The numbers are finally in for Ark Encounter’s attendance over its entire second year of existence and — wait for it — Creationist Ken Ham was exaggerating its popularity.
Remember what Ham told the Cincinnati Enquirer earlier this month:
Northern Kentucky’s Noah’s Ark replica attracted one million visitors during its second year of operation, officials said.
A million people! That’s much less than even Ham predicted he’d see (more on that in a moment), but it was also a useless statistic. What mattered were the number of paying customers. You know, the people who contribute to the local economy.
On that measure, the city of Williamstown wasn’t nearly as optimistic. That’s because they had something much more reliable than Ken Ham’s word. Due to a $0.50-per-ticket “Safety Fee” that pays for ambulances, fire trucks, etc. that was imposed last summer, they knew exactly how many paid visitors actually came to the Ark. The numbers were so bad, they needed to readjust their budget.
After not collecting the anticipated amount from a safety assessment fee in 11 months, Williamstown has scaled back its projected revenue in its 2018-19 fiscal year budget.
As of June 20, Williamstown has collected $374,700 on all businesses within city limits that charge admissions with tickets, including the Ark Encounter, Williamstown Family Fun Park and Main Street Gardens.
In fiscal year 2017-18, the city anticipated $715,000 in revenue based on ticket sales projected for the Ark Encounter and other ticket-based businesses in the city.
The Ark brought in $374,295 in its 11 months.
If you do the math, that meant 748,590 tickets were sold over the first 11 months of the fiscal year. Not even close to a million. Either Ark Encounter needed to pull in more than 250,000 visitors in the month of June… or they were giving away a hell of a lot of free passes.
Just as a point of reference, ever since the Safety Fee went into effect beginning in July of 2017, here’s what we know about the Park’s paid attendance, based on open records acquired by local paleontologist Dan Phelps:
July: 142,626 (Safety Fee amount: $71,313.00)
August: 106,161 ($53,080.50)
September: 83,330 ($41,665.00)
October: 93,659 ($46,829.50)
November: 51,914 ($25,957.00)
December: 36,472 ($18,236.00)
January: 13,250 ($6,625.00)
February: 17,961 ($8,980.50)
March: 62,251 ($31,125.50)
As of this morning, we can add the rest of the numbers to that list:
April: 67,613 ($33,806.50)
May: 73,353 ($36,676.50)
June: 113,901 ($56,950.50)
That means in its second full year of existence, Ark Encounter had 862,491 paying customers.
If we take Ham at his word that a million people visited the Ark, that means nearly 140,000 visitors (including kids under 5) got in for free.
The real question is whether that’s good or bad, and I have a hard time finding any silver lining here…
For the city, it’s awful, because they assumed more people would visit and contribute to the local economy:
“Last year, we based [our] budget figure on attendance at the Ark Encounter at 1,400,000,” said Williamstown Mayor Rick Skinner. “This year, we are more conservative and using 870,000 visitors. We had a very bad winter and a very wet spring, which probably affected attendance in those months.”
For Ken Ham, it’s also pretty bad since he always predicted much higher attendance.
In 2014, before the Ark opened, he said it was “estimated to attract up to 2 million visitors a year.” Maybe you cut him some slack for overestimating attendance years before the Park opened, but by the time the first full year came to a close, Ham was telling reporters that attendance would “hit the low end” of an estimated range that started at 1.1 million people. (The Safety Fee wasn’t in place, so we can’t confirm or deny that number.)
And now, more than a year later, Ham is apparently gaslighting everyone by saying attendance has gone up 20% this year… which would mean only 800,000 people visited that first year.
Here’s the flip side of that.
Check out what Ham said on July 6, 2017 when celebrating the Ark’s first anniversary:
For its part, AiG instead used America’s Research Group (ARG) to conduct nationwide market research on the Ark Encounter, and ARG predicted attendance to be 1.4–2.2 million for a normal year of operation. Even though the Ark did not open until the middle of the tourist season in July of 2016, its non-normal first year has still seen 1 million visitors (with about 1.5 million visitors total for both attractions). AiG predicts that the second year’s attendance will be closer to the high end of the ARG figure, based on several factors: hundreds of motor coaches are booked to come (organized by numerous tour companies), other group bookings are also increasing, people now having ample time to plan their vacations to the Ark, and other encouraging trends.
In other words, last summer, Ham predicted he would see 2.2 million visitors this year — the first “normal year of operation.”
He didn’t even get half of that.
And that’s when you give him the benefit of the doubt and count all visitors instead of just the paying ones.
Ham always brags about the number of visitors to the Ark. But the number of paid visitors — the only number we can verify — has always been significantly lower than the numbers he gives to the media. (He seems to purposely conflate the two during interviews, then lashes out at his critics when we cite paid attendance.)
Either way, these figures suggest the Ark isn’t nearly as popular as Ham always thought it would be. As I’ve said before, I suspect once the novelty wears off, Ark attendance will only get lower. (It’s not like there’s ever anything new to learn.) He can add in whatever bells and whistles he wants — he’s already building a 2,500-seat auditorium — but it’s hard to build a successful attraction on such a shaky foundation.
The Ark is obviously scientifically inaccurate. But it continues to remind us that while the fictional Noah saved the lives of all living animals, Ham is destroying the city of Williamstown while blaming everybody but himself for the low attendance.
(Thanks to Dan for the link)