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Hawaii Museums Struggle With Low Ticket Sales, Social Distancing Requirements

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Hawaii museums continue to struggle under coronavirus restrictions and reduced traffic. For example, Bishop Museum fully closed during Oahu’s two COVID-19 shutdowns and endured attendance so low that ticket sales were down 88% from normal.

In response, it has boosted outdoor activities — including audio tours of its native garden, scavenger hunts and games on the Great Lawn — and added virtual versions of museum experiences online. To boost revenue since ticket sales were a major revenue stream, the museum has also sharpened its grant writing efforts.

Honolulu Museum of Art likewise turned to online offerings through the worst of the pandemic. It is rapidly reopening now, extending hours, bringing back live music, relaunching its Café complete with Sunday brunch and launching a year-long exhibit titled “Joyful Return.”

The museum is rehiring staff, too, now up to 100 employees compared to 120 pre-Covid.

Iolani Palace, with enormous overhead in staff and facilities, still struggles with capacity limits and social distancing rules.

Executive Director Paula Akana said that relaxing the social distancing requirement from 6 feet to 3 feet would help the museum greatly. The Palace will celebrate its 55th anniversary as a museum this summer with virtual events and fundraising.

According to Lisa Solomine, president of the Hawaii Museums Association, the museums doing best right now are those that have concentrated on grants, activated their boards, and mastered technology to facilitate both internal communication and virtual offerings.

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