Shakespeare houses visitor boom

By Ian Hughes 22/02 Updated: 27/02 10:57

Buy photos » Lady Cobham with Lincoln Clarke during her recent tour of Shakespeare’s Birthplace. (s)

VISITOR numbers at the Shakespeare houses hit a seven year high in 2011.

The five homes, cared for by Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, attracted more than 805,000 visits - up 45,000 on the previous year.

Lincoln Clarke, Chief Operating Officer at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust said, “There are several factors underlying this strong performance. The weak pound has encouraged international visitors; the message that a trip to the UK has never been better value for money is really hitting home.

"Continuing economic uncertainty in the UK is fuelling the ‘staycation’ and day trip market. We are also reaping the rewards of our ongoing development of the Shakespeare offer here in Stratford, and our initiatives to tap into the growing global appetite for all things Shakespeare.”

The Trust welcomed visitors from at least 130 countries - two-thirds of the world’s recognised countries - with huge growth and increasing interest from the emerging so-called BRIC counties - Brazil, Russia, India and particularly China.

The popularity of Shakespeare in China was confirmed with the Chinese Premier’s visit to the UK in June last year. Premier Wen insisted upon making his first stop at Shakespeare’s Birthplace, and went on to confound his aides by staying to see Shakespearian performances in the garden of the Birthplace for more than an hour longer than his schedule allowed.

Since then the bench he sat on for the performance has become a visitor attraction in its own right with many Chinese visitors insisting on having their photograph taken in the same spot.

Mr Clarke added: “We have had an incredible year at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, and it will be a challenge to better these results in 2012.

"Typically, visitors to the Olympic host country have a very different profile and are less likely to travel outside the host city. In addition, regular cultural tourists tend to stay away as they believe it will be busy and more expensive than normal.

"However, having the World Shakespeare Festival at the heart of the Cultural Olympiad means the eyes of the world will be on Shakespeare and Stratford-upon-Avon. This affords a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build on Shakespeare’s enduring – and growing – global legacy to create a solid tourism legacy for the next five years.”

Lady Cobham, Chairman of Visit England, was the recent high profile visitor to the Trust.

She said, “Shakespeare is one of our true British ‘Greats’, and his enduring legacy is one of the key reasons that Stratford-upon-Avon is such an iconic destination for domestic and international tourists alike. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to see for myself how the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust brings our Shakespearean heritage to life in so many different ways.”

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust - which derives 86 per cent of its income from visitor revenues - will launch a multi-lingual version of its Life, Love & Legacy audio-visual exhibition at Shakespeare’s Birthplace this Easter. The introductory presentation will be available for tour groups in seven languages as well as English. The Trust already produces its guide books in eight languages.

Lady Cobham with Lincoln Clarke during her recent tour of Shakespeare’s Birthplace. (s)

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