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With 7.5 Million Visitors, National Museum of China Beat Louvre as 2016’s Most Popular Museum

Almost 108 million people visited museums around the world last year, according to a new report.

The National Museum of China in Beijing was 2016’s top-attended museum in the world. (photo by Andrew Sales/Flickr, used under CC BY 2.0 license)

The most attended museum in the world last year was Beijing’s National Museum of China, according to a new report published by the international nonprofit Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) in collaboration with engineering company AECOM. Released earlier this month, the study features a list of the 20 museums that drew the most visitors in 2016, and unlike the art-specific annual report produced by The Art Newspaper, it examines museums of all kinds, including science and natural history. Art institutions, however, do account for 13 of the top 20, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the British Museum, and Tate Modern.

Visited by 7,550,000 people last year, the National Museum of China dethroned 2015’s most popular museum, the Louvre. The Parisian institution now sits in third place, behind Washington, DC’s National Air and Space Museum, having suffered a nearly 15% drop in visitors (to 7,400,000). It did receive more foot traffic than Hong Kong Disneyland (6,100,000) — which we know because TEA TEA’s so-called “Global Attractions Attendance Report” crunches the numbers on amusement and water parks around the world, too. Unsurprisingly, the top 15 amusement parks all surpassed the top 20 museums in terms of attendance last year.

List of 20 top-attended museums worldwide (image © 2017 TEA/AECOM)

Those 20 museums, however, set a new record high together in 2016, attracting a near total of 108 million attendees. The jump is relatively small, exceeding the last record by just over one million visitors, but it bodes well in the face of any local recessions, technological trends, or dips in government funding. (Animal rights advocates will be happy to know that the majority of those museums were also more popular than SeaWorld Orlando — the world’s 25th-most-popular amusement park — which experienced a 7.9% decrease in attendance from 2015).

Researchers have actually observed a 2–3% overall growth in worldwide museum attendance since 2012 — the year TEA first incorporated museums into what was then a seven-year-old study. Most of that stems from increased numbers in Asia, although the US and European markets have each witnessed about a 1% annual growth. The increase in Asia, the researchers note, stems largely from the Chinese government’s investment in developing hundreds of new museums every year, as well as its sponsorship of free admission. And the National Museum of China, of course, has an inherently huge advantage, given its country’s population size and its location in a major tourist destination.

Tourism is largely to blame for the Louvre’s drop in numbers — or rather, a lack thereof. Between 2015 and 2016, tourism in the greater Paris region fell 1.5%, caused not only by economic and political events, but by a season of particularly heavy rain, according to the study. As Hyperallergic previously reported, the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, and the Grand Palais were forced to close last June due to dangerous flooding of the Seine.

The researchers also break down museum attendance by region, carving up the world into North America, Asia-Pacific, and EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa), conspicuously leaving out South America. The chart of top 20 North American museums is comprised exclusively of US institutions, with the seven most popular located in either New York City or Washington, DC. Six of the 20 are art museums, and the top performers, unsurprisingly, offer free admission.

List of 20 top-attended museums in North America (image © 2017 TEA/AECOM)
Regional distribution of attendance at the 20 top-attended museums in North America (image © 2017 TEA/AECOM)

As you might have guessed, only museums in Europe make it onto the EMEA top 20. Those in London dominate the list, which features 16 art museums and a few science and natural history institutions. The Louvre, despite its attendance drop, still sits at number one, with nearly one million more visitors than the runner-up, the British Museum.

List of 20 top-attended museums in EMEA (image © 2017 TEA/AECOM)
Regional distribution of attendance at the 20 top-attended museums in EMEA (image © 2017 TEA/AECOM)

And below are the stats for the Asia-Pacific region, which, again, hold little surprise: the top 20 museums are almost all based in China, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea, although the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne and India’s Science City both make the cut.

List of 20 top-attended museums in Asia-Pacific (image © 2017 TEA/AECOM)
Regional distribution of attendance at the 20 top-attended museums in Asia-Pacific (image © 2017 TEA/AECOM)

The continued growth in attendance since 2012 stems from many museums’ successful reshaping of the visitor experience, particularly through technology, the report notes. VR, for example, is “pervasive” now, compared to just a year ago, when only a few museums were considering integrating it in some form. More institutions than ever also allow photography, often even creating opportunities for pictures.

“We have seen them become more directly competitive for the leisure and family audience, and more technologically sophisticated,” the researchers write. “They have incorporated tools of themed entertainment and experience design, and embraced blockbuster exhibitions and IP storytelling. The role of the collection has likewise shifted — how it is presented, how it can be accessed.” That last note no doubt alludes to the fact that museums have increasingly been digitizing large portions of their collections and uploading them to publicly accessible databases. The fact that institutions maintain strong visitor numbers seems to refute a common assumption that providing online access to artworks removes the incentive to make the trip and see them in person.

Attendance region distribution of the top 20 worldwide museums, for 2012 and 2016 (image © 2017 TEA/AECOM)
Five-year attendance trend at the top 20 museums worldwide (image © 2017 TEA/AECOM)
Five-year attendance trend by region (image © 2017 TEA/AECOM)

Read Themed Entertainment Association’s entire report online.

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