Issue 115/02, p15, 02.02.2015
Should local authority museums charge non-residents admission?
Paolo Viscardi natural history curator, Horniman Museum and Gardens, London

“Some local authority museums bring visitors into the area, so charging them may generate useful revenue. But if charging deters tourists, the local economy may suffer from reduced secondary spending.

For regions with few tourists, charging may not generate enough revenue to make it worthwhile, keeping in mind that ticketing requires extra staffing and infrastructure.

The danger in this scenario is that income generation may divert funding away from collections care and access, and into operations – potentially exacerbating the problems facing collections.”

Gemma Sturtridge, MBA student, University of Brighton

“Local authority museums looking to charge non-residents for admission need to fully consider the ideological and financial implications. 

In financial terms, many local authority museums have cafes and gift shops that generate income through visitors’ spending money onsite. A decline in overall visitor figures, or visitors feeling less inclined to spend money onsite, will cause profits to drop.

Any museum wishing to charge an entry fee will need to crunch the figures carefully to find out whether admission fees will, on balance, raise more income.”

Alex Walker, head of arts and heritage, Preston City Council

“It is easy to see why Brighton and Hove is considering this move. With three-quarters of visitors being non-resident, it must look as if the council is subsidising well-heeled tourists. However, many local authority museums are not in internationally renowned cities, and local people make up a high percentage of our visitors.

Local authority museums do need to diversify their sources of income. Demonstrating value to our communities will make it easier to do that. We also need to ensure that museums’ economic impact – beyond the direct visitor spend in the museum itself – is understood by politicians.”

Michael Spender, museum and arts manager, Borough of Poole, Dorset

“It’s politically fairly palatable and a way in which museums can make a contribution to local authority savings without yet another cut in staffing.
But if most visitors are not local, it is difficult to predict the impact.

Projecting a 50% drop in visitors may be right for museums that are major attractions, but when Poole Museum charged, there was a 75% fall, greatly reducing the value for money per visitor to the authority.

Now we have free entry and the increase in our secondary spend is greater than our admissions takings were.”