Lastest Church News: Washington National Cathedral in DC to charge fees to Tour


WASHINGTON (AP) – Struggling to cover its costs, officials at Washington National Cathedral say they’ve decided to begin charging admission fees for tourists who visit the church beginning in 2014.

The fee will be $10 for adults and $6 for children, seniors and military. Admission will be free on Sundays, as well as on weekdays for those who visit to worship or pray.

The Rev. Gary Hall is the cathedral’s dean, and he says the church will charge for tourism but not for essential services. He says the decision to charge was made reluctantly. But he notes that cathedrals in Europe charge fees to help fund upkeep.

In a memo to staffers, Rob Sokol, the director of strategic programs at the National Cathedral wrote that the visitor traffic to the Northwest Washington cathedral, the seat of the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church and the second-largest cathedral in the country, has been trending down slightly — off 1 percent — so far in 2013 compared to 2012. The average donation at the Welcome Desk is down even more sharply, off 24 percent in the first quarter of the new fiscal year to $3.15 per person.
Mr. Sokol acknowledged in the Nov. 15 memo that the new admission fee could invoke negative reactions, but insisted that it was necessary to create revenue.

“This change in entry policy has the potential to generate bad press. We will need a communication strategy to mitigate any voiced opposition raised by local constituencies,” he said. “Those already upset — mainly neighbors, clergy, and Congregation members — with the installation of a suggested donation request at the door in 2011 may be even more upset when it is changed to a fixed admission.”

A small task force was assembled in September 2013 to identify all possible revenue-generating strategies for the upcoming fiscal year. The Cathedral staff found that by charging a $10 admission fee they could expect an additional $150,000 in for the fiscal 2014 year and $300,000 in the year after that, factoring in a 10 percent decrease in traffic.
The Cathedral will offer a $25 family discounted admission fee including a one-year National Cathedral Association (NCA) membership. Entrance to the Cathedral will be free on Sundays and for all worshippers.

However, the new admission charge will also come with more costs for the Cathedral staff, including $50,500 in wages for new gatekeepers and an estimated $92,000 in lost admission fees on Sundays. The Cathedral also expects to see a drop in gift shop sales on Sundays. Studies done by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) show that retail sales drop when entrance is free, so the Cathedral could potentially see a revenue drop in gift shop sales on Sundays when visitors can enter for free.

The Cathedral will begin implementing the new admission charge in January 2014 and will conduct monthly reviews of revenue changes through June 2014 when the staff will decide whether or not to continue the fee.