A favorable epidemiological situation and a good tourist season in July and August 2021 strongly affected the number of museum visitors. The five museums that in previous years had been attracting the highest number of visitors, this summer in the peak of tourist season saw an 84,9% increase in museum visits compared to the same period last year. That is still at 70% of the visits made to the five Croatian museums in the pre-pandemic 2019.

This September, as in the previous year, Museum Documentation Center (MDC) collected the data about the number of visitors to the five most visited museums in the Republic of Croatia: Archaeological Museum of Istria in Pula, Museum of the City of Split, Dubrovnik Museums, Museums of Hrvatsko Zagorje and Klovićevi Dvori Gallery.

We will be able to determine the exact increase only at the beginning of 2022, by which time we will have gathered the statistical data from all museums for the entire 2021. Until then, the visitor figures obtained from these five museums, which annually attract a third of all museum visitors in Croatia, indicate how much the increase or decrease in the number of tourists has affected the attendance and income of the museum.

Archaeological Museum of Istria, for years the absolute champion in museum attendance, with the Pula Arena under its care, increased the number of its visitors from 109,687 last year to 175,189. Compared to 2020, 59.7% still accounts for 70.8% of attendance from 2019. Museum of the City of Split, whose data include the attendance to Diocletian’s Palace, recorded the most considerable increase in July and August 2021, with an incredible 364.7%, jumping from 15,589 visitors last summer to 72,441 this year, which is 72.6% of the pre-pandemic levels.


Compared to last year, Dubrovnik Museums also recorded a massive 199.9% increase. However, these 54,565 visitors made up only 64.6% of the attendance in 2019. The south of Croatia was hit hard by the decline in tourist arrivals last summer due to the pandemic, causing the attendance of Dubrovnik Museums to drop from 84,440 visitors in 2019 to only 18,197 in 2020.

Klovićevi Dvori Gallery is the only one among the most visited museums that, compared to the summer of 2020, this summer recorded a 45.5% drop. The analysis of data the Gallery provided shows that, due to the feeble awakening of tourist traffic in Zagreb, the number of visitors to the Lotrščak Tower increased from merely 1,222 the previous summer to 7,746 this year. At the same time, about 15,000 visitors—earned last summer due to the changes caused by the pandemic and earthquake when a series of events and concerts were postponed to summer months and moved into the outdoor spaces of Klovićvi Dvori—were lost. When we look at the exhibition attendance of the Klovićevi Dvori, we can see that the visitor numbers jumped from 139 in the previous summer to 1,072 this summer, but that still makes up only a third of the attendance from 2019.

Museums of Hrvatsko Zagorje had 22,410 visitors this summer—24.4% more than in summer 2020 and 21.4% less than in 2019. A significantly smaller decline and increase in the number of visitors is because the attendance of these museums is less dependent on the international tourist arrivals. According to the MDC data, in the last pre-pandemic year, 15% of visitors to the Museum of Hrvatsko Zagorje were international tourists, as were 38% of visitors to the Museum of the City of Split, and 88% of visitors to the Archaeological Museum of Istria.


The world''s museums have not yet released attendance data for the first months after reopenings, but they are certainly still far from the optimism with which the new normal was ushered in. European museums, unlike Croatian ones, were closed this year as well, having to, in a majority of cases, adhere to much stricter epidemiological measures, even after reopening. British museums did not reopen until mid-May, after the third lockdown and the first probing into the return of visitors carried out by the Art Newspaper at the end of this June indicated that the largest and most visited museums in London are far from returning to the old normal. In the first month after reopening, the National Gallery attracted only 13% of the visitors recorded in 2019, the British Museum 20%, and the Victoria & Albert Museum—which had to reduce the number of working days from seven to five—about 22% of the pre-pandemic visitors.

In every tourist country, the increase or decrease in museum attendance reflects the epidemiological situation and measures, including the tourist traffic. Spain, one of the countries most affected by the pandemic in Europe, this summer recorded visitor growth attributed to the drop in the number of COVID-19 patients, a high vaccination rate, the lifting of travel restrictions, and a consequent increase in tourists. All the major museums, such as the Prado Museum, the Reina Sofia, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, doubled their visitor numbers compared to the previous summer. But that attendance is far from the pre-pandemic levels. The Reina Sofia Museum attracted an enviable 547,914 visitors this summer, twice as many as last year, but far from the 1.3 million in 2019.

This summer temporarily stopped the dramatic drop in visitor numbers and revenues, but new pandemic waves dragged the worst crisis that hit museums into 2021.

The data will be much gloomier at the end of the year. The season is over, but, unfortunately, the pandemic is not. New restrictions are looming, and the 84.9% increase recorded this summer by Croatian museums that are most attractive to tourists will be watered-down in the devastation left by the pandemic and earthquake. Two-thirds of museums in Zagreb are entering the fall with closed doors, including the major national museums. Instead of exhibiting, they are preparing the museum collection for evacuation so that the reconstruction of the destroyed buildings can finally begin. In the meantime, museums should adjust to these new times—strengthen inter-museum cooperation; work on object documentation; get to know their audience; prepare new permanent exhibits and create new digital content, activities, and services to stay visible—despite the difficult times.

(Maja Kocijan, published originally in News from the Museum World 150, 21 September 2021; translated by Ivona Marić)