Mansion attendance improves for fifth consecutive year

Visits to the mansions managed by the Preservation Society of Newport County increased by 2.5 percent during the nonprofit’s fiscal 2014 year compared with a year earlier. More

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Mansion attendance improves for fifth consecutive year

ADMISSIONS FOR TOURS of the Newport mansions, including The Breakers, whose dining room is pictured here, totaled 909,463 in fiscal year 2014, an increase of 2.5 percent over the previous year's 887,045, according to the Preservation Society of Newport County.
Posted 4/3/14

NEWPORT – Visits to the mansions managed by the Preservation Society of Newport County increased by 2.5 percent during the nonprofit’s fiscal 2014 year compared with a year earlier.

Admissions totaled 909,463 during the 12 months ended March 31 compared with 887,045 during the same period a year ago, said John Rodman, director of museum experience.

The fiscal 2014 increase constitutes the fifth year of improved mansion visits, Rodman said. Last year, admissions climbed 11.5 percent and rose about 3 percent annually in previous years.

This past year’s attendance is “essentially” a tie with fiscal year 2001, the second-best year on record, Rodman said. Although that year’s admission total was slightly higher, at 910,530, this year’s figure by comparison is undercounted, he said, because children were manually counted in 2001 but now children under age 6 are admitted without a ticket.

The nonprofit’s 2014 attendance figures are just shy of “the big three” attractions in Boston, said Rodman: the Museum of Science, the Museum of Fine Arts and the New England Aquarium.

“We are number four” in the region, said Rodman. “The next-nearest museum to us is several hundred thousand admissions behind us.”

These four museums are growing at a comparable rate, Rodman added.

“The large museums are doing really well,” he said. “[With] smaller museums in the region, you see great swings, a lot of unevenness. I think it has to do with some much bigger market forces. The recession of five years ago really hammered the museum community and we really felt it. A lot of people have not been able to bounce back. Those people who had a strategy and executed it well are doing the best right now, but it is a national trend it is not just regional.”

Surveys show that introducing new mansion tour content and improving the visitor experience at the Breaker’s, which this past year got almost half of all visitors with 415,000 admissions, has “revolutionized” the tour experience, Rodman said.

“We’ve been in the process of producing new content for five years now,” said Rodman. “We have produced a new major tour every year for the past five years. And we have dramatically transformed the visitor experience.”

Where there used to be lines lasting 25 minutes before guided tours, audio tours now enable individuals and groups to start their tours as soon as they’re ready, he said, practically erasing wait times.

Moving the marketing focus heavily into digital and social media has also helped improve engagement, he said, particularly using Facebook and Pinterest. Two new Facebook pages are coming within the next few weeks, he said.

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