12-month annual museum passes: what is the rate of return?

Back in early May I asked the Twitter hive: “For museums with a free return visit within 12 months: does anyone know an average, examples or research of the proportion of visitors who take this up?”

I was keen to benchmark a client’s figures and get a bit more context to explore whether aiming to raise their rate of return was a realistic – and desirable – prospect.

I promised to share the responses (where I was given permission to do so), so here goes!

Please note that this was not a robust piece of research, but I’m sharing the findings that were generously shared with me:

Which museums have free return within 12 months?

LOADs of museums and visitor attractions have a free return within 12 months admission, and the range of size of venues and the range of admission prices is vast. A handful of examples showing the range are:

(I’ve put this list together to show the range of venues that have this admissions option; they don’t represent the venues that got in touch about this, as some wanted to remain anonymous).

How do they pitch it?

It’s interesting to note how the organisations explain or promote the return visits on their websites. For example:

For some venues, that is the only option now, whereas others also offer a 1 day ticket too.

Some go into more detail about Gift Aid implications, for example:

What are the rates of return?

Rates of return varied greatly in responses to me, from around 5% to 30%.

Clearly this isn’t about a right or wrong rate of return – it will be individual to each venue and dependent on a host of different reasons.

Museums reaching the higher end of the spectrum often tended to have:

  • a solid local following and were embedded in the local community
  • a large local catchment area (urban, with a substantial population living within a 30 minute or similar drivetime)
  • a solid events programme and changing exhibitions
  • a strong family offer (providing an easy, safe and familiar outing option).

Interestingly, they weren’t necessarily the bigger destinations with the biggest offers.

Venues with lower rates of return often have:

  • a high proportion of tourist visitors (especially from overseas)
  • more of a static offer
  • a smaller local catchment area (are based more rurally)
  • and are more of a destination trip.

The Museums Association has a handy page on Gift Aid admissions written by charity-specialist accountants Godfrey Wilson Limited, which says that “on average, only 17% of visitors use unlimited passes more than once”.

I’ve been told that members of ALVA (the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions) also have access to benchmarking reports with members’ data on this available for their members.

Why do it?

Whether a museum introduces a 12-month free return option, and then to what extent they actively encourage return visits, will depend on a range of factors. Key will be: what is the aim of having such an admission option? What do you want to achieve? For example, is it about:

  • increasing repeat visitor numbers?
  • increasing donations through Gift Aid?
  • providing better value for money to visitors (or perceived value)?
  • encouraging more sales in the shop and café?

In the MA article, Godfrey Wilson Ltd states that some museums that choose the 12-month right of admission see increased earnings and that repeat visitors “tend to spend more money in shops and cafes when they return”. I would be interested to see figures on this, and also what proportion of repeat visitors bring new visitors back with them, as this would be a huge success.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to respond to my original tweet and shared your knowledge so generously, it is much appreciated. If anyone knows of any other sources with more information on any of this, I’d love to hear about it.

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