Ask Me Anything: Pricing for Museums During COVID-19

Jennifer Sowinski Nemeth

Senior Consultant & Analyst

Jennifer enjoys working with arts and culture clients to help them increase revenue and grow audience through data-driven strategies including pricing studies, venue re-scaling, customer behavior analyses, and segmentation.
October 16, 2020

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How should museums adjust prices to account for changes due to the pandemic?


As museums are beginning to re-open after months of being closed, things certainly look a little different. Capacities are limited, admissions are more focused on pre-sales than ever before, and many museums have implemented timed entry to stagger visitor arrival to keep visitors and staff as safe as possible. And of course, visitors are at once excited to be resuming their usual activities, yet wary of hazards to their health and safety in public spaces.

It’s a lot of adjustments to make all at once, but for those in charge of marketing and pricing museum admissions, there is a silver lining! We at JCA Arts Marketing spend a lot of time thinking about pricing, and we encourage our clients to implement strategies that make their pricing as flexible as possible. Price flexibility has always been a challenge for museums, which frequently only offer one or two “standard” prices for exhibits, with relatively few opportunities to adjust prices. But, the changes that have become widespread practice during COVID-19 are providing some new and exciting opportunities for museums to be more flexible with pricing, in ways that can even continue after the threat of the pandemic has passed.

With museum visitors booking tickets in advance more than ever before, there is a new opportunity to understand trends in demand ahead of time, and make adjustments to pricing accordingly. Make sure to take advantage by looking ahead at pre-sales for the coming days and weeks, and making decisions based on demand.

If there are days that are nearing capacity, or that are selling more quickly than the surrounding dates, increase prices to provide an increase in revenue, while encouraging visitors to come on other days that aren’t yet as busy. Or, if there are days that have particularly low demand, consider creating an offer to send to a select group of people, to encourage additional admissions on those days. Since visitors are choosing which day to purchase in advance, be transparent about the price differences by day, so that each visitor can choose the price and date that works best for them.

An added dimension to this flexibility is the recent ubiquity of asking visitors to book a specific time slot. Selling admission by time slot provides an added opportunity to adjust prices with demand. Just as you might adjust prices to account for days that have higher demand, consider doing the same for popular time slots. When demand is high for a particular time, increase the price slightly, to make the time slots with lower demand look more attractive. Alternatively, if you have a time slot that is consistently hard to fill, consider adjusting the price to make that time a more attractive option.

As you begin adjusting prices based on demand, make sure to keep in mind how your prices relate to membership options. If increased daily prices make membership more attractive, that’s a great selling point for memberships. On the other hand, you don’t want to undermine the value of a membership by decreasing standard prices below what a member might pay, if applicable.

Variable pricing is a relatively new concept for many museums—both for the staff and for guests. But, it’s helpful to remember that a lot of things are new and unfamiliar right now! We’re all re-learning how to interact with our favorite organizations, and we’re certainly used to things changing daily, so it’s a great time to start slowly introducing a new strategy at your organization. Begin implementing some small changes now, and by the time you’re running at full speed again, flexible pricing will be an easy part of your standard operation.