Smithsonian draws more people, brings in extra cash

Last year wasn’t bad for everyone. The Smithsonian Institution returned to past glory, logging more than 30 million visits. Action at the Smithsonian hasn’t been this high since before the 9/11-related travel market slump. The 18 museums and galleries — and the zoo — saw an up-tick of 19.4 percent in 2009, up from 25.15 million visits the year before. The fact it’s free to visit probably helped. A difficult economy, magnified for the travel market, left those actually taking to the road to find ways to cut costs. Free attractions take a big item out of a trip’s budget (and one that can sneak up on you in size). And, extended hours over the summer brought in more bodies.

Because of the increase in traffic, revenue at museum stores, theaters and restaurants actually increased from 2008, a rarity in the travel any industry last year. At least some of the credit belongs to locals, since hotel occupancy rates stayed flat from 2008 to 2009. The American History Museum was the star of the Smithsonian collection, drawing 1.4 million more people than it did in 2005, the last full year before its recent renovation began. The National Museum of Natural History added 450,000 visitors, bringing the 2009 total to 7.4 million, making it tops in the Smithsonian. Only the National Air and Space Museum and National Museum of the American Indian experienced declines.

[Photo by mp_eds via Flickr]