Te Papa losing its gloss
Interest in Te Papa is waning, with fewer visitors - particularly Wellingtonians - heading to the national museum.
Visitor numbers peaked in the year of the museum's 10th anniversary in 2008-09, with more than 1.5 million people going through the doors. But numbers have since steadily declined, reaching 1.29 million in the past financial year - the lowest number for nine years.
It comes on the back of a tough year for Te Papa, with chief executive Michael Houlihan leaving in the wake of two big loss-generating shows.
The Aztecs: Conquest & Glory drew fewer than 40,000, compared with a target of 115,000. That meant it lost $403,000, against a budgeted profit of $478,000.
Another exhibition, Figures for Colour & Light: Impressionism from France & America, is also reported to have under-delivered.
The latest drop in visitors shows fewer Wellingtonians are heading to the waterfront museum, which receives a $2.25m grant from the capital's ratepayers each year.
While there has been growth in international visitors - reaching 631,213 compared with 490,395 in 2010-11 - local visitors have fallen about 20 per cent in the same period, from 490,700 to 391,783. Out-of-town Kiwi visitors also dropped, from 355,946 to 266,358.
Te Papa's latest annual report blamed the economic downturn for the drop in domestic tourism. Spokeswoman Cherie McQuilkin said fluctuations in visitor numbers were driven in part by major exhibitions, and Aztecs and Colour and Light had not attracted the numbers hoped for.
Two more recent exhibitions - China: Throne of Emperors, and Shi Lu: A Revolution in Paint - had exceeded expectations, and it was hoped the coming shows, including Tyrannosaurs - Meet the Family and Gallipoli - The Scale of Our War, would attract large audiences, she said.
Wellington city councillor Jo Coughlan, who chairs the economic growth and arts committee, said the council's annual grant was directed at touring exhibitions and it was important to look at what was driving the dip in visitors.
"It's something we need to understand more about, why the numbers are falling away, if that's the case."
Te Papa was a key attraction for the city, and refreshing exhibitions could be something to consider to increase local visitor numbers, she said. "They don't want to go back and keep seeing the same old thing."
Positively Wellington Tourism chief executive David Perks said that, regardless of numbers, Te Papa was an extremely important attraction. Most local visitors had been already, so were going to visit only for touring exhibitions, making it important to have a good mix of offerings.
Changes to long-term exhibitions could also help in attracting in people.
Wellington Museums Trust chief executive Pat Stuart said it could have been outside factors that affected visitor numbers, but Te Papa still held its place as the city's must-see attraction.
"It's a bit of a fickle thing really. From a city perspective, it's great to have growing international tourists using our facilities, and Te Papa is certainly the must-see visitor experience in the city and those numbers reflect that."
She would not read too much into the fact fewer locals were visiting the museum.
Stuart was acting chief executive at Te Papa in 2002-03 and said that, while the aim was to capture the attention of national, international and local audiences alike, locals had plenty of museum choices.
VISITOR NUMBERS FOR PAST 10 YEARS
Source: Te Papa
The Dominion Post