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Request for café operator reveals how Royal B.C. Museum attendance has plunged

Average daily visitor numbers plummeted more than 50 per cent from 2019-2020 to the following year, and remain well below pre-pandemic figures
The Royal B.C. Museum request for proposals for a food and beverage operator comes with a caution: the future of the museum remains uncertain. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

The Royal B.C. Museum’s request for proposals for a food and beverage operator is ­providing a sneak peek into how a pandemic-related ­tourism downturn combined with a controversial decision to close its third floor hurt attendance at one of the city’s most critical tourist attractions.

Average daily visitor numbers plummeted more than 50 per cent from 1,300 in the 2019-2020 fiscal year to 600 the following year, according to the document. The average for 2020-2021 was 629 visitors a day.

While it’s since been rising, attendance remains far below pre-pandemic numbers.

Between Jan. 1 of this year and Oct. 1, the Belleville Street museum has seen an average of 813 visitors per day.

The museum’s request for proposals comes with a ­caution: “Interested parties should be aware that the future of the RBCM is uncertain and the ­contract terms reflect this.”

Posted Thursday, the opportunity to bid closes Nov. 17, with the contract set to start in ­January.

As museum attendance plunged, so did sales for the operator of a B.C.-themed food and beverage service on the main floor.

The museum said approximate gross sales reached $700,000 in 2018-2019 and again in 2019-2020, but dropped to $200,000 in 2020-2021 and again in 2021-2022.

The museum estimates gross sales of $150,000 to $200,000 for 2022-2023.

A mobile food and beverage counter must be open daily and appear as though it is permanent but be able to move elsewhere on the main floor depending on events in the lobby, the museum said.

The contractor will pay the museum five per cent of monthly gross sales, provided that the operator would not lose money. The percentage will be renegotiated each year up to a maximum of 10 per cent.

The proposal is for a one-year contract, which could be extended to run a maximum of six years in total.

Contentious plans for major changes at the museum have repeatedly made headlines in the past year.

In November, the museum announced it was closing its third-floor galleries — including the Old Town and other European settler history displays — in what it described as a decolonization effort.

Then in May, Premier John Horgan announced that the five-building museum would close in September of this year to be torn down and replaced with a new museum to open in 2030.

Combined with a new archives and collection building underway in Colwood, the total bill would have been $1 billion.

That cost, along with the prospect of having no museum until 2030, prompted a public backlash.

In June, the province changed course, saying the museum would remain open to visitors while a major public ­consultation was underway, looking into options for the museum’s future.

The start of the consultation program has not been announced.

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