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Theatre is a greater driver of tourism than sport – VisitBritain report

Shaftesbury Avenue in London's West End. Photo: Alex Brenner
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Theatre attracts more than twice as many tourists to the UK as sporting events, according to new research published by VisitBritain.

Around 2.8 million visits include a trip to the theatre, musicals, the opera or ballet, compared to 1.3 million visits that include a live sporting event. This represents 14% of all overseas visits (for theatre) and 4% (for sporting events).

Theatre tourists spend £2.7 billion while visiting the UK and they are above-average spenders, with each theatregoing visitor spending £983, compared to an average of £600.

Sandie Dawe, chief executive of VisitBritain, said: “The vitality of our theatre – whether London’s West End or our major regional centres – provides a great holiday experience for our international visitors. In Britain you can see cutting edge theatre by new writers, big blockbuster musicals and plenty of Shakespeare with actors that are known across the globe. If you like the theatre, Britain is a great place to enjoy it.”

[pullquote]In London, theatregoing is an even more important driver of tourism, with 24% of all holiday visitors to London attending the theatre[/pullquote]

In London, theatregoing is an even more important driver of tourism, with 24% of all holiday visitors to London attending the theatre, resulting in around 2 million London theatre visits.

Outside London, theatregoing is also important to visitors of the West Midlands and the north west, with 9% of tourists there choosing to attend the theatre.

Overall, Americans make up the biggest proportion of theatregoing tourists with 426,000 visits (around 21%) followed by Australians with 209,000 visits (around 10%). However, the nationality most likely to visit the theatre (albeit in smaller numbers overall) are the Israelis with 24% of all Israeli visitors to the UK going to the theatre.

Lyricist Tim Rice, whose show From Here to Eternity has recently opened in the West End, said he was “not remotely surprised” by the Visit Britain results.

He said: “Theatre is not only one of Britain’s strongest exports – it is also enjoyed in the UK by visitors from all over the world. In the forty-plus years I’ve worked in musical theatre, from Jesus Christ Superstar (1971) to From Here To Eternity (2013), I have seen the number of foreign visitors to the West End Theatre soar to magnificent proportions, to the extent that tourism is now an absolutely crucial factor in our industry’s wellbeing.”

This year has been a strong one for theatre tourism. Encore Tickets, a West End ticket agent specialising in overseas sales has reported a 20% growth in sales in 2013. Meanwhile, last month, VisitBritain revealed that 2013 has seen the strongest visitor numbers to the UK since 2008, attracting 22 million visitors in the first eight months of 2013.

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