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National Trust predicts record visitor numbers this year

The charity says it expects more than 18m people will visit its properties this year after a successful Christmas

The National Trust, one of Europe’s biggest conservation charities, is predicting that a record number of visitors – in excess of 18 million – will flock to its pay-for-entry properties this year.

New figures released on Monday show that despite challenging economic times and lack of consumer confidence the Trust enjoyed a boost in its visitor numbers – and related retail and catering sales – in December 2011 compared with the previous December.

The Trust’s properties attracted more than half a million (521,000) visitors in December alone – an increase of 74% on the previous year. Factors behind this rise included the mild weather (December 2010, by contrast, saw heavy snowfall) and an increasing number of properties running Christmas-themed activities.

More than 40 Trust pay-for-entry properties were open during the weekends in December. Attingham in Shropshire, for example, saw its busiest ever weekend with its Frost Fair which ran on the first Saturday and Sunday of the month.

Overall visitor figures are based on the National Trust financial year which runs between 1 March and the end of February. In its previous financial year – 2010/11 – its properties attracted 16.8 million visitors. The Trust said it was on target to have its best ever year for visitor numbers to its pay-for-entry properties, exceeding 18 million visitors for the first time in its history.

The retail business, which includes high street shops, shops at properties and online sales, saw an increase in sales of 24% while its cafes and restaurants had a 71% increase in sales in December 2011 compared with the same month in 2010. In the year to date retail sales have increased by 8% and catering has so far seen a 14% increase in sales.

As well as owning and maintaining historic properties, the National Trust is also the UK’s largest private landowner, with more than 1,000 sites covering 250,000 hectares, including coastal sites, woodland and upland areas, many of which are rich in wildlife.

Fiona Reynolds, director general of the National Trust, said: “In these economically tough times the National Trust seems to have swum against the tide with these fantastic results. As the nation tightens its collective belt people have been looking for great value.”

Simon Jenkins, chairman of the National Trust, added: “This shows that arts and heritage charities not dependent on government grants appear to be experiencing a surge in trading income. The public is turning away from more expensive leisure venues, overnight stays and foreign trips. It is a rare good news story in the gloom.” © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds