Both paid visitation and revenue was down in 2018 compared to the previous year at Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation museums.
At that’s due, at least in part, to the failure to summit the mountain of revenue and visitors generated by the excitement of a new museum. In 2017, the foundation opened its American Revolution Museum at Yorktown.
“We knew it would be difficult to maintain the momentum in visitation drawn by the opening of the new American Revolution Museum at Yorktown a year earlier,” said Susan Bak, senior director of marketing and retail operations .
A new attraction is hard to beat. But the foundation is trying something else new in 2019 — a few special-ticketed, evening events. That, along with 2019 being an anniversary year of events related to the early Virginia colony, makes the foundation optimistic that it will have better luck this year, Bak said.
Paid visitation at both the foundation’s museums — Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum — totaled 533,730 people in 2018, an almost 13 percent decrease from paid visits at museums in 2017. Admission revenue totaled $5.7 million in 2018, which is about 10 percent less than the admission revenue generated the previous year, according to a foundation news release.
In 2017, 610,844 people paid to visit the museums, generating $6.3 million in revenue.
There were 174,043 people who visited the American Revolution Museum in 2018, a 14.5 percent drop from the previous year. Jamestown Settlement welcomed 359,687 paid visitors last year, which was a decrease of 11.7 percent compared to 2017.
In the two-year run up to the opening of the American Revolution Museum, both that museum’s predecessor, the Yorktown Victory Center and Jamestown Settlement, had year-over-year increases in visitation.
At the Yorktown Victory Center, there were 170,509 paid visitors in 2015 and 179,856 paid visitors in 2016. At Jamestown Settlement there were 439,583 paid visitors in 2015 and 454,410 paid visitors in 2016, Bak said.
In 2018, ticket sales to individuals, rather than groups, made up 63 percent of total paid visitors to the foundation’s museums. About 70 percent of individual visitors came from out of state.
One bright spot for the year was an increase in the foundation’s cooperative tickets and packages with other attractions, such as the America’s Historic Triangle ticket. That ticket provided sevens days of unlimited admission to the foundation’s museums, Colonial Williamsburg, Historic Jamestowne and Yorktown Battlefield.
“We were pleased to see select programs deliver positive results during the past year, including a year-over-year, 4 percent increase in America’s Historic Triangle cooperative tickets,” Bak said.
Looking forward, the foundation is hopeful a foray into evening ticketed programming will be popular with visitors.
Jamestown Settlement held “After Angelo” on Feb. 23. The day-long event celebrated African-American women with presentations and performances. That evening, the museum welcomed jazz musicians for a special after-hours concert. Bak said the event was a success and suggests good things about the concept.
The original play “Mother Tongue,” written by Emmy-award winning script writer Abigail Schumann, will debut in May. The play chronicles the lives of three women from the English, African and Indian cultures that collided at Jamestown.
Alongside those programs are long-term, set-piece exhibitions in the museums. “Tenacity,” which focuses on the lives of English and African women at the Jamestown colony and nearby Native American tribes, and “Forgotten Soldier,” which explores the experiences of black soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War, are exhibitions focused on minorities and women, which the museums hopes will attract new audiences.
“We’re trying to appeal to a variety of audiences,” Bak said.
This year is also the 400th anniversary of several key events that happened in 1619 that had a fundamental impact on the development of the United States — such as the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in English North America and the first meeting of a representative legislature in English North America.
The 2019 Commemoration, American Evolution event is a statewide commemoration of the anniversary and stands to bring a lot of attention, and potentially tourists’ dollars, to the epicenter of many of those events: Jamestown. This year is also the first year of the Tourism Council’s marketing efforts, which hopefully will bolster visitation to the region and benefit the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, Bak said.
Jack Jacobs, 757-298-6007, email@example.com, @jajacobs_