Museum visitor numbers were a fraction of their previous levels during reopenings last year, research from the Network of European Museum Organisations (Nemo) has found.
Half of museums surveyed by Nemo in November reported a drop of between 25% and 75% of previous visitor levels, and two in 10 said visits had fallen by more than 75%.
The survey also found widespread income losses, with more than 80% of museums losing some income after reopening. About a third (36%) had lost more than €30,000 a week, and some had lost more than €100,000 a week.
For the majority of museums (60%), tickets were the area where revenue had fallen most.
Nemo surveyed 600 museums from 48 countries – mainly in Europe – between 30 October and 29 November 2020. The research follows a similar Nemo survey in March last year, which found large falls in museums’ income, when most were closed due to lockdown measures.
At the time of the new survey, more than two thirds (68%) of responding museums were temporarily closed.
The main reason for reduced visitors during reopenings was thought to be a drop in travel in tourism, highlighted by 73% of respondents. The interruption of the school year (64%) and people’s fear of visiting crowded spaces (54%) were also seen as significant factors.
Museums had a wide range of views about when visitor numbers would return to their previous levels. Almost half (45%) expected this to happen by September 2021, but a similar proportion (40%) thought it would be at some point after summer 2022.
Despite the challenges, 45% of museums had received no emergency Covid-19 support from national, regional or local government, and 70% were expecting budget cuts in the next two years.
The report calls for museums to be allowed to open at a time when “the risk of individual loneliness is increasing substantially”, and “public spaces for dialogue and inspiration are reduced to a bare minimum”.
Nemo makes a recommendation to “open up and make use of museums’ potential to serve as places where wellbeing is increased and mental health supported”.
The body also says sector stakeholders should continue to support museums so they can pay staff, maintain core activities and adapt to a post-pandemic world.
And it says “the support and investment provided during the pandemic should not result in budget cuts in the years to follow”.
The survey found that the pandemic has prompted museums to develop their digital offer, with 93% of respondents increasing or beginning work in at least one digital area. Two thirds (67%) had increased their social media output and a quarter (24%) had begun creating video content.
However, only a third (34%) had increased their digital budget; 40% had changed staff responsibilities to meet digital demands and 7% had recruited new staff for this reason.
More than 80% said they need more support with digital skills and transition, and 45% felt their institution was lacking in digital literacy.
Four in 10 museums (39%) said they are reviewing how they measure success as a result of the pandemic. A word cloud exercise found that “digital impact” was the most popular new metric of success.
The report argues that continued investment and support are important for the development of museums’ digital skills and infrastructure. It says small and medium sized museums need specific attention, as these tend to be the most challenged by a lack of resources and knowledge.
It says support to develop museums’ digital work during the pandemic has been important to help them “stay relevant in the future and to encourage innovation”.