Museum seeks answers as numbers plummet

Gremlins in the Otago Museum's main entry automatic counting system may be partly to blame for an apparent big drop in museum visitors last year.

Museum figures released late last year state that attendance dropped about 50% - to 132,649 visitors - during the first five months of the financial year, starting on July 1.

A total of 270,732 visits were made in the comparable period in the previous, record attendance year, during which the free-entry museum attracted more than 600,000 visitors.

At an Otago Museum Trust Board meeting late last year, a board member, Dr David Hutchinson, queried the reduced numbers, noting they were out of line with other figures involving paid museum activities.

Visitors to the museum's paid-entry Discovery World, which includes the Tropical Forest, were down only by 21%, from 51,503 to 40,528, over the comparable period, with museum shop sales down only 23%.

Museum chief executive Shimrath Paul has long predicted an eventual return to more modest overall attendance levels, perhaps to about 350,000 visitors a year.

At last year's meeting, Mr Paul said the museum was investigating apparent anomalies with the automatic counting system.

Mr Paul told a board meeting this month the museum was still investigating the system, and for that reason no further monthly attendance figures had been tabled.

Recent checks had shown some big discrepancies between door entry figures and confirmed visitor numbers inside the museum, with actual attendance being underestimated, he said.

On one occasion the entry counter showed only a few dozen people had arrived, but checks inside the museum showed that several hundred people were actually present.

Main entry counters could not be expected to be absolutely accurate for free attendance institutions such as the museum, he said.

Museum officials said some museums had spent big amounts, such as $300,000, on counting devices, but the Otago Museum probably needed only a reasonably reliable guide, which would accurately show general visitor trends.

Margaret Collins and Malcolm Farry were last week re-elected as, respectively, chairwoman, and deputy chairman of the Otago Museum Trust Board.

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