Members of the Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) that have reopened to the public after closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic have seen visitor attendance that is down 74 percent from the same time period in 2019. This is one example of the sobering information shared in a recent ASTC report detailing the effects the pandemic is having on science museums.
While science and technology centers and museums continue to serve their missions and engage their communities, these dramatic decreases in attendance are having a severe impact on budgets. ASTC-member institutions rely upon earned revenue—including ticket sales, program fees, and facility rentals—for about half of their annual operating income.
On average, institutions are seeing a slow increase in their weekly visitor attendance, from an average of 15 percent of 2019 visits in the first week of reopening to 22 percent in week five.
However, this increase is often not steady or consistent. This is not surprising as many factors contribute to science center visits, including the local status of coronavirus transmission, local capacity restrictions, weather, school schedules, and special events and exhibits.
Some institutions participating in the Weekly Attendance and Operations Survey are seeing visitorship that is less than 10 percent of last year, while a handful—especially among the earliest to reopen and in regions that did not experience an early spike in COVID-19 cases—are approaching two-thirds of 2019 visits. Data collected by the Coalition for Ongoing Visitor Experience Studies (COVES) from a sample of institutions suggest that visitors feel safe visiting museums, with more than 90 percent reporting that the museum they visited had mostly or fully addressed their health and safety concerns (COVES 2020).
Although visitor attendance is significantly down from 2019 across all sizes of member institutions, the very largest museums are experiencing the weakest attendance percentages. This may be because many of these institutions are in major metropolitan areas where rates of community transmission were high during the period reported.
On average, 34 percent of visitors to science centers during the survey period are members of those institutions.
About the survey
The data above are a result of ASTC’s Weekly Attendance and Operations Survey, an ongoing survey project that was launched in June 2020 and that contains a data-benchmarking tool for members to collect and report on their visitor attendance and operational status. The estimate of total losses is based on what is known about ASTC members’ annual operating income, duration of closing, length of reopening, and the percentage of usual visitor attendance since any reopening. You can download an aggregate report of survey data from July and August.
We’ll be highlighting additional data from the aggregate report over the coming weeks. ASTC continues to collect weekly data from its members and expects to release additional summaries and reports as they become available. If you are an ASTC science center or museum member interested in participating, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.