Attractions Face Significant Revenue Losses

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted May 26, 2020
The Battleship North Carolina opened to visitors on its grounds and ship deck (pictured above) Tuesday morning, while the ship's inside remains closed. (File photo)
The Battleship North Carolina has lost $600,000 in revenue and through expenses from having to close because of coronavirus orders, the site's leader said Tuesday.

Now, in phase two of the reopening of the state's economy, some outdoor attractions and sites are open. Meanwhile indoor entertainment venues and museums, such as the Bellamy Mansion Museum and others in the area, remain closed and continue to lose money. 

The Battleship North Carolina's outdoor facilities opened at 10 a.m. Tuesday to visitors, while the interior of the ship is still closed, said Capt. Terry Bragg, executive director of the local attraction.

Like many attractions opening, the site has certain safety guidelines and restrictions, such as the number of visitors allowed in certain areas.

Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park too is open, according to a post on its Facebook page. The attraction’s outdoor facilities, including its golf course and areas of its water park are open with policies about social distancing and cleanliness in place.

For the Battleship North Carolina, tickets can be purchased onsite via credit card, and for visitors at this time, it is offering free tours, with proof of a receipt, inside the World War II era-ship at a later date, when it can fully open, Bragg said.

The upcoming summer months are a major revenue period that the battleship normally uses to build up its reserves, he said.

For the Battleship North Carolina, 2020 was on track to become the most successful year in terms of revenue in its 60-year history as an attraction, Bragg said. That was before the COVID-19 crisis and its impact on the area economy.

The battleship receives no appropriations from federal, state or local governments, so revenues went to $0 when it closed March 16, and the site had to function its reserve funds, Bragg said.

"Fortunately, the Battleship North Carolina is healthy financially so we were able to take this money out of our reserves and pay the bill. And we can do this for a number of more months," Bragg said.

The site typically gets about 300,000 visitors a year. So far this year, the site has had 53,000 while at the same time last year it had seen 71,000, he said.

"We consider ourselves a major economic driver for the entire community, not only in employment but bringing people here from afar: 60% of our visitation comes from greater than two hours away," Bragg said. "So I think that the battleship's financial success is a leadership point in the community and businesses coming back."

There could be opportunities for the battleship to recoup some of its losses, he said.

"As part of the CARES Act, in this latest round of funding that we're hoping the federal government would approve -- funds through the federal and state governments would be eligible to reimburse the battleship for losses," Bragg said.

For the time being, the Battleship has dramatically reduced its spending, Bragg said. It keeps 25 full-time employees on salary at this time and is looking to hire its part-time staff soon. 

The N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher, however, is one of several places that still remain closed.

“COVID-19 has significantly impacted the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher, just like it has for so many other businesses and organizations locally and nationally. It is too early to say what the lasting impacts will be for the aquarium,” said Robin Nalepa, the aquarium’s communications manager.

“Yet, even during the public closure our team continues to put mission first, providing daily care for our animals and virtually engaging new and existing audiences with nature and wildlife in creative ways online,” she said. “We are also examining how we can best provide a safe and valuable experience to guests moving forward.”

The aquarium’s visitation growth typically begins during the months of May and June, leading into the summer season, she said.

Last year, the aquarium had nearly 50,000 visitors in May and revenue of more than $367,000. In June of last year there were just over 62,000 people who visited the site, which saw more than $601,000 in revenue from areas such as admissions, special events and summer camps, she said.

"Being closed for several weeks will have the greatest impact on attractions that depend on admission charges," said Connie Nelson, spokeswoman for the Wilmington and Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau. "Even the attractions that offer free admission are hurting because many visitors contribute to the donation bin."
Some attractions are finding new ways to generate revenue, she said. 
For instance, Wrightsville Beach Museum is putting together Father's Day gift packages, and also did one for Mother's Day, and is also asking for members' support.

In a recent email to the public, museum officials said they have put together a survey to aid in planning as it phases in reopening, officials said in the email.

Other museums, like the downtown attractions of the Burgwin-Wright House & Gardens and the Bellamy Mansion Museum, are offering virtual programming through social media pages. 

Like the battleship and other area attractions, the Bellamy Mansion Museum is facing a significant financial hit from being closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The museum has been closed to visitors since March 17, said Gareth Evans, executive director of the museum, which has been asking for support and donations.

For each month the museum is closed that equates to more than $25,000 in lost admissions, gift shop purchases, special events and rentals -- a tremendous impact on the small nonprofit.

That's well over $50,000 in losses for the Bellamy Mansion Museum so far, he added.

"Looks like reopening might be late June as per the governor's orders," Evans said. "I also wonder about the knock-on effect for the rest of the year as tourism -- particularly international -- won't be coming back any time soon."

Museum staff members have been working because of funding from the SBA's Paycheck Protection Program.

"Thanks to PPP, we're covered for a while. We're doing research, creating online learning, rebuilding the website, fixing and painting the physical site, reorganizing our office, putting archives in order, keeping in touch with volunteers, among other things. All the many items you don't necessarily prioritize when open and some long-term projects too," Evans said.

He added, "But we do need to be open relatively soon."

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