• 23 Sep 2010

More than three million stage-struck foreign tourists spent £2.8 billion on trips that included going to Britain’s theatres last year, according to a new report from VisitBritain.

Ten per cent of the 30 million overseas travellers who came to the UK in 2009 went to a stage show - ranging from classic Shakespeare in London to experimental fringe in Edinburgh, opera in Wales or a glitzy London musical.

It reveals that London dominated the theatre world with around 2.2 million foreign tourists spending £1.9 billion on trips involving the capital’s theatres last year. The South-East followed, attracting 235,000 foreign theatre goers. The East of England, which features the Marina Theatre in Lowestoft, was next with 133,000 overseas theatre goers.

Scotland, whose theatrical centres include Glasgow’s Theatre Royal and Edinburgh’s world famous Festival, attracted 120,000. The North-West of England, which includes Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre, brought in 85,000. Welsh theatre, which boasts Cardiff’s Millennium Centre, attracted 30,000 and Northern Ireland, which features Derry’s Millenium Forum, 15,000.

How many overseas tourists visited theatres in 2009, by region (1)



























The London picture

The national figures came as VisitBritain also issued a detailed report looking closely at the capital: ‘’Visitors from Overseas to London’s Theatre’’ (1).

It revealed that the enormous range of stage productions on offer at the 40 West End theatres and scores of smaller suburban spaces had a very powerful attraction for foreign travellers in 2009.

The future also looks bright for further growth. This is because the key groups of overseas visitors who particularly like going to the theatre – holidaymakers and the over 55s - is set to increase and offset falls in business tourism.

It identifies several positive trends which are set to keep audiences high.

  • Over two-thirds of theatre visitors from overseas are on holiday, a group that is set to grow.
  • The number of tourists aged over 55, the most ardent theatre goers, has grown at a faster rate than under-55s in 12 out of the past 15 years, and this will continue.
  • Tumbling exchange rates have made a night at the theatre more affordable. Since Aug 2007 to Aug 2010 Sterling has fallen:

            •          20per cent against US Dollar
            •          22per cent against the Euro
            •          28per cent against the Australian Dollar
            •          18per cent against the Norwegian Krone
            •          17per cent against the Swedish Krona
            •          18per cent against the Danish Krone

The report says theatre is a ‘’hidden opportunity’’ for the tourism industry. Going to the theatre is not the main reason why overseas tourists travel to Britain. Only 13 per cent of overseas visitors say that and 49 per cent of visitors from overseas book on the day or one day before a performance. (2)

But those who did go are much more likely to recommend the UK as a holiday destination than other travellers to this country.

Word of mouth is the most powerful way that overseas visitors find out about the magic of London’s theatre. The growth of social media such as Facebook and Twitter means that gossip about just how good theatre is in London has the potential to spread more widely.

The report warns, however, that Theatreland must be careful not to devote all its efforts to pleasing the over 55s. Some 41 per cent of the overseas visitors who go to theatre are aged 25 to 44.

Women are the keenest theatre goers. Some 55 per cent of overseas audiences is female. They drive the decision to go to a show – but they generally bring along their partner.

Musicals are by far the most popular choice, chosen by 64 per cent, followed by 25 per cent that prefer plays, 3 per cent who go to the ballet and 1per cent who choose the opera. (2)

Perhaps unsurprisingly theatre is most popular with overseas tourists who have good English. One in six of overseas theatregoers are Americans, for example. But they are followed by theatregoers from Germany, the Netherlands, France, Spain, Denmark, Ireland, Norway, and Australia.

Musicals are especially popular with Norwegians, Danes, Swedes and Irish. More serious theatre is most highly regarded by Nordics, Asians and Latin Americans.

Sandie Dawe, Chief Executive, VisitBritain said: “Britain has a phenomenal theatre industry. Whether it is a feel good musical like Billy Elliot or Mamma Mia, a Shakespearian tragedy, grand opera or beautiful ballet, you are never far from a world class experience. And due to the exceptionally competitive exchange rates it has become a more affordable treat than ever.

‘’This report shows that British theatre is making a massive contribution to Britain’s economy. Everyone can follow the worldwide debate about the cultural attractions that Britain has to offer on our LoveUK page on Facebook.’’

For further information, please contact:

Paul Eastham, Head of Global Corporate Communications on 0207 578 1130

Mark Di-Toro, Corporate Press Officer on 020 7578 1098 or 07919 392 137

Notes to Editors:

Notes to Editors

·         (1) Source: Office for National Statistics International Passenger Survey. The statistics only cover people who actually attended a theatre and they come from questions asked by the ONS on its International Passenger Survey exclusively on behalf of VisitBritain.

·          (2) Source IPSOS MORI/Society of London Theatre – The West End Theatre Audience

·          The Society of London Theatre reported that in 2009 the West End theatre box office defied the recession to top £500 million for the first time. Revenue was 7.6 per cent up on the previous year because of record attendances which passed the 14 million mark for the first time. The 5.5 per cent increase on 2008 made it the seventh consecutive year of growth.

·         VisitBritain, the national tourism agency, is responsible for inspiring the world to explore Britain and for developing the UK’s visitor economy. With representatives in 35 countries around the world, we are the international tourism promotional arm for Britain and the nations and regions of Britain.

·         Every year 17million visits are made by international consumers to the 57 websites that make up VisitBritain’s global family of websites,, which together provide information in 21 different languages.

·         VisitBritain is a Non-Departmental Public Body whose prime sponsor is the Department for Culture, Media and Sport

·         Follow us on twitter @VisitBritainBiz

For more information contact:

About VisitBritain

VisitBritain is Britain's national tourism agency, responsible for marketing Britain overseas. We work with thousands of organisations in the UK and overseas to market Britain successfully to visitors from around the world. We also work to promote the tourism industry within the UK itself.

We work in partnership with the Government, the industry and our strategic partners in London, England, Scotland and Wales to promote Britain in 35 key overseas markets.

Our network of international offices is supported by our London-based marketing, commercial, research and policy teams, who in turn are backed up by experts in IT, financial management and other essential disciplines.

We also provide UK government with advice on tourism policy and raise awareness of the significance of tourism to the UK economy. We are particularly working towards showcasing Britain and maximising the tourism benefits in the run-up to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and beyond.

Our grant in aid received from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is approximately £32.6 million for 2010/11.

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