Cultural Destinations Evaluation

The visitor economy brings tourism and culture together. Cultural destinations are attractive both to domestic and international visitors and in 2019, 18 of the top 25 most visited attractions in the UK were in the cultural sector. Arts Council England and VisitEngland (VE) have been working with local partnerships for several years to help them to create effective alliances and practical actions to improve the cultural visitor experience in towns, cities and coastal regions across England. The second phase of the programme invested £4.2 million between April 2017 and January 2021 and supported eighteen local partner consortiums.

SQW has evaluated both phases of the Cultural Destinations programme.  Our final evaluation report is published alongside our case studies which focussed on ‘the use of digital’, ‘resilience’, ‘continued participation’ and ‘private sector partnerships'. While the projects and their evaluation mostly pre-dated the Covid-19 pandemic, the lessons in the report and case studies are relevant to the recovery of both the culture and tourism sectors. 

We found evidence that progress had been made towards achieving all four of the overarching programme aims.  21 million visitors had connected with projects, some areas had attracted visitors from further afield than was typical and this had contributed to local increases in income.  Additional evidence, generated through robust data collection, is needed to understand the impact on the local visitor economy, and indeed, issues of sustainability in the context of the lock down measures associated with the global pandemic.  The Fund has however, brought key sectors, organisations and individuals together.  Skills – particularly digital skills - have been enhanced, strategic alignment strengthened, and greater visibility in local economic development discussions achieved.  We found multiple examples of partnerships that continued to work together beyond the lifetime of the project. 

The Cultural Destinations Fund programme has shown that over an extended period of time, organisations from the cultural sector and the tourism sector can work together to improve visitor and audience experiences and create new ones. They can also advocate for the importance of their sectors to build support for local strategic investment. However, it has also shown that the efforts required to achieve this are significant and need to be sustained, with resilience and sustainability remaining an ever-present challenge.

For more information please see this blog post from Arts Council England, and our summary report which has been published alongisde our final evaluation report and case studies.