Local museums thrive on tourism

Wednesday, May 17, 2017 10:08 PM

Communities love their museums; they just don’t love them enough to keep them in business. Just like local retailers and restaurants, museums depend on tourists for attendance and revenue. Surely in our little berg, our favorite downtown places would not survive without economic support from tourists.

According to the American Alliance of Museums, one-third of Americans say they have visited an art museum, a history museum, an aquarium, zoo, botanical garden or science and technology center within the past six months. There are 2.3 million museum visits per day, adding up to a total of 865 million visits per year and generating $21 billion annually to the economy.

Those that track museum activity divide museums into six categories: art, children’s, ethnic, history, science and transportation. There are more than 2,500 art museums in the U.S. and this is the most popular museum type with tourists. The 600-pound gorilla is of course the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which attracted 6.5 million visits in 2015.

Much as art museums and aquariums have been a magnet for tourism, many cities now see children’s museums in the same light, evidenced by the fact that 25 new children’s museums have opened since 2000. In recent years, over 33 million families have visited a children’s museum.

The categories of ethnic, cultural and history museums are also beginning to surge in popularity. Aging world-wide demographics are driving increased interest in our immigration and civil rights history as well as ethnic migration. Interestingly, every state has a state history museum, as do many cities and towns, adding up to 7,000 history museums in the USA. A sub-category labeled “living-history museums” focuses on preserved or reconstructed early American communities. In 2016, our local Animas Museum hosted nearly 6,000 visitors and the giant Smithsonian National History Museum drew 6.8 million.

Science museums are also called “science centers” and emphasize a hands-on experience featuring interactive exhibits that encourage visitors to experiment and explore. Durango’s own Powerhouse Science Center has made steady progress over the past decade and is a quality educational experience for locals and visitors alike. And not to be left out, roughly 125 auto museums and private car collections cater to motor hobbyists and vintage car enthusiasts.

It cannot be overlooked that museums are not only important cultural and educational assets to a community, but a strong contributor to the local economy. The tourism office can attest to the large number of visitors that inquire about local and regional history and cultural attractions. Included in our recommendations are the Animas Museum, Powerhouse Science Center, the Center for Southwest Studies, the Durango Arts Center, the Durango Document Museum, the Fish Hatchery, the Public Lands Office, the Roundhouse Museum, and the Visitor Centers at Mesa Verde, Aztec Ruins, Chaco Canyon and Chimney Rock. Yes, we have pride in these wonderful assets, but they also need our support. Don’t overlook including these area gems when planning this year’s “staycation.” Bob Kunkel is executive director of the Durango Area Tourism Office.