Re-introducing museum charges

By | Category: Travel news
Tower of London

The Tower of London charges…

For those in schools in England and Wales, the summer holidays have come. Scottish schools broke up a month ago and enjoyed the sunshine. English and Welsh school students who broke up in the last week or so haven’t been so lucky. The rains came and look like being around for most of next week.

Traditionally, when it’s wet outside you take kids to indoor activities like museums. But the economic squeeze has resulted in some museums introducing or re-introducing charges. Will this mean that fewer of us will visit them?

...Westminster Abbey charges as do many cathedrals...

…Westminster Abbey charges as do many cathedrals…

It was about the turn of this century that museums charges were dropped and numbers rose. I remember the times before the government pressurised museums to introduce charges in order to reduce government grants. Then the pressure switched to make them free again. Now the wheel seems to have turned another part of the circle and council cuts are forcing museums to consider their funding issues again.

It is axiomatic that if you make something free people will take advantage of it. Make something too expensive and they will stay away in droves. Is there a happy medium? Is there an alternative?

York Art Gallery is introducing a £7.50 which is high by many European museum and gallery charges but lower than US charges. Brighton Museum and Art Gallery charges £5 for adults and £2.80 for children. The Tower of London charges £24 per adult, Edinburgh Castle, £16.50 and the National Trust, Cadw, Heritage Scotland charge – in the main –  to visit their sites.  An Taisce in the Republic doesn’t charge and Ireland went through a much tougher economic malaise than the Uk did and came out the other end. How did they manage?

...but the Natural Hisitory Museum in London's Kensington is free.

…but the Natural Hisitory Museum in London’s Kensington is free.

There is a simple reason why some museums shouldn’t charge. They aren’t good enough to be able to get away with charges. This isn’t necessarily because of the artefacts they hold but because they are dreary, living in the nineteenth century rather than the twenty-first and dominated by old thinking. If Legoland, Harry Potter and Disneyland can charge what I consider to be a small fortune for entrance and still have people queuing to get in then some museums can achieve that as well with modern thinking.

Governments have already said that national museums will remain free and be supported but does this allow them to become blasé and over-confident that they are safe? The commercial world says innovate, introduce something different and new and visitor numbers will respond. When Disneyworld in Florida has nothing new for a year or two, visitor numbers decline slightly as do visitors to Florida.

Councils and museums and galleries need to think hard about how they react to this cash pressure because some will survive and some will close. But is it a bad thing if some do close? Isn’t it a sign that if the public won’t visit them haven’t they failed in one of their purposes?

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