Latest figures revealed by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions showed that in 2021 some 438,376 people visited the maritime marvel – up 150 per cent from 2020’s bleak 175,321.
The surge in visitor numbers is still far short of pre-pandemic levels, which saw some 850,000 people touring the attraction in 2017.
However, heritage chiefs and city leaders insist the vital heritage asset – which at its peak brought in more than £110m to the area’s economy – was well on the road to recovery, with 2021’s visitor numbers equalling about 65 per cent of 2019’s.
Penny Mordaunt, Portsmouth North MP, was full of hope for the future and admiration for the efforts of the dockyard team to recover following numerous lockdown shutdowns during the peak of the pandemic.
Championing the naval hub – which was the 39th most-visited attraction out of the 306 key sites in the UK – the trade minister added: ‘There is a lot of ground to make up, but these figures show what a draw this incredible national heritage is.’
Councillor Ben Dowling, head of culture, leisure and economic development at Portsmouth City Council, added: ‘The dockyard is a crucial part of Portsmouth’s visitor economy and seeing it bounce back in this way can only be a positive thing for businesses and residents alike.
‘Portsmouth really does have world-class attractions and to see sites like the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard recovering so well can only be a good thing.’
As previously reported, during the opening salvo of the pandemic in 2020, the dockyard was forced to close its doors for months, losing millions of pounds.
So dire was the situation that the dockyard came just days away from being declared insolvent until an 11th-hour culture bailout of £5.3m to the National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN), which ran the dockyard, from chancellor Rishi Sunak.
Since then, the dockyard has fought to recover, with the NMRN and the Mary Rose joining forces to support one another.
And the alliance has helped to turn the tide in the battle to recover, with the dockyard now in the top 20 attractions in England outside London.
In a joint statement to The News, Matthew Sheldon and Dominic Jones of Portsmouth Historic Dockyard Operations Ltd said: ‘These visitor figures are a terrific endorsement of our collaboration and we’ve worked incredibly hard to make the historic dockyard an even better place to visit, and a great value destination to explore all year round.’
Mr Sheldon added the company had already seen a ‘real uplift in bookings’ for Easter, which ‘bodes well’ for this year.
‘We’re very hopeful for the coming year and there is lots to get excited about – from our exhibition for the Queen’s Jubilee or the huge 40th anniversary of the Mary Rose,’ he added.
‘Like the whole of the sector we have challenges which have not disappeared, but it is great to have had the support from our funders which means we can look ahead positively to welcoming visitors back.’
The positive outlook comes as the UK marks English Tourism Week, celebrating the best attractions the nation has to offer.
Labour MP for Portsmouth South, Stephen Morgan, said: ‘After an incredibly difficult time for our city’s cultural and historical attractions, it’s fantastic to see our historic dockyard is already bouncing back.
‘As we mark English Tourism Week, I’m calling on local people to rediscover the enormous amount Portsmouth's landmarks have to offer to help get them back on track.
‘As we emerge from the pandemic, it’s vital local residents learn and explore the rich history and culture our city has to offer, right on their doorstep.’
Cllr Dowling added the city was still in economic ‘recovery mode’ following two years of the coronavirus pandemic.
But he felt ‘confident’ about the island’s prospects and said this year’s summer would see ‘record visitor numbers’ to Portsmouth.