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Churches to spread the benefits of Olympics tourism in 2012

Church and cathedral tourism already generates some £300 million a year for the economy, has potential to generate more and could be used to spread the expected benefits of Olympics tourism across the country in 2012, the Church Heritage Forum has told the Culture, Media and Sport Committee of Parliament.

“Cathedrals and historic churches are a quintessential feature of our landscape and they are part of the historic narrative of our national identity which has a strong appeal for domestic and foreign visitors alike,” the Forum says in its submission to the CMS Committee’s inquiry into tourism. The Church Heritage Forum, established in 1997, brings together representatives of national and local church interests in matters relating to the Church’s built heritage.

“The current interest in genealogy,” the submission adds, “and the tracing of ancestry is an area which could be promoted as part of 2012; churches are an integral part of this.”

The potential of church tourism to develop and become an even greater key part of the country’s attraction for both foreign and domestic visitors is not always recognised and, as a result, is not supported and resourced to the degree it deserves. Churches are key architectural buildings containing works of art from wall-paintings to woodwork down the centuries, and embodying the social history of their communities.

Local initiatives, such as in North Yorkshire, have shown that encouraging church tourism by providing training and resources to local churches can increase visitor numbers by as much as 120 per cent. They have also shown that opening up more churches brings real benefits to community cohesion and encourages churches to provide other community activities.

Yet churches and cathedrals receive no Government funding towards their role as tourist attractions, even though the Department for Culture, Media and Sport awards grants to museums to enable free public access. The National Railway Museum in York, for example, received a grant of £5.66 million in 2005/6, equivalent to £6.50 per visitor. York Minster, which received 895,000 visitors in 2006, received no such assistance and needed to charge from £5.50 per adult visitor to cover the cost of keeping the building open, safe, secure and in good repair.

“Churches,” the Church Heritage Forum says, “are an existing resource and there is no major development required to exploit it except for the need to develop a national infrastructure and co-ordinated marketing campaign.”

Key organisations interested in church tourism have formed the Sacred Britain Tourism Partnership and the Churches Tourism Association has launched a new website (www.churchestourismassociation.info) to encourage the promotion of church tourism and provide resources for churches. The Forum welcomes this and calls for further partnerships to develop such work, commenting that: “Additional resources and support are needed to help develop a national co-ordinated ‘framework for action’ on the marketing of historic churches to potential visitors.”

 

 

THE CHURCH HERITAGE FORUM’S SUBMISSION TO THE CULTURE, MEDIA AND SPORT COMMITTEE’S INQUIRY: TOURISM

 

1. The Church Heritage Forum, established in 1997, brings together representatives of national and local church interests in matters relating to the Church’s built heritage.  It enables the Church to take a more proactive role in anticipating developments in the built heritage field; ensures that heritage concerns are fed into the Archbishops’ Council; provides a mechanism for members to reach a view on matters of common concern and a focus for contact both within the Church and with outside bodies; promotes a wider public awareness of the Church’s work in the built heritage area; and enables the exchange of information and facilitates mutual support.

2. Membership comprises representatives from: the Advisory Board for Redundant Churches, Archbishops’ Council, Association of English Cathedrals, Church Commissioners’ Redundant Churches Committee, Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England, Churches Conservation Trust, Council for the Care of Churches, the Ecclesiastical Judges Association, and an archdeacon.  They are assisted by several assessors including a Diocesan Secretary, the Secretary of the Churches Main Committee, and the Secretary of the Ecclesiastical Law Association.

3. The Officers of the Church Heritage Forum welcome the opportunity to contribute to this significant inquiry. We have not responded to all the headings and have instead concentrated on those issues where we have the most contribution to make.  Other organisations including the Churches Tourism Association, the Pilgrims’ Association, the Association of English Cathedrals and the Sacred Britain Tourism Partnership are submitting complimentary contributions.

 

The challenges and opportunities for the domestic and inbound tourism industries, including cheap flights abroad, and their impact on traditional tourist resorts

4. The major concern of the Church Heritage Forum has been to draw attention to the tremendous contribution churches make to society as a whole. In 2004, the Forum published on behalf of the Church of England, a report entitled Building Faith in our Future which set out to describe that contribution. Part of that contribution is to the area of tourism.

5. Church tourism has always been a huge interest, but its potential is not always recognised. As a result, it is not supported and resourced to the degree which we think it deserves. Its potential to develop and become an even greater key part of tourism for both foreign and domestic visitors is being missed.  

6. Churches and cathedrals, often the focal point of a place whether in the countryside, market towns, or major cities, attract visitors and thereby contribute to the financial and economic well-being of an area. There are 16,200 Church of England churches, covering every community in the country. They will generally be open, attractive and historic.

7. Churches are self evidently key architectural buildings and also contain huge amounts of important, beautiful and unusual works of art from wall-paintings to woodwork. Cathedrals and churches have made a major commitment to art over the centuries and are continuing to do so in the C21st.

8. Church buildings and cathedrals are consistently in the list of most visited tourist attractions. St Paul's Cathedral, Canterbury Cathedral, and Westminster Abbey all appear in the top 20 of most visited sites that charge an entry fee in the 2006 visitor figures published by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions for its members.

Five World Heritage sites in the UK specifically include church buildings: Bath Abbey, Canterbury Cathedral, Durham Cathedral, Fountains Abbey and Westminster Abbey.

9. But visits to places of worship go much wider than the major set piece tourist attraction: and benefit the national and local economy as well as enhancing the quality of life of those visitors.

- An independent survey commissioned by the Association of English Cathedrals and English Heritage found that visitors to cathedrals generated £91m for their local cities in terms of direct spend by visitors.  Adding the effects of indirect spend and the cathedrals’ own procurement increased this to £150m. ECOTEC 2004

- An assessment produced on behalf of the Northwest Regional Development Agency estimated that 697,114 faith visitors and tourists to the North West Region generate around £8.4 million per annum, supporting 263 FTE jobs. Northwest Regional Development Agency, Faith in England’s Northwest: Economic Impact Assessment, February 2005

10. Churches also attract substantial numbers of visitors. However, obtaining reliable data is difficult, as aside from some cathedrals, places of worship do not charge entry and most are not stewarded.  Therefore, the benefits to local economies of visitors to parish churches are more difficult to quantify. 

11. There have been some scoping studies:

- National ORB surveys in 2001, 2003, and 2005 found that 86% of those surveyed had been inside a church building within the previous 12 months – with those of other religions or of no religion also showing high figures for visiting. Opinion Research Business (ORB), Annual Religious Survey of Affiliation and Practice including Perceptions of the Role of Local Churches/Chapels, on behalf of the Church of England and English Heritage, Dec 2001, Oct 2003 and Nov 2005

- Trevor Cooper, Chairman of the Ecclesiological Society has estimated that at least 10 million visits, and maybe as many as 50 million, are made to parish churches each year. Trevor Cooper, How do we keep our Parish Churches? Ecclesiological Society 2004

- North West Faith Tourism Scoping Study estimated 17m visits to 45 cathedrals and 52 places of worship. Connor and Co, 2003

- VisitBritain Survey of Visits to Visitor Attractions (2002) reported 13m visits to places of worship in 2002 (excluding visits to most parish churches) accounting for 21% of visits to major historic visitor attractions.

12. Making assumptions based upon a basket of indicators, it seems that a realistic estimate would be around 35-50m visits to churches across the country.

 

VisitBritain’s 2006 estimate for day trip spending is £27.70 per person. Using this as a guide, the total value of visits to churches is probably around £300 million each year.

13. Increasingly more churches are being encouraged and helped to open and provide an increasing interesting experience for the visitor. There are excellent examples of regional, county and more local church tourism initiatives around the country. Most of these include providing best practice and guidance to the individual churches which join these initiatives on how best to ‘open up’ their churches and also the much needed infrastructure in providing links to the distributive and advertising power of the wider tourism industry. Such initiatives based on encouraging church tourism have been shown to increase numbers of visitors.  The North Yorkshire Church Tourism initiative which ran for three years increased by 120% the number of visitors to the 285 places of worship which participated - with total visitors recorded of over 200,000 in 2004/5.

14. It has also been found that opening up the church brings a real benefit to community cohesion. Congregations, especially in rural areas gain in confidence through opening their doors to visitors and move on to provide other community activities.

15. Over the last 18 months, with the help of a six month secondment from VisitBritain, the key organisations that have an interest in church tourism have come together to form the Sacred Britain Tourism Partnership: the Churches Conservation Trust, the Churches Tourism Association, the Cathedral and Church Buildings Division, Church of England, Civic Trust, English Heritage, and VisitBritain. The main aim is to bring together those involved in church tourism with the tourism sector and enable the development of a shared vision and a co-ordinated ‘framework for action’ on the marketing of historic churches to potential visitors.

16. The Sacred Britain Tourism Partnership launched its strategy document An Agenda for Action‘: the ‘Sacred Britain: Places of Worship and the Tourism Destination Experience at the Churches Tourism Association’s annual national convention in November 2006 in the presence of David Lammy, Minister for Culture. This strategy aims to make churches and places of worship a ‘must see’ part of exploring Britain’s destinations. To realise this vision, the strategy sets out priorities for action over the next three years (2007-2009). Under the project acronym ‘ASPIRE’, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has recently awarded a £50,000 Project Planning Grant to enable key items on the agenda to be taken forward. A project manager has just been appointed.  The Churches Tourism Association has also launched its new website.

 

The effectiveness of DCMS and its sponsored bodies (such as VisitBritain) in supporting the industry

17. As will be clear from the information provided above, the church tourism sector is starting to organise itself and build up the necessary infrastructure.  Additional resources and support are needed to help develop a national co-ordinated ‘framework for action’ on the marketing of historic churches to potential visitors. There is also a need to capacity build those at parish level who are responsible for actually opening up these buildings and providing a satisfactory visitor experience.  Support from DCMS in helping to provide this national role would be very welcome. 

18. We welcome the growing awareness shown by the Regional Cultural Consortia in embracing churches/cathedrals as part of the cultural sector. Likewise the Regional Tourist Boards are also gradually recognising the role of cathedrals and churches in bringing visitors into an area.  This is by no means true in all of the nine English Regions and some of the recognition has come about due to hard work of the cathedrals and churches who have submitted evidence and made the case.

19. VisitBritain has supported the formation of the Sacred Britain Tourism Partnership by means of a six month secondment (see above), but does not have a remit to provide direct support to coordinate information collection, presentation and product development for individual product sectors, of which church and faith heritage are just one.

20. Currently churches and cathedrals do not receive any Government funding to assist with their role as tourist attractions.  Whereas the DCMS awards grants to museums to enable free access for the public, no such grants are available to cathedrals.  In York in 2005/6, the National Railway Museum received a grant of £5.66 million, equivalent to approximately £6.50 per visitor.  York Minster, which received 895,000 visits in 2006, received no assistance and instead charged £7.00 for an adult visitor, a charge necessitated by the cost of keeping the building open, safe and secure, and in good repair.  Revenue grants that would enable cathedrals to provide free access to visitors would be very welcome and potentially extend the opportunity to less advantaged groups to experience what cathedrals have to offer.

21. The Heritage Lottery Fund does provide some funding for churches to improve their visitor experience. We are also aware that there are draft proposals under discussion to provide more funding and encouragement to churches to open up their buildings as part of the English Heritage/Heritage Lottery Fund Joint Repairs Grant Scheme. We would welcome this.

 

The practicality of promoting more environmentally friendly forms of tourism

22. Churches are an existing resource and there is no major development required to exploit it except for the need to develop a national infrastructure and co-ordinated marketing campaign as described above.  Churches are also spread across the country and apart from the major cathedrals and a few parish churches are not ‘honey pot’ sites. There is not normally the negative impact caused by too many visitors. On the plus side, visits to churches generate income in some of our remotest and most deprived rural areas, thereby sustaining local communities.

23. In many rural areas, churches are working with their local communities to develop sustainable tourism and regenerate the area. The Hidden Britain Centres Scheme was set up in 2001 after the foot and mouth crisis which severely damaged the rural tourist trade and its dependent small businesses. The Scheme continues to open up more Centres and to attract visitors to lesser-known parts of the countryside through developing a network of community owned and led tourism projects. Founded by a former Church of England National Rural Officer, churches are a vital part of this scheme and the schemes have often, although not necessarily, been Church led.

24. The development of church trails highlighting architecture, arts and crafts are all part of this. The challenge is to encourage more of these trails to provide information on how to visit these churches by cycling, walking and public transport.

 

How to derive maximum benefit for the industry from the London 2012 Games.

25. Cathedrals and historic churches are a quintessential feature of our landscape and they are part of the historic narrative of our national identity which has a strong appeal for domestic and foreign visitors alike.  They are, thus, a major part of the ‘historic environment’ tourism brand as illustrated by the statistics provided in the paragraphs above. We anticipate that cathedrals and other places of worship will see increased visitor numbers as those attracted to the UK to see the Olympics will also spend time experiencing the country’s heritage outside London.

26. The current interest in genealogy and the tracing of ancestry is an area which could be promoted as part of 2012; churches are an integral part of this. Encouraging visitors also to take the opportunity to trace their ancestry by providing the tools and information to do this would add greatly to the experience of 2012 visitors to the UK.  It would also encourage these visitors to travel outside London and thus spread the benefit of the Games. VisitBritain is supporting Churches and other places of worship through a new initiative on ancestral tourism, inspiring and directing domestic and international visitors to discover their roots in Britain through its new website www.visitbritain.com/ancestry.  

27. There would also be specific opportunities for certain churches and cathedrals which are situated close to sites being used for the Olympics.  This would include those near to the main East London venue, but also the off-site locations of other activities such as sailing, and equestrianism are also likely to have historic sacred places nearby.