West End theatre, says the report, is one of the UK's biggest tourist attractions, helping to maintain London's position as the 'theatre capital of the world' with more shows and bigger audiences than anywhere else, including Broadway. In 1997, West End theatre-goers spent £433 million on restaurants, hotels, transport and merchandise, in addition to the £250 million spent on the 11.5 million tickets sold.
West End theatre is also responsible for 41,000 jobs and more than £200 million in tax revenues annually. In 1997, the total economic impact of the West End was £1,075 million. As a net currency earner for the UK, West End theatre is similar in size to the entire UK advertising and market research, accountancy and management consultancy industries - and hugely bigger than the UK film and television industry. Worldwide, earnings of the biggest British shows, such as several Andrew Lloyd Webber blockbusters, dwarf those of Hollywood hits like Titanic and Jurassic Park.
Despite the good news, SOLT, the marketing body for more than 50 West End theatres, strikes a note of caution. Although West End theatre is currently a vibrant industry, says SOLT, it is in danger of losing its pre-eminent position due to lack of support and recognition. SOLT points to several warning signs including slowing growth, too few new productions, too few young theatre-goers and a regional theatre network which has long been chronically under-resourced.
SOLT President André Ptaszynski says, 'Those of us who work within the West End know that there is significant scope for further growth, especially against a backdrop of booming tourist numbers. On the other hand, as with all industries, if we stand still and do not adapt, we will decline.'
SOLT is lobbying for both local and national government to provide greater stimulus for future theatre growth. It is currently considering several policy initiatives to increase and simplify investment, encourage commissioning of new work and access new audiences.
The Wyndham Report is the first investigation into the full scale of the theatre industry, showing for the first time the substantial economic importance of 'Theatreland'. It is written by Tony Travers of the London School of Economics with data compiled by MORI.
The Wyndham Report is named after Sir Charles Wyndham who founded the Society of West End Theatre Managers, which later became SOLT, in 1908.