Museum visitor numbers in decline

LAUREN HAYES
Last updated 05:00 14/01/2014

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Visitor numbers at the Southland Museum and Art Gallery have dropped nearly 30,000 in the past five years.

Invercargill City Council figures show annual visitors have dropped 11.5 per cent, from 257,278 in the 2009-10 financial year to 227,670 in 2012-13.

The downturn bucks the trend of other museums in the South Island, which have seen steady visitor numbers across the period followed by an increase in 2012-13.

However, Southland Museum and Art Gallery Trust chairman Darren Ludlow said the trust, while aware of the declining numbers, was not concerned at this stage. He attributed the decrease to fewer international tourists visiting the area during challenging economic times.

As the museum's primary focus was providing for the Southland community, a relatively small dropoff in international visitors was not a huge concern, he said.

"The trust didn't have any overwhelming concerns over it . . . If the numbers had been higher, like 50,000 to 70,000, we'd start asking why."

He expected visitor numbers to pick up this financial year.

Invercargill iSite manager Ann-marie Francis said as the museum's door count included visitors to the iSite, it was difficult to determine who was visiting what.

She was unsure whether the overall decrease had been felt more by the iSite or the museum, but agreed tourist numbers across the whole region had dropped during the period.

The prolonged uncertainty surrounding the museum's proposed multimillion-dollar redevelopment has also been touted as a reason for declining visitor numbers.

Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt said residents were unsure about what was happening with the project, and this could be keeping them away. "I think probably the consensus of people think, ‘oh, we'll wait and see what's going to happen' . . . people like it when something's finished."

However, he would be interested to see the visitor figures for this financial year, as the Julius Caesar: Military Genius and Mighty Machines exhibition, which closed on Sunday, had been very popular, he said.

Meanwhile, the trust has taken a first step towards earthquake strengthening the museum and gallery.

An engineering report released last year shows none of the museum's four parts meet the national building standards requiring buildings to be strengthened to 34 per cent of the code.

Mr Ludlow said Signal Management Group was using the report to prepare a list of options for the trust to consider. He expected this process to take six to nine months.

The redevelopment still needed to happen, although progress had been frustrated by the report's findings, he said.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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