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Community / Museum visitor numbers dwindle despite tourism surge

Shetland Museum and Archives.

SHETLAND Museum and Archives (SMAA) is to install monitoring equipment to try and gauge public use of the museum and get to the bottom of an apparent 13,000 decline in the number of visitors in 2018.

The Crofthouse Museum in Dunrossness has shown an even bigger proportional decline of 32 per cent of visitors. Despite that, income, from both admissions and donations, more than doubled at the crofthouse to  £8,053 and SMAA donations rose by £4,522 or 105 per cent.

A report by Shetland Amenity Trust chief executive Mat Roberts described the slump as “worrying” and only the month of May, when the award-winning museum played host to a Holbein exhibition, showed an increase in numbers.

A meeting of the trust on Friday heard there was a need for much more detailed metrics on visitors to Shetland, especially from the burgeoning cruise liner trade, not only for the museum but the wider tourism and business sector.

Roberts said later: “We are unlikely really ever to find out exactly what the cause in the drop of the footfall is. We believe we have seen more visitors to Shetland, however that is largely driven, we think, by the cruise community.

“Also we now close in the winter two days a week and also Hay’s Dock closure will have had an impact on those two months (November and December). We have seen a reduction in footfall from January and all the way through the year, but we at this moment do not know why and we may never know why.”

Numbers have been counted by staff using manual counters but the museum is planning to install automated counters before the start of the tourist season.

“It is quite a complicated process of installing the counters physically and then you have to go through a process of ground routing them. It will take a year to come up with a baseline for the numbers.”

Counters installed at different locations in the building will give an indication of public use. This will be supplemented by questionnaires.

He said that figures provided by Lerwick Port Authority for numbers of crew and passengers actually coming ashore from this year’s predicted record-breaking cruise season would help inform planning for the whole of Shetland.

Roberts said: “We don’t know much about what the tourists who come off the cruise ships know, so we need to understand that better for the whole of Shetland, not just the museum.

“It’s a complicated picture that we need to spend quite a lot of time thinking about and working with all the other people involved: with the tour guides, the intermediaries, the LPA, the cruise ships – there is a lot of moving parts.”

To that end the amenity trust has taken on a graduate to build up a detailed picture of the cruise ship business, which is varied in terms of ships and visitors.

“If we are going to make the most of the opportunity, we need much better information about the people who are coming and what they want and what they are sold.”

The success of the Hans Holbein exhibition which ran last year may also influence the “strategic plan” being reviewed by the museum that will examine use of galleries, empty spaces and touring exhibitions among other things.

“We need to understand how we match resources with need,” said Roberts, who added that the amenity trust was “financially stable” despite a reduction in funding from Shetland Charitable Trust.