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Why Do People Visit Museums?


This is the first in a series of articles examining how and why people visit museums.

There are many different reasons to visit a museum. Understanding why people choose to go to a museum can help boost attendance and allocate limited marketing resources.

In their landmark book The Museum Experience, John Howard Falk and Lynn Diane Dierking wrote, “Why does one person choose to visit a museum and another not? The actual amount of discretionary time for most Americans is limited, but the options for the use of that time seem unlimited.” Studies have shown that most people prefer to spend their leisure time at home, engaged in activities such as “gardening, hobbies, exercise, card games, board games, listening to music, reading, talking with friends, and watching television.”

So what makes someone choose to visit a museum over other activities?

People who visit museums, visit multiple museums over their lifetime, often revisiting the museums that are in close proximity to their homes. The trick is to create an experience that makes it “worth it,” so that a visit to a museum rises above all of the other potential activities – paid and unpaid – that an individual can choose.

“The decision to visit a museum involves matching personal and social interests and desires with the anticipated physical context and the associated activities of a museum,” says Falk and Dierking. “Two important considerations in leisure-time decision-making are the investment of time and money, and the importance attached to the activity, in short, the costs and the benefits of any given choice.”

People who choose to spend limited resources of time and money at a museum will come with a set of expectations: “Visitors consciously choose a place to go, a place where they can expect certain kinds of experiences whether they will be the exertion of athletics at a gym or sports fiend, the thrills of a roller coaster at an amusement park, the drama of a movie or play at a theater, or the edification of exhibits at a museum,” says Falk and Dierking.

Visitors come to us in a variety of ways. Most museum visits happen through a school field trip. As adults, museum visitors come as part of a family outing, alone, on a date, or through an organized trip (motor coach visit or club-sponsored outing). Creating a museum experience that meets visitor expectations is the key to boosting attendance.

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Content copyright © 2015 by Kim Kenney. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Kim Kenney. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Kim Kenney for details.

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