So much to do, so little time

Free entry into museums and galleries has increased visitor numbers but, with a variety of pursuits to choose from, there is more to leisure than price

The introduction of free entry into museums and galleries in England and Wales appears to be achieving the Government’s objective of widening access, according to MORI research on leisure activities. Over the past two years, the overall proportion of adults visiting museums and galleries has increased from 31 per cent to 38 per cent.

The profile of visitors to museums and galleries has also changed. There is an increase in visitors attending with children (from 32 per cent to 38 per cent). There has also been an increase in visits among 45to 54-year-olds, from 31 per cent to 47 per cent, and 55to 64-year-olds – including older parents, empty nesters and grandparents – from 37 per cent to 46 per cent. These 55to 64-year-olds have more leisure time, increased income, and the majority are well educated. Among museum visitors, 56 per cent have either a degree, a masters degree or even a PhD, while 46 per cent of gallery visitors have a degree/master/PhD.

More 45to 54-year-olds pursue leisure activities now than in 2000, and represent the most active age group. Leisure is on the increase, although young people (15to 24-year-olds) show an increase of only 1.1 per cent over the past two years.

There has been an increase in visitors to museums and galleries among all social grades. Despite free entry – aimed to encourage visitors from all social backgrounds – the increase has been much greater among the wealthy A social group (up 18 per cent), than other social grades. Visits from both B and C1 social classes are up by eight per cent, C2s are up by seven per cent, whereas Ds are up only five per cent. Looking at museums and galleries separately, the social divide is even clearer. Over half of ABs (51 per cent) have visited a museum in the last year, compared with less than one in five DEs (18 per cent). Although more people are visiting galleries overall, the gap between social classes is quite large – 33 per cent. As more people become aware of free entry to national museums and galleries, it will be interesting to see whether this gap narrows.

Going to the cinema is another popular leisure activity – 57 per cent of UK adults have been to the cinema in the past 12 months. The cinema is especially popular among young people with 75 per cent of 15to 34-year-olds having visited the cinema last year. Cinema going is the most popular cultural activity for people of low income. Some 43 per cent of DEs went to the cinema last year, while only ten per cent in this social group went to a pop or a rock concert.

Visiting museums and galleries is a more popular activity in London and the South-east than in other areas, whereas an activity like going to the cinema is popular throughout the UK. Cinema goers also appear to be more technologically literate – 75 per cent have Internet access, compared with 22 per cent of those who attend rock or pop concerts.

There has been a slight drop in the proportion of people visiting theme parks (from 23.7 per cent in 2000 to 20.4 per cent in 2002). However, there has been a significant increase in young visitors (16to 24-year-olds), up from 29.5 per cent in 2000 to 43.3 per cent in 2002. This indicates that cost is less of a factor in attracting young visitors, but thrills and interactive activity are more important. Museums have been taking interactivity into account in their marketing and exhibition development. They have introduced more interactive displays and experiential activities, child friendly cafés, and even cinemas (Imax at the Science Museum) to encourage visitors.

MORI says that visiting historic buildings and palaces is most popular among the middle aged. Some 38 per cent of adults have visited a historic building in the past year. Nearly half of 35to 54-year-olds (47 per cent) enjoy this activity, but again there is a social divide. People of higher social grades (59 per cent ABs and 45 per cent C1s) are more likely to have visited a historic building than C2s (32 per cent), and DEs (18 per cent). Additionally, the majority of visitors to historic buildings are broadsheet readers (64 per cent).

Despite free entry at the national museums and galleries, visiting has not yet reached the peak seen in 1991. This could be because of increasing demands on people’s leisure time and the increasing range of leisure activities available. Looking beyond demographics, marketers will need to address issues, such as changing social values, in order to attract potential markets for leisure attractions in today’s increasingly competitive environment. Furthermore, the Internet as a marketing channel should not be underestimated.

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