Should we charge international visitors?

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Picture of David and Simon being filmed for The One Show

Simon and I being filmed for The One Show

Simon Calder, the travel writer and broadcaster, interviewed me for The One Show last week because of the growing public interest in the impact cuts in government funding are having on museums, an interest that reached something of a peak when the London-based Science Museum announced that it might have to close one of its northern ‘branches’ in Manchester, Bradford and York if its budgets were cut further.

Simon had a suggestion about admission charges. He agrees that admission charges for British taxpayers would lead to a drop in the number of people who visit museums, which cannot be a good thing, so he wasn’t advocating that. And we can’t charge EU citizens if we don’t charge British citizens, according to EU law. His proposal is that that we should charge non-EU citizens only.

It is true that international tourists are used to paying for entry to museums, and if the gaps in British museums’ budgets can be plugged by charging tourists, then why not? Simon asks. At the moment, government policy is that English national museums cannot charge an entry fee to anyone. As most of the world’s healthier economies are outside the EU (Brazil, China, India etc) Simon’s point about charging foreign visitors perhaps deserves some thought.