The most significant growth—25 per cent—was through bookings made by tour operators and local partners including the visitor information centre.

Advance bookings also increased, with online advance ticket sales up by 188 per cent, while advance group bookings rose by 25 per cent. 

A recent report by the Heritage Lottery Fund said that Shakespeare and Britain’s rich heritage helped boost the UK economy to the tune of £26 billion each year.

It appears as though the lure of the Bard continues to attract visitors from all over the globe with benefits to local businesses becoming increasingly self-evident. 

Commenting on the figures, Dr Diana Owen, SBT director, said, “This is a fantastic achievement which reflects our ongoing investment in making the Shakespeare homes—and his home town—a must-see destination.

"Income from tourism is absolutely vital to support our work to conserve the houses and our world class Shakespeare collection, keep them open to the public, and make them meaningful and relevant for people now and in the future. We now have our sights set on reaching the one million visitors a year milestone in 2018.”

Dr Owen continued, “Shakespeare is at the heart of our national identity and part of the world’s cultural ‘glue’.  

"That makes Stratford a unique heritage and cultural destination, renowned worldwide, but we can’t rest on our laurels.

"The next few years offer a unique opportunity with the major anniversaries of Shakespeare’s birth in 2014 and death in 2016 to do even more to encourage more people to visit Stratford, linger longer and return more often.  

"Over the next three years we will be working to highlight Stratford’s place—and our own role—at the centre of the Shakespeare world.”

In terms of retail, the signs were clear for all to see as early as May last year when Stratford was mobbed with happy motoring enthusiasts who poured into town for the first ever motoring festival and spent their money in shops. 

Subsequent festivals and attractions also bolstered the local economy and the trend continued with a decent summer which kept people on the high street with increasing numbers of tourists from the Far East visiting town.  

But if visitor numbers to Shakespeare properties are on the increase as reported, will local retailers be able to get in on the act in 2014?

According to Stratforward Bid, the town’s business improvement district organisation, the recently released visitor figures show every signs of benefitting local businesses in town, as Stratforward chair Maria Warters explains: “This increase in visitors to Stratford is also fantastic news for our BID member businesses as there is no doubt it stimulates trade for them and will continue to do so into the future.

"We congratulate the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust on its record-breaking visitor numbers last year and, given the constant increase over the past few years, we have no doubt they will achieve the one million mark by 2018.”