The National Trust has announced plans for an ambitious programme of improvements to facilities, including its cafes and catering operations, in response to record-breaking visitor numbers.
Around £20m will be spent on average each year, over the next five years, on expanding, improving and upgrading facilities as well as tackling a backlog of repairs to farm buildings, homes and modernising holiday cottages.
The conservation charity said the work would be funded via a low cost loan, which will allow it to continue to prioritise spending on looking after the houses, gardens, countryside and coastlines in its care.
Catering has become the Trust’s third largest revenue generator, earning it £71m for the last full year for which results are available. Recently the organisation held its first ever F&B summit to share best practice among the catering staff working at its properties.
Last year, the Trust spent £138m on conservation, including a record £100m on its historic houses and gardens. However, investment in improving facilities has not kept pace with the booming popularity of the Trust’s locations.
Visitor numbers have grown from just 270,000 in the 1970s to an historic high of 26.6m last year. And the number of members joining the Trust has rocketed by over one million in just five years, to hit a record 5.2m, according to the charity’s annual report, which was published today.
However, the rapid growth has led to challenges for the charity. Small cafes, car parks and shops – often built decades ago – have struggled to accommodate surging visitor numbers, leading to queues and frustration at peak times.
Many locations still have only basic facilities and other outdoor sites have no catering on offer at all.
The number of visitors rating the service they received at Trust properties as ‘excellent’ was 7% lower than expectations in 2017/18, and despite consistently good scores they have been in decline over the last four years.
The Trust hopes that by responding to visitor demands for an upgrade, funded by a low interest, unsecured loan, customer satisfaction will improve.
Sharon Pickford, director of member services, said: “We are delighted that more people than ever before are enjoying spending time at our properties. Our challenge now is to make sure that our visitor facilities can adequately cope with demand while maintaining record levels of investment in conservation. We know that the facilities at many of places have failed to keep pace with this growth and are inadequate or even non-existent at some of our places.
“That’s why we’re going to act on what our visitors have been telling us they want to see and invest in improving our facilities by using a low interest loan.”
No income from memberships or donations will be diverted from conservation purposes to pay for the improvements, the Trust said.