London’s National Portrait Gallery has blamed an external company for significantly miscounting its visitor numbers, after it failed to record 600,000 visitors in the last financial year alone.
Faulty equipment and human error resulted in Ipsos Retail Performance undercounting visitors through the main entrance and reporting a steep decline in attendance at the gallery, it was reported in the Art Newspaper.
It had been believed that 1.1 million people visited the museum in 2017-18, but the gallery has confirmed that the true number was 1.7 million.
The original figure, which had been widely reported, represented a dramatic fall of 43% from the 1.9 million visitors recorded the previous year.
It had also been thought that 197,000 people visited the museum between April and June of this year, a steep decline on the same period in the previous year, when in fact 327,000 people toured the venue.
“The counting system over the main entrance has now been replaced and corrective actions are being taken by Ipsos Retail Performance to safeguard against a repetition of events,” a National Portrait Gallery spokesperson said.
The gallery had originally blamed a combination of factors for the fall in visitor numbers in its annual review, including the cost of living and security concerns following a spate of terrorist attacks in London.
It also made 24 roles redundant in March, amounting to 7% of its overall workforce.
Concerns about the accuracy of Ipsos’s equipment were raised by the museum in July, when staff manually counted visitors at the BP Portrait Award 2018 exhibition and noticed significant discrepancies with the reported data.
The system had in fact failed an accuracy audit in July 2017 after a fault was initially discovered, but an Ipsos employee incorrectly entered the result of the test as a pass, so no further action was taken and incorrect figures were recorded for another 12 months.
Ipsos, which has worked with the gallery for 17 years, uses a combination of infrared and optical sensors to count visitors through the museum’s entrance. The gallery did not confirm whether Ipsos’s contract would be extended following the mistake.
The government is the main source of the gallery’s funding, and releases monthly visitor numbers for the institution on the Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport’s website.
An Ipsos spokesperson said: “Ipsos Retail Performance has worked with the National Portrait Gallery for over 17 years and is collaborating closely to make adjustments to the under-reported number of visitors and to agree preventative actions to safeguard against any repetition of events. Ipsos Retail Performance continues to monitor footfall figures at the National Portrait Gallery.”