Ark Encounter Attendance Reported to be High

A view of the Ark Encounter (click for a larger image)

A view of the Ark Encounter (click for a larger image)

In early August, I toured the Answers in Genesis Ark Encounter. Overall, I was impressed with the facility, and I thought that regardless of your view on origins, it would be a very interesting place to tour, if you can afford it. Of course, there are those who aren’t as favorably disposed towards the Ark Encounter, and they have a different view. Because I try to read all sides of an issue, I visited several anti-Ark websites prior to and after my visit, and many of them claimed that The Ark Encounter wasn’t getting a lot of visitors (see here, here, here, and here, for example.). I didn’t quite understand that, because the day I went (a Thursday in August), the place seemed pretty crowded. As I noted in my article, I had to wait 20 minutes to see one exhibit, because of the long line of people.

That’s why I was interested to read the December 31st entry on Ken Ham’s Blog. In that post, Mr. Ham lists seven ways that God blessed Answers in Genesis in 2016, and number three is:

Number of guests at the Ark. We’ve seen nearly 500,000 guests visit the Ark Encounter since it opened. Almost half a million people—including skeptics—have been encouraged to trust God’s Word and the gospel through the Ark!

The Ark Encounter opened on July 7, 2016. As of December 31, then, it had been open for a bit less than half a year. Thus, it seems likely that by July 6, 2017, the Ark Encounter could have as many as a million guests, perhaps more.

How does this compare to projections? Well, that depends on whose projections we are talking about. When the Ark Encounter filed to take part in Kentucky’s sales tax tourism incentive, the state hired a group named Hunden Strategic Partners, LLC to make attendance projections. Based on how the Ark Encounter describes itself, their analysis indicated that 325,000 people would visit the first year, and after two more years, a maximum of just over 400,000 people per year would come. Obviously, that estimate has been shown to be dramatically wrong.

Of course, Answers and Genesis hired a different firm (America’s Research Group) to make predictions about attendance, and not surprisingly, that firm’s analysis indicated a lot more people would visit the Ark Encounter. In 2008, it projected a minimum attendance of 1.2 million in the Ark Encounter’s first year. However, in 2015, it did a new analysis and increased that number, saying that somewhere between 1.4 and 2.2 million visitors would come in the first year. It’s not clear yet whether the Ark Encounter will meet either one of those minimums, but the projections made by America’s Research Group are obviously more accurate than those made by Hunden Strategic Partners.

In the end, the Ark Encounter hasn’t had the dismal attendance that its critics had hoped for. At the same time, however, it hasn’t had the stellar attendance that Answers in Genesis had hoped for. Nevertheless, the attendance is more in line with the hopes of Answers in Genesis than it is with the hopes of the critics. I see that as a very positive thing.

2 Comments

  1. Joel Duff says:

    This assessment feels about right even in spite of my past reflections on this. 1 to 1.2 million seems quite doable and would be a success on many levels. As you say, it isn’t the high numbers they hoped or thought they would have but it is enough that they can financially afford to continue expansion of the part which will be crucial to getting repeat business which they must have to be sustainable over time. I didn’t say this in my article, but I attended a couple AiG events in the months before the opening and heard multiple times speakers use either 2.1 or 2.4 million and warned their audience to come mid-week to avoid the huge crowds. One speaker even emphasized that the park could ONLY handle about 16,000 on the grounds at one time. Part of that is typical over-hyping but they clearly thought it would be a massive success right from the opening having sold tickets for day vs evening etc.

    I watch Ham’s tweets very closely. He loves to talk attendance but he is often quite nebulous. I am quite certain there has not been a day with over 10,000 attendees since the the most he has lauded is 10,000 on one day the Creation Museum and Ark combined which makes it hard to know how many were at the Ark and if he is counting those that went to the Ark and CM on the same day as two visits. There was another weekend in which he said there 18,000 between the two places. This would still be well below capacity given the 4000 parking spaces which have never been more than ½ used.

    The 500,000 sound plausible as a total number given general daily figures of around 3500/day average but he doesn’t say paid visitors so he might be including the more than 10,000 that were present at the event just before the official opening. At the end of the day, it will be the people that pay full price that will matter. Many who came and have returned multiple times in the first few months were life-time members who donated money long ago for this venture and have passes. They aren’t earning more from them other than sales in the park. Only Ham knows these numbers and I don’t expect him to reveal any specifics unless they are really good.

  2. Jeni says:

    Thank you for the updates. I keep an eye on Ken Ham’s discussions, and also follow some of the anti-Christian discussions regarding the Ark. I love that God still has people prepared to stand up! And the true success of the Ark will be measured two-fold: of the increase in trust (in God’s word) by Christians and a breaking down of barriers in the skeptic visitor’s reasoning. I can’t imagine I will ever get to see the Ark – but I can imagine the wonder because one quarter we focused on the flood in the junior Sabbath-school lessons. We did some basic science projects and (this was great) we paced out the ark across a large area of land. And posted a kid every few dozen metres. At the end of that we stood in a huge rectangle and marveled at the size! We also live in an area where the huge sea-tankers come to pick up grain and woodchips. They are built to the same basic plan. Thanks for your blog, I enjoy it.