This week, we are wrapping up our series on admission fees and attendance trends, based on a quick survey we recently ran, with one overall takeaway:
It’s the product.
That’s it. It’s simple. And yet it is extraordinarily hard to execute.
We noted a couple of posts back that those museums with attendance growth tended to attribute it to things the museum had done, while those with attendance decline tended to attribute it to constraints external to the museum. Thus, an honest assessment about the product you have to share (that is, exhibitions, original objects or spaces, programs, and events) is the first step, so it was refreshing when one of our respondents said: “About 5 years ago our products were horrible and we were discounting ourselves out of existence. Invest in your exhibits, make them the best they can be, look for blockbusters. Then charge a fair price – make your museum valuable and people will want to come and pay a higher fee.”
But the thing is, our client and field-wide research indicates that price isn’t the primary barrier for most regular museum-goers, time is. Thus, if the actual experience doesn’t match or surpass the anticipated experience, regular museum goers will complain about the museum being a waste of both time and money – not the message you want being conveyed by word-of-mouth or on sites like TripAdvisor or Yelp. Museums that are committed to free admission, or who have occasional free days, are not immune from this pressure, as time is still precious to visitors.
Given that museum admission fees are, for the most part, inelastic to most regular museum visitors, reasonable price increases work if the product is of high enough quality to merit the increase. As one respondent noted, “We raised the bar on our product quality and made the museum a place people WANTED to come to! People don’t mind paying a higher fee if they feel the product quality is better.”
But we do have a big caveat. We should note that price does seem to be an issue for less regular visitors and some regular museum goers, particularly families with young children, single parents, and young adults under 30. If those are primary or targeted audiences, then creative pricing strategies, such as family rates or special prices/times for young adults, may be in order to ensure that admission fees are kept affordable.
Ultimately the goal, then, is to value both the time and the dollars of our visitors, giving them an experience that at least matches their expectations, and ideally over-delivering on this product in a meaningful and memorable way so that connect with the content, objects, experiences, and stories you want to share with them, in ways that change them, and in ways that make them want to support you and share your work with others.
Which brings us back to our other recent field-wide study. Over the next few weeks we’ll be returning to our recent work on what makes a museum experience meaningful for our visitors, perhaps even transformative. We hope and believe that this research will begin to help us identify the patterns of the most meaningful and even transformative experiences our visitors will have, and then help you think about how your museum’s experiences can over-deliver in truly meaningful ways.
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