The Mariners’ Museum and Park in Newport News announced Thursday it is going to $1 admission on a permanent basis beginning Nov. 17.
However, the decision can be traced to 2016, when it updated its mission statement, which now reads: “The Mariners’ Museum and Park connects people to the world’s waters, because through the waters – through our shared maritime heritage – we are connected to one another.”
Howard Hoege, president and CEO of the museum, said one way to do that is with the reduced admission.
He estimates a large part of the community can’t afford the current price, which ranges from $8.95-$13.95. With this decision, Hoege said, the museum will be available to a wide audience.
And the numbers support him.
The museum first went to $1 admission on a trial basis for August 2016. It was expanded to June-August in 2017, and this year, it ran from late May until Labor Day.
Hoege said the average number of visitors for August is about 5,500. In August 2016, they had more than 39,000 visitors.
“We did not anticipate that at all, nothing even close to that,” Hoege said. “We tripled the number of kids in our galleries, and the diversity in our galleries was through the roof. So from a mission perspective, it accomplished exactly what we hoped.”
That success continued the following year.
“We finished that summer of 2017 with a dramatic increase in our visitation over summers when we had not done dollar admissions,” he said, adding the numbers were down “slightly” this summer from a year ago.
“But we’re still up 233 percent over, in terms of just raw visitation numbers, the summer of 2015,” he said.
It also was a hit financially because of added sponsorships from a number of local businesses.
“We couldn’t ignore the fact that not only were the numbers so big, we actually exceeded our earned revenue goals that month,” Hoege said of August 2016. “We didn’t take a financial hit for doing it.”
They are finalizing the financial numbers for this summer, but Hoege expects it to be similar to last summer.
“The revenue tied to our visitation (gate, movie tickets, gift shop and corporate sponsors) was up 18 percent over the last summer when we had no dollar admissions,” he said.
With increases in revenue and visitors, Hoege and his colleagues are confident this is sustainable in the long run.
“Dollar admissions is best understood as an overall effort to create access to the museum,” he said. “From a mission perspective, going to $1 admissions makes a lot of sense. It’s the right thing to do.”