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Slump in tourist visitor numbers to Canterbury Cathedral blamed on terror attacks

Terror attacks across Europe have been blamed for a drastic fall in tourist numbers at Canterbury Cathedral.

Startling figures reveal visitors are swerving the city’s famous landmark, with close to 200,000 fewer people through its historic gates last year than a decade before.

But the sharpest decline has been seen since the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris in January 2015 signalled the start of a string of deadly terror attacks across the Continent.

Therese Heslop
Therese Heslop

The cathedral’s director of visits and marketing, Therese Heslop, said: “Visitor numbers have gone down ever since Charlie Hebdo, and terrorism continues to affect the tourism industry, and especially major tourist attractions.”

With a footfall of 875,447 last year, the cathedral now ranks as the UK’s 43rd most visited attraction - down from 19th in 2007 when it welcomed 1,068,244 visitors.

It has historically hosted huge numbers of school groups from continental Europe, with educational groups making up a quarter of its paying visitors.

However, concerns about terrorism meant that 30,000 fewer under-18s arrived in groups last year than in 2014.

Last year also saw France ban school trips to churches.

“Just put yourself in the shoes of a teacher with a coach-load full of kids,” said Mrs Heslop. “It’s a more dangerous world, especially in France. Parents are more nervous about their children going on school trips without their supervision, and teachers are more fearful of organising them.

“It’s not just the cathedral, it’s all attractions that have a lot of school visitors.

“Canterbury attracts an awful lot of school groups, so we have been hit even more because we get so many of them.

“France has always been our most important market, and the French market in general is not very strong.

“Cross channel carriers recently reported a 2.1% drop in passenger numbers and a 6.3% drop in coach numbers for 2017. Most of these missing coaches would probably have visited the Cathedral.

“In terms of money, we are talking [about a loss of] between £200,000 and £250,000 a year.

“It’s a lot of money and that money isn’t for profit, it pays for jobs and it pays for conservation to the cathedral.


“We are trying different things all the time, but other markets take years to develop. It’s a tough market at the moment.

“A lot of people have also not had many pay increases in the last few years. People are feeling the squeeze these days.”

Britain’s top tourist attractions by visitor numbers - the British Museum, Tate Modern and National Gallery - all saw their footfall decline in 2017.

St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, however, bucked the trend, with a 3.4% and 4.6% increase on 2016 respectively.

Visitor numbers to Canterbury from further afield are performing better.

“Gate numbers and adult group numbers were up last year,” said Ms Heslop.

"It’s a more dangerous world, especially in France. Parents are more nervous about their children going on school trips without their supervision, and teachers are more fearful of organising them" - Therese Heslop

“The American market is strong and our status as Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion and part of Canterbury’s World Heritage Site continues to attract visitors from all over the world.

“Our location near channel ports is a considerable advantage as many continental visitors stop off in Canterbury on their way to and from London, but unfortunately we are a little out of the way for other markets.

“Emerging markets from China and South America, for example, haven’t discovered our beautiful county yet, as they mostly travel up north to Oxford, Stratford-upon-Avon, York and Scotland after a few days in London.

“We are working hard with Visit Kent and other Kent attractions to turn this around.”

Scaffolding above the cathedral’s nave, erected as part of a £24.7 million redevelopment, is also set to come down in the next few weeks.

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