Optimism in Bisbee, Arizona

Strategy: Balance Your Budget, Emphasize Value, Enhance Your Product, Know Your Customer/Product, Leverage Anniversaries, Serve Local Community, Take Advantage of Tech

Type of attraction: Museum/Historic Site

Summary: “The most important thing in tough times is: just be optimistic,” explains Carrie Gustavson, director of the Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum.


“The most important thing in tough times is: just be optimistic,” explains Carrie Gustavson, director of the Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum. While visitation at the museum dropped 20% in 2009 and 2010, the museum sees great potential in Arizona’s upcoming Centennial Celebration in 2012. 

While the state is no longer in a position to finance a major statewide celebration, Gustavson is co-chair of the Centennial Committee for Cochise County. This grassroots committee has helped to create strong partnerships that include both public and private entities. One major project includes the creation of a traveling outdoor exhibit including life-size photo cutouts of characters from Arizona’s history with an accompanying booklet and website. Sponsors have been found for virtually every aspect of the program including the photo cutouts themselves through an “Adopt a Figure” program. The free booklets will be available at libraries, museums and historical societies across the state, encouraging additional visitation at these locations. 


The museum has worked hard to diversify sources of earned income.  The Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum became a Smithsonian Affiliate and opened a new Smithsonian exhibit, “Digging In, Bisbee’s Mineral Heritage” in late 2007.  The museum was able to apply what they learned working with the Smithsonian to their other exhibits on the first floor.  The new and enhanced exhibits helped the museum maintain visitation levels through 2008, despite the fact that admission fees were increased with the opening of the new Smithsonian exhibit. 


The museum staff also scrutinized membership benefits beginning in 2008 to create additional incentives to join, including offering free visitor passes to museum members, offering member discounts and exclusive members-only access to popular sold-out events such as the Turquoise Hunt, an opportunity to search for turquoise nuggets at the Queen Mine’s dump.  Offering additional benefits has resulted in a 15% increase in memberships. 


In addition to expanding the museum’s membership base, a new Facebook presence has offered an opportunity to engage the local community while helping the museum staff with their photo collection.  The museum’s photo collection includes more than 20,000 historical images, many of which are not identified. Staff has posted photos from the 1940s and 50s on Facebook in a “Bisbee’s Forgotten Faces” photo album, hoping that those photos would be recent enough to get help in identifying people in the photos. Sure enough, information has been pouring in about many of the photos posted. 


“We’ve also found that because of the downturn, people are taking smaller vacations close to home,” explains Gustavson. “For the past 15 years, we’ve been offering free admission in August, which is traditionally our slowest month.  In 2009, we were overwhelmed by the number of people who came in August, so this year we’re changing it to half-price month.” Those local visitors are key ambassadors for the museum, especially as the Arizona Office of Tourism stopped providing a substantial marketing grant in 2008 that had helped promote the museum. “With the loss of that marketing grant, word of mouth has become even more important to help us promote the museum,” says Gustavson.