The North-Rhine Westphalian Ministry of Families, Children, Young People, Culture and Sport commissioned us to examine the feasibility of free or reduced entry for children and young people (to 18 yrs), families and people doing voluntary service to state-sponsored museums in NRW, to outline the effects on visitor numbers and income and show how any income lost could be compensated. The results of the study were presented to the Culture Committe of the NRW state parliament on 9th February 2017. We carried out the study in cooperation with Martin Dumbs, a freelance consultant and culture expert from Munich.
While drawing up this feasibility study, we carried out interviews with the state-sponsored museums and with some museums run by local authorities, we analysed visitor statistics and financial data, prepared a benchmark with museums in the USA and Britain and commissioned an online survey of museum visitors.
Entry fees typically make up between 8 % to 10 % of a museum’s income, entry fees from children and young people only around 1 %. Most of the museums included in this study already have free entry for children, a small majority also do not charge entry from young people.
Experience from home and abroad and research results show introducing free entry – whether for everyone or for individual target groups – leads to a slight increase in visitor numbers. Abolishing entry fees however must be seen as an integral part of a larger strategy. Museums will only succeed in attracting more visitors if they develop attractive offers aimed at specific target groups, including educational offers for children and young people. The survey we carried out showed a high rate of approval for free entry for children and young people, those questioned also favoured the introduction of an annual family ticket covering many musuems,
We recommend that the state of North-Rhine Westphalia:
- introduce free entry to state-sponsored museums for children and young people (and those doing voluntary service). We expect visits by the target group to increase by 5 % to 10 %. The pursuant reduction in income can be made up by a slight increase in entry for full-paying adults. Experience shows that this will not deter visitors;
- introduce an annual family ticket charged at €50. For this to attract 10 % more families to museums, it has to be valid in as many museums as possible;
- Family-friendliness can be improved by holding free days with an event character. Such regular events can be responsible for up to 20 % of a museum’s visitors, without having a major effect on visitor numbers on other days. Free days can be funded by sponsorship. They help strengthen the binds between a museum and its local community.
“Pay what you want” is not a suitable model for German museums. Whether museums should be free for everyone is a political matter. If entry were free for everyone, the museums would have to be compensated to the tune of 8 % to 10 % of their annual budget. Free entry helps children, young people and families overcome an initial barrier to visiting a museum. Decisive for success in attracting more visitors is however the continuous development of offers targeted at specific groups. By doing this, the aim of having every child visit a museum can be achieved.
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