We’ve been trying for weeks to get the details of Ark Encounter’s attendance in its second year of existence, but Ken Ham has given conflicting reports to different news outlets. Until a public records request comes through, it’s hard to know what’s actually happening.
Here’s the big discrepancy: Ham told a mainstream news outlet that:
1) 1,000,000 people visited the Ark in its second year, and…
2) … this was a 20% jump from the first year…
3) … Which means 800,000 people visited in that first year.
Total: 1.8 million visitors altogether.
But Ham also told the Grant County News, which routinely publishes puff pieces designed to make the Ark look good, something very different. He told them more than two million people have visited so far.
On top of all that, there’s another problem. We don’t have any confirmed attendance numbers for the first year, but starting in the second year, because of a local “safety fee,” anyone can look at the public records to see what Ham was reporting as actual paid attendance.
While we’re still waiting for the last few months of data (coming soon!), but get this: City officials in Williamstown reported that over 11 months, the safety fee amount they collected meant attendance was only 748,590 people.
Either Ham was going to bring in 250,000 people in that final month to get to that million people attendance mark… or he’s a liar.
Okay. So lots of different numbers floating around. And since Ham isn’t an honest guy, I’m tempted to believe the city officials who say attendance is much, much lower than a million people.
Dan Phelps, the president of the Kentucky Paleontological Society, has been amazing about getting this data as it comes out, and he’s already filed a request with Williamstown to get the safety fee data that would shed light on the numbers.
In the meantime, he noticed that the Grant County News published an interview with Ken Ham that doesn’t appear on their website, but which includes an explanation by Ham for his different attendance numbers.
He basically says the discrepancy between visitors and paid customers (who contribute to the safety fee) can be explained by the number of free passes they give away.
Here’s the relevant transcript of that piece:
We are like most attractions in that we don’t release annual attendance figures. We know how people will attempt to figure them out on their own, but some will cherry pick information from different sources and try to argue the Ark has not been successful.
For example, you can’t look at ticket sales to come up with the grand total. You see, thousands of young children under 5 who have visited in the last two years came free with their families.
Also, Ark members who have life-time passes don’t have to pay for a ticket, and they also receive a number of free tickets each year to use for family and friends. Also annual pass holders may visit multiple times, and they don’t show up in ticket sales. But we can say that attendance for year two was higher than our excellent first year.
I find it hard to believe that the number of free admissions would bridge the gap between 748,590 paid customers (in 11 months) and 1,000,000 visitors (in 12 months). Are we supposed to believe that hundreds of thousands of people are getting in for free? That’s… just bad business.
Make a note of this other thing Ken Ham said:
It’s important to mention that almost all attractions see a drop in attendance after the initial excitement of the opening year wears off. But we have experienced another remarkable year and an uptick in attendance.
An “uptick in attendance.” We’ll see about that. Remember that on the first anniversary of Ark Encounter, Ham said attendance had been 1.2 million people. There’s no way they topped that this year by their own admission.
In the same interview, Ham places a lot of blame on the lack of local hotels, making it tougher for people to visit the Ark, but he also says there are big plans for expansion in the coming years.
It sounds like they’re going to build a bigger and bigger Ark for fewer and fewer people.