Largest Dutch museums are winning the struggle for visitors

17/04/2015 15:00

Dutch museums are attracting more visitors, but this increase almost exclusively involved the large museums. The Dutch museums received 26.5 million visitors in 2013, over 3.3 million more than in 2011. The large museums attracted an extra 3.2 million visitors. The smaller and medium-sized museums hardly saw an increase in visitor numbers, and some even faced falling numbers, according to the latest figures released by Statistics Netherlands today.
Large museums were able to link their growing visitor numbers with positive operating results, while the operating results of smaller and medium-sized museums as a group were negative in 2013; worse even than in 2011.

More museums visits to thanks to the large  museums

In 2013, visits to all 799 Dutch museums surveyed by Statistics Netherlands increased by 14 percent on 2011, when Statistics Netherlands surveyed 788 museums. Visitor numbers rose faster in these two years than in the entire period of 2003-2013 (6 percent). The increase is mainly generated by the large museums, with annual visitor numbers exceeding 100 thousand, which received far more visitors than in 2011. This was in part because some Amsterdam museums re-opened.

In 2013, 26 percent of all visitors to Dutch museums were foreign, compared to 22 percent two years earlier. Foreign visitors mainly did the large museums. Over 80 percent of the foreign visitors went to one of the 100 thousand plus visitor museums.

Museum visits by visitor numbers

Large museums in profit, small museums showing a loss

Large museums with annual visitor numbers exceeding 100 thousand produced far better financial results as a group than the smaller and medium-sized museums. Their operating results reached 13 million euros in 2013. The medium-sized museums with visitor numbers ranging from 10 to 100 thousand visitors performed rather poorly. Together they had a negative balance of 16 million euros in their total income and expenses. In 2011 the group had faced a 5 million euro deficit.
The museums attracting less than 10 thousand visitors looked at a million euro deficit in 2013 compared to 2 million in 2011. The total Dutch museum sector produced a negative result of 4 million euros in 2013. This is an improvement on 2011, when the balance of the total income and expenses of the Dutch museums  came to a 35 million euro deficit.

Most of the 10.7 million visitors paid the full ticket price; slightly fewer than in 2011. The number of visitors with a Museum Card has risen fast. In 2011 there were 4.2 million visits by Museum Card holders, versus 6.1 million in 2013. The number of free visits, for instance from school children, rose to 5.2 million during this period.

Operating results by visitor numbers, 2013*

Subsidies a lesser source of income

The total income earned by museums amounted to 878 million euros in 2013. Government subsidies were their main source of income, constituting 56 percent. Over the years, the share of government subsidies in total revenues has diminished. In 2003 the subsidies made up two thirds of total income. Since then the entrance fees and reimbursements for visits with the Museum Card have gained importance.
Most of the government subsidies go to museums attracting over 100 thousand visitors. In 2013 they received over 340 million euros. Together these major museums attracted 62 percent of the number of visitors. They make up 6 percent of the museum branch in the Netherlands In number. The small and medium-sized museums received the other 147 million euros in subsidies. Those museums that received fewer than 10,000 visitors, which make up nearly two thirds of all museums in the Netherlands, received 13 million euros.

Government subsidies by visitor numbers, 2013*

Museums spent 882 million euros in 2013, mainly personnel costs (41 percent) and other costs such as exhibition costs and purchases for restaurants and shops (28 percent). Over a fifth of the expenditure went to housing.

The ‘Matthew effect’

The results described here support the findings of the Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR) about the effects of the economic crisis and the budget cuts on cultural institutions. In their report the WRR indicates that major cultural institutions are better able to cope in times of crisis and budget cuts than smaller ones. This is true for museums as well.
Major museums can improve their financial situation through their reputation and fame, the large number of visitors and the support of wealthy friends and sponsors. They also receive a large share of the available subsidies and the growing number of foreign tourist. The small and medium-sized museums often focus on local issues and tend to be situated in the smaller towns. They often miss out on such advantages so that it is more difficult for them to cope financially. This process is sometimes referred to by its sociological label the ‘Matthew effect’ where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer (based on Matthew 25:29).