1.2m visitors for Louvre Abu Dhabi: doing well, will do better

April 02, 2021 - Part of an architecture campaign. A general view of the exterior of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, seen from the concrete beach area, on Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. © Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi / Photo Yiorgis Yerolymbos

In 2023, Louvre Abu Dhabi recorded a total 1,247,076 visitors. And in the middle of last month, it passed the five million mark for the just over five years since it opened in November 2017; the museum hasn’t made a big thing of visitor numbers before now, but clearly the numbers are ramping up.

A total of 1.2m puts the museum at no.54 in the just-published Art Newspaper Visitor Figures 2023 survey of 100 museums around the world. Around that total is a clutch of institutions that include the Kelvingrove in Glasgow, the Hong Kong Museum of Art, the Getty Center, and Oslo’s Nasjonalmuseet. That’s not bad company to keep, but it’s a long way to the dizzy heights of the top ten:

RankVisitorsMuseumCityChange from 2022Change from 2019
103,273,753State Hermitage MuseumSt Petersburg+16%-34%
93,337,550Museo Nacional del PradoMadrid+36%-5%
83,829,812National Gallery of ArtWashington+18%-6%
73,871,498Musée d'OrsayParis+18%+6%
64,180,285National Museum of Korea SeoulSeoul+23%+25%
54,742,038Tate ModernLondon+22%-22%
45,364,000Metropolitan Museum of Art †New York+67%+10%
35,820,860British MuseumLondon+42%-7%
26,764,858Vatican MuseumsVatican City+33%-2%
18,860,000Musée du LouvreParis+15%-8%

In total, the top 100 museums in the chart received 175 million visitors in 2023, up on the preceding year’s 141 million but still well shy of the 230 million visitors recorded in 2019. Incidentally, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is one of the few museums in the list to report a significant increase on the pre-pandemic figures. While most are just about getting back to 2019 levels, Louvre AD turned in a decent 28 percent increase. As the survey notes, “the Louvre Abu Dhabi, which opened in 2017, perhaps never got a chance to reach its full potential before Covid”.

Overall, it’s clear that the strategic intention of the investment is working. Louvre Abu Dhabi is key to the plan to make Abu Dhabi a high-end cultural destination, and indeed ‘international visitors’ represented a healthy 72 percent of the total (though it’s not clear whether this just means non-Emirati nationals or actual tourist-visa visitors).

From the Louvre Abu Dhabi Children’s Museum exhibition Picturing the Cosmos in July 2023

Engaging the young has always been another key objective, and Louvre Abu Dhabi’s Children’s Museum had 231,493 visitors to its two 2023 exhibitions – Picturing the Cosmos and Emotions! The New Art Adventure.

The museum’s school and university programmes are picking up too, with a 75 percent increase in student and teacher involvement by comparison to 2022. That’s from a pretty low base – Louvre Abu Dhabi counts something over 45,000 student visitors for initiatives like ‘Schools Take Over the Museum’ and ‘University Take Over the Museum’, and there are something like 380,000 school students in the Emirate – but the direction of travel is obviously good.

Outdoor activities and activations around the museum played a significant role in visitor numbers, contributing one in ten of the total count last year. Most of those will presumably be locals – the programming included talks, performances, film festivals, celebrations around special days and outreach to community centres. The museum curated a programme around the maritime tradition for UAE National Day on the theme Tales from the Sea and supported Cop28 with a series of talks. It also hosted a series of leisure and sports activities, like the first Louvre Abu Dhabi Run, yoga under the dome for International Yoga Day, the successful kayaking, and the recently arrived electric catamarans.

Specific events for People of Determination and senior citizens were also held, demonstrating a commitment to inclusivity.

Also to be commended is the commitment to digital innovation. There are flickers of this in the collection displays, and the museum has launched a series of podcasts linked to the exhibitions, but in particular a lot of work has gone into the museum’s app. A new version introduced in 2023 has a cleaner, quicker interface and the AI-ish Art Scan image recognition feature that can recognise artworks – all of which should improve the somewhat middling ratings that it’s getting on the app stores. Those amendments plus a bit more promotion saw an increase of 46 percent increase in downloads over the previous year, reaching 123,720 in 2023; and 10 percent of total visitors isn’t a bad hit rate.

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