My girlfriend wants to see the Magritte show at MoMA. “Better start saving now,” I told her, but she said, no, some visitors she knew recently left the city without using all of the coupons in their little tourist coupon book, and so we have passes to get in. We started flipping through this booklet to see what other deals we could score: admission to the Empire State Building’s observation deck, tickets for a cruise around Manhattan island, admission into the Met Museum… wait, the Met Museum?
The Met of course is suggested donation, posting at its ticketing booths the recommended admission price: $25, which is outlandish. I’ve never met a New Yorker who gives the museum more than a dollar, and that seems generous by some standards. Forty-four percent of respondents to a Daily News poll earlier this year said they gave nothing. “Quarter, no more no less,” writes a Gothamist commenter. “Hey, it cost money to hold onto spoils of past wars and dynasties give or take a couple of paintings sold under duress for a sandwich and price of passage.” Ouch. Anyway, the Gothamist article it’s attached to concerns a recent Groupon deal, in which the museum sold admissions for $18—”up to a $25 value!” Or a $0 value, making for an $18 loss.
Two lawsuits were filed within the last year against the museum for deceptive admission-pricing practices. In March, I half-kidding dubbed it a “tourist tax,” writing that “it’s those dupes, I’ve always assumed, who keep admission revenue high enough so the rest of us can enjoy one of our five-borough birthrights—low-cost access to classical art.” (In the 2012 fiscal year, the Met made $37.8 million from admission revenue, an increase of more than 17 percent from the previous fiscal year. With 6.28 million visitors, that averages to about $6 a person. But admissions accounts for less than 16 percent of the museum’s revenue, roughly enough to pay for the costs of maintenance and operating services. Most of the budget comes from its endowment and grants.) If revenues dipped slightly, what would happen? Would the museum have to start closing again on Mondays? Good!
The Groupon thing is damning, though: along with the for-tourists coupon books and whatever else we haven’t uncovered yet, it’s clear that the Met works aggressively to create the impression that it costs $25 to enter the museum, so that even if you didn’t take them up on the Groupon, you would figure it was just a deal you missed instead of a scam you were smart enough not to get suckered by. But, you know, Bloomberg is always saying we should be nice to tourists because they spend a lot of money here. So, let them spend the money, then! $500 pedicab rides and all.
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