Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Rain Forest Attendance: Trends Are Down

USA Today reports that museums are having a tough time. Judy Keen, "Museums Pinched by Higher Costs, Fewer Visitors," USA Today, August 10, 2006 (updated August 11, 2006).

There are many types of attractions. But one useful distinction -- even though there is, of course, some overlap -- is between those that are almost exclusively entertainment, such as Disney amusements, or waterslides, and those that have some component with an educational or other higher purpose, such as museums, art galleries, botanical gardens -- and indoor rain forests.

When any examples from within one of those two categories suffers, the likelihood is that all within that category will also suffer, at least to some degree.

USA Today quotes Iowa's own Timothy Walch, Director, Herbert Hoover Presidential Library & Museum, as saying, "The overall trend is moving down." Recall that this facility (1) is a U.S. presidential library that (2) celebrates Iowa's only U.S. president, and (3) is located adjacent to Interstate 80. And yet its attendance is never much over 50,000 a year, and USA Today reports "had 16% fewer visitors last year than in 2004."

Museums that have closed within the last year include one honoring James Dean near Fairmount, Indiana, that had operated for 16 years, the Children's Discovery Museum in San Diego (a somewhat larger community than Riverside, Iowa), the African American Museum in Tacoma, Washington, and the Palm Beach, Florida, Institute of Contemporary Art.

The internationally popular Colonial Williamsburg, with Rockefeller money substantially in excess of Ted Townsend's $10 million pledge to the rain forest, the east coast population centers to draw upon, and attendance well over one million a year in the 1980s, is now seeing only 700,000 visitors a year.

Although the story doesn't mention Cedar Rapids, it might have, given the number of quasi-educational attractions there having difficulties with budgets and attendance.

There's lots of speculation as to the reasons for the decline. But the fact is there's a decline; the numbers are down. The best news is that at some such facilities the numbers have been flat since 2000.

Given that many economists thought the rain forest's predictions of 1.3 million visitors a year were wildly optimistic during the best of times, and with the best of locations (along Interstate 80), this recent report of downward trends just gives us more reason to doubt that an indoor rain forest in Iowa would be able to sustain its operating budget on the basis of tourist income.

No comments: