Edinburgh rethinks opening hours as visits plummet

Jonathan Knott, 30.01.2018
Visitor numbers down by 21% and income by a quarter
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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Guillaume Evrard
Web content editor, The University of Edinburgh
05.02.2018, 00:06
Fair point.
Closing museums and galleries on Mondays in a city that markets itself as a UK and world destination is a rookie mistake.
In all fairness, tweaking the opening hours was a cost-cutting measure by Edinburgh City Council, and therefore should be assessed in financial terms rather than on the basis of visitor figures.
Trouble is, even in financial terms, the whole opening hours rethink has saved a substantial (!) £5,412 (+82,000 (staffing costs savings) - 76,588 (lost income)).
Add the front doors repair (cost undisclosed) and the reputational damage...
09.02.2018, 08:44
The Louvre closes one day a week. Are they rookies?
Guillaume Evrard
Digital content officer
09.02.2018, 13:22
Point wasn't about closing one day a week. Point is about closing on Mondays.
The Louvre closes on Tuesdays. Better counter-example would be Versailles, which closes on Mondays.
Now, CEC museums are neither Versailles nor the Louvre, otherwise they would attract as many visitors as Edinburgh Castle.
Doug MacBeath
Curator, Museum on the Mound
15.02.2018, 13:01
Well, as the Curator of another Edinburgh museum that closes on a Monday, I can assure you that the decision was made because it is the quietest day of the week. The only exception is the UK Bank Holidays when we can get 200 - 300+ per day (actually, per afternoon). When we did look at Monday opening, we are getting approx. half the visitors of any other day.
Guillaume Evrard
Digital content officer
15.02.2018, 16:11
Thank you for your insight, Doug. Very interesting. Great to have the curator's side of the story.
02.02.2018, 20:48
Interesting and salutary findings here.

Hopefully Edinburgh City Council will rethink its opening hours policy. If a city of the size and appeal of Edinburgh experiences drops in visitor numbers at some of its attractions when others are increasing, then the evidence seems clear! Counteracting potential visitors' negative experience of 'closed doors' cannot be done overnight - best to avoid in the first place . . .

Many other publicly-funded museums should learn from this example . . .