Edinburgh rethinks opening hours as visits plummet

Visitor numbers down by 21% and income by a quarter
Jonathan Knott
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Edinburgh council has resolved to rethink cuts to opening hours at the city’s museums and galleries after they caused visitor numbers to fall by more than a fifth.

The council reduced opening hours at six of its museums and galleries in October 2016, moving from a six or seven day a week service to five days a week. The change brought savings of £82,000 in staffing costs in 2016-17, with a further £84,000 projected for 2017-18.

But a review for the council’s culture and communities committee found that in 2016-17, visitor numbers fell across five sites by more than 100,000 – a 21% drop. The museums’ income from retail sales and donations fell by more than £75,000 (25%) in the same period.

At a committee meeting today, Labour councillor Donald Wilson commended the report for its honesty and said “we need to do something else”.

The largest drop was seen at the City Art Centre, where visits fell by almost a third (32%) from 71,246 to 48,516. Numbers also fell at the Museum of Childhood (28%) and the People’s Story (16%), and the Museum of Edinburgh (13%).

At the Writers’ Museum, visits rose by 3%, but this was in contrast to a 21% increase the previous year following investment in the venue. The review said it was “reasonable” to assume that reduced opening hours had impacted the level of increase that the museum could have enjoyed.

Overall, visitor figures at these five city centre venues fell from 487,398 to 386,584. Queensferry Museum on the Firth of Forth, which receives significantly fewer visitors than the other sites (about 400 per month), was not included in the calculations.

Income across all six venues fell from £303,732 to £227,144. The largest drop was at the City Art Centre, where takings fell by £33,193 (35%), from £96,972 to £63,779.

The report said that the change in opening hours had also affected the museum service’s reputation. Front of house staff reported that “many visitors were very unhappy” that venues were closed, and said their morale has been dented by having to deal with complaints.

Visitors found it “frustrating” that they could not visit both the Museum of Edinburgh and the Peoples’ Story, which are directly across the road from each other, but closed on different days. And doors at the Museum of Childhood were damaged by people trying to gain access.

The review found that the opposite trend in visitor numbers had occurred in other Edinburgh attractions. At six city centre venues including Edinburgh Castle, the National Galleries of Scotland, and the Scottish Whisky Experience, visits increased by an average of 11% in 2016-17.

And at the Scott and Nelson Monuments, which are managed by the council but have seen no change in opening hours, visits increased by 24% and 11% respectively.

Councillors and officers will now meet to explore options for future opening hours before making recommendations in March.

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