In April 2022, we were delighted to return in person to Stockholm to meet with members of our Swedish National Museums consortium. Nine museum sites across Stockholm, Malmö and Göteborg undertake ongoing research to monitor the profile, motivations, drivers and experiences of their visitors. Many museums have consistently conducted this research since 2017, enabling us to identify year-on-year developments, and in particular assess and understand the impact of Coronavirus.
Together, we explored the changes in visit numbers and audience profile from our ongoing visitor research throughout 2021, as well as wider trends affecting the cultural sector.
Like many museums in large urban centres, the National Museums in Stockholm are heavily reliant on international tourism. Unsurprisingly, one of the continuing fallouts of the pandemic is the slow return of this critical audience.
Pre-pandemic, international visits accounted for an average of 62% of visits to museums within the consortium. In 2021, they accounted for just 15%. The absence of this key audience has therefore had a significant impact on the sector.
Tourism data in Stockholm shows that, following a significant drop in visits in 2020 (1.3m) there were signs of recovery in 2021. In 2021, international visits to Stockholm increased by 29% (+378k) on the previous year to 1.7m; but this is still just 36% of pre-pandemic levels in 2019 (4.8m).
So, how will the market respond in 2022? Quite simply, we aren’t sure. The usual market projections have been disrupted by Coronavirus, and few in Scandinavia are committing to a number, particularly in light of the Russia-Ukraine war. In the UK, our national tourist board is currently anticipating international visits to reach around half of what they were in 2019, contingent on continuing relaxation of travel restrictions and increase in traveller confidence. Obviously in the UK we are not only dealing with Covid but also the fall out of Brexit, which is undoubtedly suppressing our international tourism – but we can take it as an indication here in Sweden.
The absence of international visitors resulted in the greater dominance and reliance on domestic audiences within the consortium museums in 2021. Whilst it has always been important to engage a closely connected, regularly returning local audience, the pandemic has made this an imperative.
Again, it is hard to predict patterns of domestic tourism through 2022, as we continue to respond to fast-changing developments and unique circumstances. It is hoped that those who explored their own local area and spent their holidays in their country more so than pre-lockdown will continue to do so, rather than returning to international vacations.
When museums first re-opened post-lockdowns in 2020, we initially saw exceptionally high levels of visit satisfaction, and this has continued in the Sweden consortium through 2021. With visit numbers still significantly depressed in comparison to pre-pandemic levels, those who are visiting are relishing in the space, enjoying opportunities to spend longer onsite and engaging more deeply with the art. Museum hosts have played a critical part in this, not only ensuring visitors feel at ease with Covid regulations, but also sharing their knowledge of the collections.
This time next year, as we reflect back on the 2022 research year, we will have hopefully seen further steps towards those pre-pandemic levels in terms of visit numbers, mostly driven by international visitors. But we also hope that the museums are able to continue to attract local audiences, to elicit those deeper engagement states and to sustain high satisfaction among audiences.