When NEMO published the findings of a study on the impact of COVID-19 on museums in May this year, predicting a long-term dramatic drop in revenue until the end of 2020, we hoped that the steep fall would stop for a while as museums began to open in early summer and tourists started to arrive.

In the NEMO’s study, many museums reported a loss of revenue around 75-80%, and large museums and those located in tourist areas counted losses in the hundreds of thousands of euros per week in the first wave of the pandemic. As spring came, it was clear that museums were hit hard by the global decline in tourism, and the OECD, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, then predicted a 50 to 70% decline in international tourism. Since cultural tourism makes 40% of all the tourism in Europe, it was not surprising that the declining trend was going to impact the museum attendance and income in the period of the ‘new normal.’

The largest and most visited European museums have just begun opening in July and August, so, on the global level, there is no clear indication of how the museums overcame the first summer with COVID-19. Nevertheless, the Museum Documentation Center (MDC) surveyed the most visited museums in Croatia—they are the same ones that regularly record the highest number of visitors due to the influx of foreign tourists during the summer season. According to the annual statistics collected and analyzed by MDC in recent years, the following museums appear interchangeably in the top five most visited Croatian museums: the Archaeological Museum of Istria in Pula, the Museum of the City of Split—both managing the most popular and famous ancient Roman monuments in Croatia, the Amphitheatre in Pula and the Cellars of Diocletian’s Palace in Split respectively—the Dubrovnik Museums, and in Zagreb the Museum of Broken Relationships and the Klovićevi dvori Gallery. The Nikola Tesla Technical Museum and the Museums of Hrvatsko Zagorje are also very popular, even though foreign tourists do not make up the majority of their audience.

At the beginning of 2021, when we will have collected statistical data for 2020 from all museums in the Republic of Croatia, we will be able to determine the accurate drop in the number of visitors; for now, the data from these five museums show a 79.18% decline in the number of visitors in July and August 2020.

Dubrovnik Museums recorded 84,480 visitors in July and August of 2019, and in the same period this year, the number was 18,197 or a 78.4% drop. At the peak of the season last year, the Museum of the City of Split recorded 99,761 visitors in two months, and in 2020 the number plummeted to 15,589 visitors or an 84.3% decline. The Archaeological Museum of Istria, the most visited Croatian museum for years, lost 55.6% of visits this summer, dropping from 247,344 in the summer of 2019 to 109,687 visitors in 2020.

Cumulatively, the Klovićevi dvori Gallery recorded a 13% increase, from 17,555 visitors in 2019 to 19,861 in 2020. However, they also reported that the 17,000 visitors have to do with rescheduling caused by the pandemic and the earthquake—the postponement of the Baš Naš Festival from June to July, and bringing back events like the Nights on Grič and the Amadeo Summer Stage to their outdoor spaces. Regarding the visits to the exhibitions held at the Klovićevi dvori and the Lotrščak Tower, it is clear that the number dropped from 16,555 last summer to 1,361 this season.

Last summer, 3,000 people visited the exhibition The Intangible Cultural Heritage of Bosnia and Herzegovina in this museum, and the Nino Vranić exhibition 203 visitors. This summer, 36 people visited the Miljenko Domijan exhibition, while 103 people visited the 8th Croatian Biennale of Illustration. The number of visits to the Lotrščak Tower also dropped drastically. While in 2019, there were 5,037 visitors to the Tower in July, and in August 8,315 visitors, this summer, in turn, the famous Zagreb attraction sold only 1,222 tickets. In total, this summer, the Klovićevi dvori Gallery recorded only 8.9% of its 2019 turnover, not counting events.

The Museum of Broken Relationships, globally the most famous Zagreb museum, is also a good indicator of the crisis; the coronavirus ‘ate away’ 85.9% of their visitors—the 34,045 visitors from July and August 2019 fell to 4,788 visitors in summer 2020. That is not surprising since the Croatian Tourist Board data shows that, compared to the same period last year, the city of Zagreb recorded a 76% decrease in tourist arrivals in July 2020.

What this decline means to those museums that make serious money on tickets is best shown by the data provided to us by Darko Komšo, director of the Archaeological Museum of Istria. This museum earned 8.4 million HRK on tickets at all its locations in July and August 2019, and 4.5 million HRK in the same period this year. The loss of almost four million HRK means that this agile museum was losing nearly 150 thousand euros every week this summer.

The data will be even gloomier at the end of the year because peak season is over, COVID-19 is unfortunately not. School visits and excursions are on hold, and most of the museums in Zagreb remain closed. Croatian museums, like those around the world, have been hit by an unprecedented crisis. Unlike our colleagues from the most developed countries in the world, Croatian museum workers have not felt the fear of layoffs for now. But, with the help and support of founders who ought to help museums survive, we, the museum community, need to ‘adjust’—as Marin Držić would say—and use this time of reduced interaction with users for everything else that we did not have time to: from inventory to digitization and the creation of new digital content, activities, and services that are seeing increases in value, importance, and impact in the ‘new normal.’

(Maja Kocijan, published originally in News from the Museum World 123, 8 September 2020; translated by Ivona Marić)