If you are currently charging and considering making the switch to free admissions – or vice versa – this guide will support you to make informed decisions. It provides examples and case studies from museums that responded to the AIM survey on admissions and pricing.
Whether to charge for admission to a museum and, if so, what pricing strategy to use are key decisions that require careful consideration. Charging for admission can be a divisive subject that attracts strong views within organisations and across the sector. In spring 2016, AIM commissioned research to help each museum find the right policy for its circumstances and make evidence-based decisions about their charging structure.
The findings of this research have now been used to develop this guidance for UK museums; both to support their decision-making process and to assess how a change might affect them in the future. If you are currently charging and considering making the switch to free admissions - or vice versa - this guide will support you to make informed decisions based on examples and case studies from museums that responded to the AiM survey on admissions and pricing.
This guidance document summarises the key findings around the impact of different charging positions and identifies key lessons and issues for museums to consider when reviewing their own charging position. This guide is structured around each of these four topics:
- General guidance for all museums around charging for admissions
- Thinking about charging for admission?
- Thinking about moving to free admission?
- Already charge? Guidance for changing your pricing
General guidance for all museums around charging for admissions
What were the main research findings?
The overall aim of the research was to understand the experience of museums that have moved from free admission to charging, or charging to free admission, or to ‘hybrid’ models and to investigate different pricing strategies and their impact. The research examined the impact on visitor numbers, diversity of visitors, income (including secondary spend and spontaneous donation), visitor satisfaction, quality of visit and reputation and relationships. The research also helped to identify key lessons learnt to share with other museums. Main findings from the research included:
- The overall picture with regard to charging is much more complex than often assumed; for example, one in three independent museums are free-entry and one in three local authority museums charge for admission.
- There is no direct link between the diversity of audiences and whether a museum charges for admission or not, with the pattern in terms of social mix being very similar. However, such a finding needs to be understood in the context that the general social mix of museum visitors is not always representative of the wider social mix within their communities.
- Donations are more affected by a range of other factors than by whether museums charge for admission or not.
- There is no consistent relationship between levels of secondary spend and whether a museum charges admission, with other factors having much more influence. However, some evidence has emerged showing visitors to charging museums are more likely to have visited the shop (or used on-site catering), than visitors to free-entry museums.
- Dwell times are typically longer for museums that charge for admissions.
- The process of charging creates a focus for the visitor welcome and captures information about visitors. Where museums are free entry, alternative approaches are required for these elements.
- In making any changes it is especially important to communicate clearly with stakeholders and the local community about the reasons for the changes and to ensure that staff are positive and confident in explaining them to visitors.
Download the full guide to read on:
AIM Success Guide: successfully setting admissions policy and pricing (PDF)