New research exploring current admissions pricing policy in museums has shown that the main factor influencing any changes to charging policy is the need to increase income to support financial sustainability. This is due to the rising costs of staffing, energy, utilities and staging exhibitions, as well as making up income lost during the pandemic. 

The research was commissioned by the Association of Independent Museums (AIM) in partnership with Arts Council England, Museums Galleries Scotland, the Welsh Government, the National Museum Directors’ Council, and Art Fund. The aim was to understand current pricing strategies, the impact on museum audiences, and how museums can adapt charging to respond to the current environment and be prepared for what may happen in the future. 

Just over half (51%) of museums responding to the survey charge for general admissions, whilst 36% do not charge. Only 8% charge for both general admissions and admissions to specific exhibitions, whilst 4% charge for admissions to specific exhibitions only. Overall, this shows that 64% of museums charge for admissions in some form, whilst 36% of museums do not charge at all.

Interestingly, 18% of museums have moved from paid to free admission, whereas only 11% have done the opposite. Museums that had raised prices cited a range of factors underpinned by the need to raise income. Museums that moved from charging to free did so principally to increase visitors, but have been looking at ways of maximising income through donations instead. 

The Impact of Changes In Admissions Pricing

For those venues that raised admission prices, the most positive impact is that total admissions income have increased, and some even reported positives in terms of footfall and secondary spend. Many museums that raised prices reported that there was little negative impact, and some found that they had been underpriced for some time. 

Museums that introduced new ticket types have also seen an increase in total admissions income, as well as visitor numbers, demography and diversity. Some venues noted a greater take up in annual passes because of the cost-of-living crisis, with visitors looking to derive further value from their visits.

Those museums that moved from charging to free entry typically saw an increase in visitor numbers, spontaneous donations and secondary spend, and a positive impact on visitor demography and diversity, as well as the museum’s relationship with the local community. 

Reflecting on the research findings, Gordon Morrison, CEO, Cultural Enterprises said, “These are challenging times for cultural venues across the country. Traditional sources of funding are being squeezed, costs are still rising rapidly and museums and galleries are expected to do more with less. This research backs up exactly what I have been hearing in the many conversations I have been having with leaders from across the sector, with more and more organisations recognising that, given the challenging environment, it is incumbent on them to do more to maximise their income streams. 

“My message to the sector is a simple one – you do not have to do this alone. The Association for Cultural Enterprises exists to embed commercial best practice within the sector, enabling museums, galleries and other arts and cultural venues to become more financially resilient. We have an essential role in supporting and inspiring the sector over this challenging period and, as we continue to see our membership levels grow month after month, it is clear that the sector recognises the need for this vital support.’’  

Join the Debate

Whether you charge for entry, for exhibitions or not at all, the debate about what, when and who to charge is one you should be part of. Don’t miss our discussion panel on this topic at the Cultural Enterprises Conference at ICC Wales on 13-14 March 2024. We’ll look at the challenge of balancing accessibility with financial viability, and examine some of the approaches and pricing models being used to keep people coming back to visitor attractions.

Read the full Research into Admissions Pricing Policy Report and accompanying Success Guide including 2023 pricing benchmarks, and advice on effective communication and audience targeting, with specific lessons for charging and non-charging institutions.

Joanne Whitworth
By Joanne Whitworth
Jo is Communications & Media Manager at the Association for Cultural Enterprises.
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