Visitors by numbers

The impressive view from St Mary's tower goes far out to sea - even now

Following the slight lull in visitors to Rye at the start of the year, the town is getting busy again as the sun shines and Easter approaches. In advance of the summer season, we at Rye News thought it was a good time to look at the tourism economy – who visits the town, how long they stay, and how much do they spend.

The Heritage Centre

The first issue we encountered when embarking on this project was the lack of consistent data – with different sources measuring different things. The nature of tourism itself creates problems, as it is impossible to accurately monitor and record every visitor entering or leaving a town. Therefore, calculating the value, volume and impact of tourism in Rye can never be a precise science – more an art.

Tourists can be split into three broad groups – domestic day visitors; domestic visitors staying for one night or more; and visitors from overseas.

According to the destination marketing company Tourism South East, the vast majority of tourists visiting Rye come for the day. Using statistics they produced for the whole of Rother, Tourism South East estimate 5.5 million Brits visit the Rother region on day trips and an additional 500,000 stay for at least one night. The combined expenditure of the six million visitors to Rother in 2015 was £238 million. Tourism is also a major employer in the area, with Rother District Council saying it accounts for 26% of all employment in the district.

Torchlight procession of the Bonfire Societies

While the wider Rother district receives six million tourists, the Rye Neighbourhood Plan estimates that around 1 million of them visit Rye each year.

Interestingly tourists do not have far to come. Rother District Council estimates that 31% of domestic visitors to Rye come from across the border in Kent. Interestingly, only 9% of visitors come from the rest of East Sussex, 8% from West Sussex and a lowly 6%  from London with the remaining 54% drawn from the other counties of the UK. (

A high percentage of domestic tourists are either repeat visitors to Rye or have visited following a recommendation from a friend. In a survey undertaken in 2009 by Tourism South East, 63% of those surveyed had been to Rye before. (Source: as above)

arts festivals in Rye
The town has a multitude of festivals culminating in the Arts Festival in September

Seeing that so many visit Rye from Kent, it is no surprise that the ease of getting to Rye is listed by a large percentage of visitors as to why they visit, but what is surprising is that 81% visit by car and only 5% by train (and the on-going Southern Rail dispute will not have boosted the numbers). If one was to compare Rye with Lewes, another pretty East Sussex town, 27% of visitors travel to Lewes by train and only 40% by car. There’s an argument here for a better rail service to Rye, but also for better signage to car parks on the edge of town to deter day trippers clogging up the narrow streets.

Overseas tourists to Rye make up a much smaller group compared to British visitors. The most recent data from the national tourism body “Visit Britain” suggest that 20,000 overseas tourists visited the town in 2015, down from a peak of 30,000 in 2013. Overseas tourists tend to come from a few nearby European countries, namely Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. That said, a few thousand come from Australia and the US each year. With the devaluation of the pound against the euro and dollar in 2016, perhaps we can expect a bumper number of overseas visitors in 2017?

Rye News Library; Rye Arts Festival

Image Credits: John Minter , Rye News library , John MInter .


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