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German Museum Experiments With Novel Approach to Charging Its Visitors

In Bremen, the Weserburg Museum of Modern Art, which was founded in 1991, decided to take a new approach to the way it would charge visitors. In an experimental move that has been followed by many museum professionals in the central European country, the authorities decided to move to a pay-as-you-stay model of charging over the last Christmas period. According to reports in the German press, other institutions – both galleries and museums – are already looking to introduce similar ideas and offering praise for the Weserburg Museum for its innovative approach. Indeed, the Bremen-based gallery has already said that the charging model was a success and that it will repeat the idea in the spring of 2020, probably at Easter.

After having continued with a traditional model of charging people who attend the Weserburg Museum for years, the management team there decided to alter their visitor fees for a short period at the end of 2019. At that time, the institution charged one euro for every ten minutes a visitor spent in its galleries. This meant, of course, that charges varied greatly but the key outcome was that visitor numbers were up on the same period the previous year. Whether this is because the public responded to the move as a mere novelty or because they liked the pay-as-you-stay model remains to be seen. This is why the Weserburg Museum intends on repeating the idea during another holiday period.

“This attempt by the Weserburg museum to charge according to entry times, of course, sounds unusual at first,” said Eckart Köhne, President of the German Museum Association. “However, it is certainly very interesting,” he added. “I am very excited to learn more about the evaluation of it as I think it can be a step forward in basic cultural service provision.”

Promotional campaigns to get more public engagement with museums and galleries are not unheard of in Germany. Innovations such as The Long Night of Museums or open days with completely free admission charges are available every now and again in German institutions. That said, no graduated admission charges that depend on the length of time that is spent on art consumption have been tried before. This is why the Weserburg Museum’s move is so noteworthy, of course.

More Visitors But a Drop a Modest Drop in Income

According to some of the visitors who took part in the experimental charging regime at the museum, the fact that their entry fee would go up according to the length of time they spent there did not mean that they felt rushed. In fact, Tom Schößler, the commercial manager of the Weserburg Museum, said that only three visitors who responded to a post-visit survey said that they felt any time pressure at all during their visit.

Another finding of the visitor survey showed that the payment model has increased the perception of price fairness among visitors. Nearly 75 per cent of respondents to it said that they found the price they ended up paying to be reasonable given their experience of the gallery. “This demonstrates that the public is quite willing to pay money for their visit to the museum,” said Janneke de Vries, the gallery’s director. She pointed out that the charging model of museums does not always have to be all or nothing. “There are also good approaches in-between completely free or no access at all,” she said.

Despite the enthusiasm and augmented visitor numbers, the Weserburg Museum generated three per cent less revenue than in it had done in the comparable period the previous year. However, the museum’s management team were keen to point out that the overall level of income during the experiment was favourable when compared to Christmastime revenues over the course of the last five years. An adult visitor ticket is usually nine euros at the gallery. During the trial charging period, the average visitor admission fee dropped to 5.55 euros. As such, a small increase in visitor numbers could mean that when the museum repeats the charging model that its income could even rise.

According to Schößler, interest in the results of the experiment among museum colleagues outside of Bremen was very high. He expects the same to be so when the museum carries out its next test later this year. “This will be a new season and the exhibition on the third floor will be being rebuilt, so we will have a different situation, at that time,” he said. In addition, he noted that the museum will be able to establish whether the same people who were in the gallery during the first test period visit once again. Many in the profession will be interested in the museum’s findings.

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About the author – Manuel Charr

Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.

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