in lockdown-affected 2021, but less than the 230 million visits undertaken in 2019—the last full year unaffected by Covid-19.

However, London’s big museums still have a long way to go to regain the number of visitors they had in 2019. And in many cases they are performing worse than their international peers.

The British Museum was the most-visited art museum in the UK in 2022—and the third globally. It reported 4.1 million visitors, more than three times higher than in 2021, when it received 1.3 million. However this number is still more than a third down on its 2019 number of 6.2 million.

Tate Modern reported 3.9 million, ranking fourth globally, but 36% down on 2019. The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) had 2.4 million, down 40%, while Tate Britain got 913,000, down 49%.

The National Gallery was the worst performing of the major London museums. It reported 2.7 million visits in 2022, down 55% on its 2019 figure of 6 million. The fall of almost 3.3 million people from before Covid is the largest recorded by any museum in our survey.

A National Gallery spokesperson told The Art Newspaper that “the reduction of international tourism has been a key factor in our reduced visitor numbers”. It is among the London museums that are most dependent on foreign visitors, who just before the pandemic amounted to 66% of their total. The spokesperson adds that “domestic numbers are close to recovery” compared with 2019.

Meanwhile, many similar museums worldwide have shown a much faster recovery. The Musée du Louvre in Paris was the most-visited art museum in the world in 2022, with 7.7 million visits, 20% down on its 2019 figure. The museum is so popular that it is starting to limit capacity. The Centre Pompidou was down just 8% with 3 million and the Musee d’Orsay was 10% down with 3.3 million.

In New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art also struggled, with 32% fewer visitors than in 2019, while the Whitney Museum of American Art was 19% down. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) attracted 10% more visitors than in 2019 but had been partially closed that year for rebuilding, so had fewer than usual visitors.

In Russia, the State Hermitage Museum’s numbers were down just 43% on 2019. Although international visits to Russia were almost non-existent in 2022 due to the war, The Art Newspaper understands that the fall has been softened by an increase in domestic Russian tourists.

Chinese state-run museums release their data later in the year, so it is possible that large institutions like the National Museum of China in Beijing will record bigger falls than the London museums, especially as their visitorship has been hampered by the strict zero Covid policy and continued lockdowns.

The Art Newspaper’s Visitor Figures survey is conducted annually, and is the world’s foremost authority on the attendance of museums of art. The full list of the top 150 museums will be published on 27 March 2023, alongside in-depth analysis of the key trends.

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