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Dispatches from the Mid-Atlantic: The Price is Right?

Posted by Phillippa Pitts on May 28, 2013 in Dispatches from the Mid-Atlantic |

by columnist Madeline Karp,

I fib sometimes to get discounts.

At the gym: Are you a student? Totally! (-$25 on membership)

At the movies: Is your parent a senior citizen? Yes! (-$3 per ticket)

At the store: Do you have a club card? Absolutely! (+$5 in coupons for giving my sister’s phone number.)

So it comes as no surprise that when I go to museums, I do everything I can to bring admission prices down. I’ll bring my museum association cards, old student ID’s, refer-a-friend coupons and Groupons…pretty much anything.

It’s not because I don’t want to pay to get in. I know that most museum revenue comes from admission sales. I know it’s how they keep the place open. I want to pay, but I can’t. Honestly, I can’t afford it. I have a really tight budget.

So I was conflicted when I learned that museum prices are rising all along the Mid-Atlantic, particularly in Philadelphia.

According to a recent Philadelphia Business Journal article area museums have been raising their prices by as much as 25% in 2013. On the one hand, this is hugely positive. Attendance for mid-Atlantic museum is up, so the price hike is an indicator that the services we provide are definitely in demand. We can hopefully take this as a sign that the economy is recovering and arts/education funding may grow in the near future. On the other hand…are we potentially playing with fire?

When my museum raised its prices by $1 to help cover overhead costs, I heard complaints day in, day out, for weeks on end about this small increase. It now costs $64 for a family of four to visit – but that’s before you pay for parking, lunch and souvenirs. For many, one day at the museum is a budget buster. Unsurprisingly we see huge crowd increases around the time our LivingSocial coupons are released and discounted Target First Wednesdays can be crazy.

So attendance and prices are up. But what can you do to make sure customers feel like they’re getting more bang for their extra bucks?

Well, for one thing, innovative ticketing definitely helps. Several museums have started to create partnerships – like the Penn Museum and the Mutter Museum did in 2012. Rather than pay $27 per person to see each museum separately, you can now buy a combo ticket and see both institutions for $20. The Barnes Foundation has now folded the cost of an audio guide into their admission prices. Some museums have expanded their definitions of “children” discount tickets, and others have increased the number of “pay-what-you-want-to” days.

But the biggest helper is the marketing scheme. When packaged as a “day-cation” a museum visit is cheap. Let’s break it down.

To get in to Disney World for one day, a single adult would pay $95.

To get on to the beach here in Ventnor NJ you pay a $10 fee, plus $12 in tolls.

Average cost of a museum: $15.

Oh, and by the way, that museum entrance comes with air conditioning and cultural enlightenment. Less chance of sunburn, more chance of learning stuff. Pretty good deal, yeah?

Are prices rising a good thing? How do you convince your visitors to pay more? What kinds of tricks do you use to balance your own budget? Share your thoughts with me in the comments!

 

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