A SHOCK 16.6 per cent drop in visitor numbers at Newstead Abbey has sparked calls for owners Nottingham City Council to ‘think big’ in terms of attractions.
The total of visitors to the abbey, Lord Byron’s ancestral home, was 55,673 in 2011, compared with 66,759 the year before, a new survey has shown.
There were also falls in the number of people who visited other well-known venues, including Nottingham Castle, the Brewhouse Museum and Nottingham Contemporary.
The Dispatch district’s most important landmark, the abbey draws visitors from all over the world because of its unique Byron link.
The chairman of Newstead Abbey Byron Society (NABS), Ken Purslow, said he was not surprised that many less people had visited the abbey in view of the city council’s controversial decision to reduce its opening times.
“It is a great shame but it is something I feared would happen,” said Mr Purslow.
NABS has suggested that ‘ghost walks’ at Annesley Hall, which are always a popular highlight of the annual Byron Festival, could also take place at the abbey as a way to boost revenue.
“But nothing has come of this or any other ideas we have put forward,” Mr Purslow claimed.
Coun Roger Steel, a Conservative member of the city council, said not enough thought was given to the abbey having been the home of Byron.
He added: “The figure for the abbey is extremely disappointing and more needs to be done to promote visits there and at other city attractions.”
Coun Steel claimed that opportunities to attract tourists were repeatedly missed. He thought something was ‘clearly wrong’ and a new approach was needed. This involved ‘thinking big’ and not relying on piecemeal initiatives.
A culture and business spokesman for the city council said the visitor figures had emerged at a time of transition to new prices and changes in operating hours.
“These were part of the savings we had to make so that we could keep providing front-line services and balance our budget,” he added.
The spokesman believed the choice of Newstead Abbey for BBC TV’s popular ‘Antiques Road Show’, to be shown at a later stage, would help to raise the site’s profile.
Enterprise Nottingham, a tourism organisation which promoted the city and county, says it will keep flying the flag for the abbey and Nottinghamshire’s other ‘excellent’ attractions.
About two-and-a-half years ago, the city council decided that although the abbey gardens would stay open throughout the year, the house would shut down except on certain Sundays and on Bank Holidays and for guided tours.