The spring 2001 opening of the Eden Project in Cornwall could not have come at a worse time. The British countryside was in the grip of foot-and-mouth disease, while September 11 had a devastating effect on overseas tourism to the UK.
Yet against all the odds, in just one year the Eden Project has proved a success, becoming the top Landmark Millennium Project, one of the top five paid-for attractions in the UK and the second-most popular visitor destination outside the M25 after Alton Towers, according to a recent MORI survey on the top tourist attractions in the UK.
The survey suggests that the attraction is experiencing unprecedented interest and that visitor numbers will far exceed expectations. In fact, around one in six British people, almost 8 million, say they plan to visit the Eden Project in the coming year – about four times as many as those who visited it in its first year.
Only its nearest rival, Alton Towers, will attract such large visitor numbers. Blackpool Pleasure Beach is likely to be visited by 14 per cent of the British public and about one in ten people expect to visit London attractions, such as Tate Modern and the Science Museum, in the next 12 months.
The UK’s top tourist attractions are very popular, yet draw very different profiles of visitors – a critical factor when marketing and communicating with key target groups. While twice as many ABC1s plan to visit the Eden Project in the coming year than C2DEs (21 per cent compared with 12 per cent), the opposite is true of Blackpool Pleasure Beach (nine per cent ABC1 compared with 20 per cent C2DE). The middle classes (ABC1s) are likely to visit most of the attractions assessed in the MORI research with the exception of Alton Towers, which has a more universal appeal.
Alton Towers, Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Chessington World of Adventures and the Science Museum are most popular with parents. In contrast and unsurprisingly, adults without children are more interested in the Eden Project and Tate Modern.
Age is another key feature. Almost half of 15to 24-year-olds plan to visit Alton Towers, almost twice as many as those intending to visit the second-most popular attraction with this age group, Blackpool Pleasure Beach (28 per cent). Only one in ten young people are planning to visit the Eden Project. The largest potential visitor group for the Eden Project is over 45 years old (21 per cent).
Ease of access is also key, resulting in striking differences between likely visitor patterns in different regions. People in the South of England are almost three times more likely than those in the North to say that they will visit the Eden Project (24 per cent compared with nine per cent). Blackpool Pleasure Beach is more popular with Northerners than Southerners (24 per cent compared with six per cent), while Tate Modern and the Science Museum hold the most appeal for Southerners (17 per cent and 15 per cent respectively).
The survey suggests that attractions such as Tate Modern and the Science Museum might want to attract more C2DE audiences in order to increase footfall. These attractions should focus their advertising and PR activities on these groups. They could also run exhibitions that appeal to a broader range of visitors, for instance the recent exhibition celebrating tattoo art, held at the National Maritime Museum.
Previous MORI research has demonstrated the importance of the Internet in encouraging physical visits to attractions. Indeed, this study also finds that those with Internet access are slightly more likely to plan to visit all of these attractions. Online marketi
ng is one of the most cost-effective ways of communicating with potential visitors and developing long-term relationships with them.
Research by the Eden Project, conducted in Cornwall and Devon last year, demonstrates its importance in driving the local economy. MORI believes that tourist attractions, often supported by the Millennium Commission, will be able to play a significant role in helping to develop and regenerate the surrounding regions and ensure the future of the UK tourist industry.