Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20 - 39)



Mr Griffiths

  20. Mr Wilson, you were the Master of the Armouries responsible for the National Museum of Arms and Armour at the Tower, one of the magnet visitor attractions in the world. Have you ever been in charge of a museum which is away from such a magnet of attraction?

  (Mr Wilson) I have spent my career in the Royal Armouries, so I have been in charge of the Royal Armouries in the Tower, at its Artillery Museum at Fort Nelson and now at its Leeds home.

  21. Is that answer no?

  (Mr Wilson) In that I have not worked in any other museum, yes.

  22. This report and the consequences of the problem seem to hinge on visitor numbers. It says visitor numbers are the key and it made losses from the first day it opened in 1996 because of that. The projections for visitor numbers look five times more exaggerated than the Dome's turned out to be on page 3. What were you comparing your likely visitor numbers with? What was your comparable fairly new museum? What was your comparator? What made you think that you might get 1.2 million visitors which would make you overnight one of the top ten visitor attractions in Britain? Which other museums had you looked at and said you would do as well as them or double them?

  (Mr Wilson) To reinforce what I said before, we took the advice of four consultants all of whom came up with similar figures.

  23. I am not asking about consultants. Name a museum.

  (Mr Wilson) At the time we were looking at museums and attractions outside of London, like the Jorvik Viking Centre, like the National Railway Museum, like the National Museum of Photography and Film in Bradford, those sorts of areas, those sorts of museums.

  24. What was the lesson which was learned from the Jorvik Centre?

  (Mr Wilson) The Jorvik Centre started very well, was very popular for a considerable amount of time and has gradually become less so; a lot of people think because it did not have sufficient money to re-invest in its product.

  25. How many visitors does it get?

  (Mr Wilson) Currently I believe somewhere between 400,000 and 500,000.

  26. It is two and a half times more successful than the Royal Armouries Museum.

  (Mr Wilson) In 1990 it was getting 865,000.

  27. Yes, but in 1996 you were getting 324,000.

  (Mr Wilson) In a part year; the first full year was about 400,000.

  28. We do not have a 400,000 figure here.

  (Mr Wilson) You will not.

  (Mr O'Boyle) It opened on 30 March, so it is nine months for the calendar year. The actual full year would be March to March, which is 400,000.

  29. How much does ticket price affect visitor numbers?

  (Mr Wilson) My previous point was that we do not know. It was one of a number of potential contributing factors.

  30. I know. The higher the price, the fewer people go. I think that is accepted.

  (Mr Wilson) That is accepted. The question is how steep is the curve or line from there downwards and that is different for every attraction, or appears to be different for every attraction.

  31. You had a support group of museum experts who I understand were telling you the price was too high to start with. Is that correct[1]?

  (Mr Wilson) We in the Royal Armouries, having taken—

  32. I am sorry I cannot have a long answer. Is it correct that the support group said your ticket price regime was too high?

  (Mr Wilson) No. It is correct to say that we in the Royal Armouries were concerned about the ticket price and made those feelings known to Royal Armouries (International). They were looking at the MEW research which was the most recent research, which did not bear out our view[2]

  33. I understand from Amanda McCaig of your support group that that was made clear, confirmed, I understand, by Dr Alan Radford.

  (Mr Wilson) Those two people are individuals and had an individual view. There was not a view from any support group or any consultant we employ or use that those numbers were overly high[3].

  34. So what went wrong?

  (Mr Wilson) We wish we knew. It is a whole range of factors which one has to look at. First of all, from the time we had that research, the whole climate in which visitor attractions had been working has changed. There are more of them, the increase in visitor numbers which was expected during the 1990s did not really occur, there was far more competition, that did not help. For us, people have asked whether there was a factor because of the Dunblane tragedy which affected people's views on firearms which happened just before the museum opened. Did that affect the way people viewed the subject? When the consultants were looking at reasons why we might not achieve our numbers, they said we had to make sure the Clarence Dock development around us was there, giving us the centre of gravity to attract a large number of people to the area. That has not happened yet.

  Mr Griffiths: That is covered in the report.


  35. May I just interrupt because we appear to be being told two different things? You said that no consultant indicated to you that the price/volume relationship was steep, yet you told me at the beginning that MORI predicted fewer than the figures you were aiming for on the pricing you adopted.

  (Mr Wilson) No, if I said that I did not mean to say that. What I was saying was that no consultant suggested that there was a reason why we should not achieve the numbers which other consultants were suggesting. They were all suggesting slightly different numbers in slightly different ways, but no-one was actually saying we would not achieve these numbers, nor was there any group out there associated with the Armouries advising us as experts saying this either.

  36. Just so we are clear on this and I understand it properly, because I clearly misunderstood your opening comments, on the MORI evidence, which presumably was survey evidence, you have a £5 forecast line here, the light grey one. Where would the £6.95 or £7 line come on your graph?

  (Mr Wilson) That would come beneath the bottom line because they were saying 278,000. They were saying it was very price sensitive.

  37. So their forecast was below the one you adopted.

  (Mr Wilson) Their forecast was at that price.

Mr Griffiths

  38. I have spoken to MORI. MORI tell me that the specific questions they were asked to put on this shaped the answers and that the answers were inflated and that had they put different questions in a different way, we might have got a more realistic figure. May I ask you about the importance of marketing?

  (Mr Wilson) Yes. That was another of the issues which were raised by most of the consultants. The museum would have to be marketed extremely well.

  39. How important is a website for marketing for museums these days?

  (Mr Wilson) These days it is of increasing importance.

1   Note: See Evidence, Appendix 1, page 21 (PAC 2000-2001/153). Back

2   Note: See Evidence, Appendix 1, page 21 (PAC 2000-2001/153). Back

3   Note: See Evidence, Appendix 1, page 21 (PAC 2000-2001/153). Back

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