Monet puts Royal Academy into the tourist top ten

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The Independent Online

The Royal Academy's decision to stay open all night during its recent Monet exhibition has catapulted it into the top 10 tourist attractions in Britain.

The Royal Academy's decision to stay open all night during its recent Monet exhibition has catapulted it into the top 10 tourist attractions in Britain.

The demand to see its highly acclaimed exhibition of works by the Impressionist painter made it the most successful art show in the world last year. It helped to promote the Royal Academy from 19th to eighth in the English Tourism Council's annual survey, which is released today.

The exhibition, which cost £1.8m to stage and four years to assemble, boosted the number of visitors to the gallery to 1.39 million last year, up from 912,714 in 1998. Nearly 8,600 people attended the show each day despite the queues and the high entrance charge of £9.

About 80 paintings - tracing Monet's work from 1900 until he died in 1926 - were gathered from private and public collections, including views of his garden, atmospheric pictures of London and Venice and some of the artist's giant water lily panels.

The academy's controversial decision to market its show aggressively - with plant-your-own-Monet garden seed packs, cuddly French frog toys and computer mouse pads of Impressionist scenes - paid off amid the rush for tickets. On the final weekend it opened for 24 hours and set up an all-night coffee and breakfast bar while visitors were entertained with music.

The council said Alton Towers remained the top attraction, with 2.65 million visitors last year; Madame Tussaud's waxworks museum had 2.64 million. The Tower of London was third with 2.42 million tourists through its doors.

Legoland, Windsor, jumped two places to fifth with 1.62 million, up from 1.51 million in 1998. That was mainly due to an extended opening season. In its first full year of charging an entrance fee for the whole building, Westminster Abbey attracted 1.27 million paying visitors and was the 11th most popular attraction.

Overall, visits to tourist sites rose by 1 per cent last year, reversing the 1998 trend when they fell for the first time in seven years.

The fall in figures was blamed on the poor summer. A spokesman for the council said last year's good weather had led to an increase in visits to outdoor attractions. Trips to farms increased by 7 per cent and country parks, gardens and steam railways were up by 4 per cent. However, the indoor attractions suffered from a decline in overseas visitors: there was a 0.5 per cent drop in visits to historic properties and a 1 per cent drop for museums. This came on top of a 1 per cent drop in 1998.

Free attractions continued to pull in the crowds, with visits up by just under 2 per cent. Blackpool Pleasure Beach remained the most popular with around 7.2 million visits, followed by the British Museum with 5.46 million.

Mary Lynch, the council's chief executive, said figures were still not back to pre-1998 levels. Attractions would have to continue to strive for quality. "The UK's established attractions are still very popular but there is no room for complacency," she said.

"Consumer demand appears to be sluggish at best. There are many new attractions coming on stream this year funded by the Lottery and they will have to compete for people's leisure time alongside other activities like Sunday or leisure shopping.

"Commitment to quality will need to be a top priority for attractions who want to hold on to their market share."

The Royal Academy has already confirmed that it will open all night again if there is public demand.