As the Biden administration lifts travel bans on U.S. visitors, museums expect increased attendance to increase

This week, the Biden administration lifted restrictions on a pandemic travel ban, allowing vaccinated visitors from Canada, China, Mexico and other countries to enter the U.S. for the first time in 18 months. For major U.S. museums, where historically international visitors have accounted for a significant portion of annual attendance figures, the news was certainly welcome.

The number of visitors dropped by about 70 percent at the Chicago Art Institute, for example, from about 1.5 million to 420,000 in fiscal year 2020, according to a museum spokesman. In previous years, international guests accounted for between 25 and 30 percent of ticket buyers, accounting for about $ 5 million in revenue.

“We are optimistic about the return of international travelers, but we know that the return will be gradual,” said the representative, who noted that, for the time being, the institution “continues to focus primarily on the local public.”

The Smithsonian, which does not charge entry and therefore cannot keep track of where visitors come from, saw similar decreases in its overall number over the same period of time, according to its public participation data. The number of attendances dropped 67 percent in the various Smithsonian museums, from approximately 23.3 million to 7.6 million in fiscal year 2019.

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Courtesy of the museum.

Meanwhile the New York News reported this week that at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where international travelers account for about a third of attendance, the number of daily visitors has halved since the start of the pandemic. And the effects have been even greater in terms of the benefits of the tickets, as the museum has a payment policy of what you want for New Yorkers.

However, not all institutions can expect an increase in foot traffic with the modification of travel restrictions. At the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, a southern institution less frequented by foreigners than those on the coast (90 percent of the museum’s annual visitors are local), the change to a travel ban is unlikely to have a noticeable impact, he said. say a representative.

In the last fiscal year, 455,000 visitors came to the museum, down from nearly a million during the previous cycle. But the museum has recovered as few others have done: “Right now, attendance is back above pre-pandemic levels,” the museum spokesman said.

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