Think back five years, to 2007. The US economy was, or at least seemed, robust. Now think about the crash of 2008, and the doldrums the economy is still in. It is no understatement to say that the past five years have been a period of turmoil in the American economy.
We were curious how attendance has fared at museums, given this turmoil. We’ve been hearing anecdotes of attendance growth as well as attendance decline; sometimes, and paradoxically, both trends have been attributed to the increase in staycations, among other reasons.
In our recent quick survey on attendance trends, we asked respondents how their museum’s attendance has fared over the previous five years. Over half reported increased attendance, nearly a quarter reported decreased attendance, and the remainder said levels were about the same.
Interestingly, however, those who reported increased attendance tended to attribute that growth to things museum had done, while those with decreases tended to attribute it to constraints external to museum.
What were the reasons for increases? Respondents tended to attribute the growth to internal changes, such as:
- new/improved exhibitions
- new/improved programs, including family programs
- new building/renovation
- improved marketing
And those who saw decreases tended to cite external pressures, such as:
- fewer tourists
- cuts in school programs
- the economy
- museum budget cuts
Interestingly, of those with decreased attendance, no one mentioned underlying shifts in the population (such as a shift to a majority-minority population, for only one example), and just one respondent admitted to “stagnant exhibits.”
While most respondents said that they were not anticipating any change in their admission fees in the near future, three-quarters had increased their fees in the past five years. We were curious if increasing fees affected attendance, but only 13% reported a decrease in attendance after the fee hike, indicating to us that the new fees and the product quality (that is, the experience people have at the museum) were likley in alignment – a subject we’ll return to in a couple of weeks.
Attendance trends did differ by museum type, at least in our sample (keep in mind that this was a sample of convenience, and other samples, depending on who answered, could vary). History museums appeared to be under the most attendance pressure, while science centers and children’s museums reported the most attendance growth (and were more likely to have increased admission fees recently and/or be considering a future price increase). Art museums seemed to epitomize the status quo, with the steadiest attendance; they were also the least likely to have increased fees.
Additionally, museums with lower attendance (less than 50,000) had slower attendance growth and were much less likely to have increased fees than museums with greater attendance levels.
In our next post, we’ll examine the impact of daily deals and free days, before finishing off this series by focusing on price/product alignment.
How does your museum compare with these findings? Does it ring true, or are you seeing something different? We would love to hear what you think! Simply click on “comments” below to share your thoughts (and if you are reading this from your e-mail subscription, go to our blog to comment).