Museums become the tourism industry’s new star


For all too many years, museums were places that people stated that they ought to visit, but often ignored, on their way to something they thought would be more fun. That trend may be now reversing itself and as an in-depth analysis found in the British magazine, The Economist (December 21 edition) notes, museums today are attracting people in numbers that were unheard of even a few years ago. Museums then have become more than merely one more choice in a world of travel and leisure choices; they have become major attractions. The following list comes from The Art Newspaper and lists the ten most art popular museums for the year 2012 (no statistics yet for 2013).

The Tate: London, England

Pompidou Centre: Paris, France

Museum of Modern Art: New York City, USA

Reina Sofia: Madrid, Spain

Saatchi Gallery: London, England

Institute of Modern Art: Valencia, Spain

National Museum of Modern & Contemporary Art, Seoul, South Korea

Guggenheim Museum, New York

Museu Picasso, Barcelona, Spain

Mori Museum, Tokyo, Japan

It is interesting to note that with the exception of only two of the museums, all of the other 8 are in major Euro-American cities.

People come to see not only the museum’s collection but also its architecture. Furthermore, there is an ever increasing number of types of museums: from the classical art museum to the children’s hands-on science museum, from museums that tell the story of a particular nation or people to museums that take us to places where most people will never visit such as outer space. Traditionally museums were backed by public money, but in a world where governments are stretched and the public is less and less interested in paying taxes for culture, many museums have had to turn to private funding. To help you decide what type of museum, if any, is best for your community Tourism Tidbits presents the following ideas:

Know who your audience will be. Are you planning your museum for a local audience or an out-of-town audience or an international audience. Who you attract often depends on where you are, the demographics of your region, and what is the state of public transportation that connects with your museum.

Seek funding early and often. Large institutions tend to give grants by location, thus a medium size museum in a national or commercial capital may have an advantage. Know your situation and what types of businesses would be willing to contribute to culture in your area of the world.

Think about the neighborhood in which you are located. Even the world’s greatest museums do not live in a vacuum. For example, the Louve (Paris, France) is one of the world’s great museums, and its famous Mona Lisa attracts up to 30,000 viewers a day, but the museum also attracts pickpockets. Its entrance in the form of a pyramid is not only famous but a magnet for pickpockets! Visitors count the neighborhood, the parking experience, and the dinning options as part of their museum visit experience.

Empty museums may be beautiful but they are empty. Despite the boom in building new museum facilities what counts is what is inside the museum. Too many museums have placed so much emphasis on the architecture that they have forgotten the exhibits. Exhibits need to be shown in a way that the public can understand, with lighting that is clear and signage that is easy to read. If your goal is a museum that attracts people from around the world, then think language difficulties and how you will overcome these difficulties.

Think demographic trends. For example currently in the USA most museum goers tend to be better educated and financially well off Americans of European decent. Although US minorities currently compose some 30% of the population their visitors are overwhelmingly from non-minority groups. How will these demographic trends impact the museum of the future? Will current exhibitions be relevant to people who come from diverse backgrounds? The trick then will be to balance the needs of the local community with the type of visitor the museum hopes to attract in the future.

Because you build it, does not mean that the public will come. Museums cannot count on the public’s accepting whatever the museum decides to show. That means that museums not only have to integrate their visitors needs into what they display and how they choose to exhibit, but also museums need to develop international partnerships that allow cross cultural exchanges.

Be both academic and emotional. Museums are one more form of education, and often education depends not only on the material but also on the presentation. Successful museums around the world must learn how to appeal not only to the mind but also to the heart and to the emotions. Exhibits need to demonstrate not only past glories but also how they glories speak to every age and provide a universal message. Even a national museum can present its nation’s story in a way that touches people from around the world. Some of the most successful museums are those that exhibit what is commonly called dark tourism, or demonstrate how a particular tragedy has a universal significance.

In a world ever more competitive museums will need to find creative ways to fund their programs. The traditional dependency of museums on government funding is rapidly coming to an end. Museums will need support from “memberships” and private institutions. That means that museums are going to have to become business savvy not only in how they market themselves but also in what they market. Museums will also have to observe trends. For example art museums have proven to be increasingly popular tourism destinations while history (and especially local historical) museums have proven to be, with a few exceptions such as the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, ever less popular.

Dr. Peter Tarlow is the President of Tourism & More and speaks throughout the world. He publishes a monthly newsletter for tourism professionals called Tourism Tidbits. You can reach him via his website: