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When and how should science centers raise admission and membership prices?

Is your museum admission the right price for your market? With today’s challenging economic climate and our heavy reliance on admission revenue, pricing strategies are a key business decision. How can you increase revenue without undermining attendance? In Saturday’s session, Pricing Trends, Considerations, and Tradeoffs in the Current Marketplace, panelists Stephanie Ratcliffe and Hillarie Logan-Dechene from The Wild Center; Jason Drebitko, ConsultEcon; Lara Litchfield-Kimber, Mid-Hudson Children’s Museum; and Maureen Henderson, TELUS Spark discussed how to determine when to change admission prices, what considerations factor into deciding to make a change, and best practices for implementing admission price increases.

Drebitko began the session by listing seven important pricing considerations for science centers: the overall value of the science center experience; whether a center is resident- or visitor/tourist market-oriented; competition and relative value of the experience; benchmark ticket prices of competitors; cost of living in the area; type of ownership/operation (private nonprofit, public, etc); and general economic conditions.

Other panelists shared their experiences in considering and implementing changes to their centers’ admission and membership prices. All stressed the importance of knowing your audience in order to both maximize revenue for the center and value to visitors. Tracking ZIP codes of visitors, monitoring online review sites, and surveying visitors can help a museum understand who it’s visitors are, where they come from, and how they feel about the museum experience. Logan-Dechene talked about the benefits of having a committee that encompassed all museum departments consider price increases. One strategy employed when they did increase prices was adding value, making general admission tickets two-day passes. Litchfield-Kimber suggested institutions review pricing every time budgets are reviewed and to try not to raise all prices at once. Henderson shared her center’s experience in dealing with strong blowback against price increases that began primarily on blogs. She emphasized the importance of being prepared to engage community members in positive ways on social media and training frontline staff to engage positively with visitors unhappy about changes. She also cautioned against knee-jerk reactions, encouraging centers not to change pricing again immediately, but to give the new pricing plan a bit of time to see if it will be successful or not.