Meeting the challenge of COVID

Like many museums around the world, we have not been immune to the impact of the global pandemic. Flexibility, creativity and proactivity have all been key attributes employed by the Air Force Museum team as we’ve worked to address fluctuating visitor numbers and a drop in crucial revenue streams since COVID-19 first arrived in New Zealand.

The Aircraft Hall with a sign instructing visitors how to play it safe. Air Force Museum of New Zealand.

When we emerged from the first nationwide lockdown in May 2020, we had little idea what the immediate future would hold for the Museum. Having attracted over 152,000 visitors in the previous financial year, approximately a third of whom were international tourists, we were steeling ourselves for a significant decrease, accompanied by a corresponding drop in income.

COVID-19 Level 2 restrictions have changed the ways in which visitors engage with our Museum, with mandatory face coverings, temporary closure of interactives, and suspension of tours and group bookings. Air Force Museum of New Zealand.

The Museum is a charitable trust, operated in partnership between the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) and RNZAF Museum Trust Board. NZDF covers operational costs such as infrastructure, facilities, utilities, and a significant portion of staff salaries, while the Trust Board own the collection and have governance responsibility for the Museum. They are also responsible for generating funds to be reinvested in the Museum’s core outputs – in short, helping ensure our Air Force’s history is preserved and stories shared in the context of an accessible, world class visitor attraction. This additional revenue funds the Museum’s free admission and education programmes, as well as supporting aircraft conservation projects and collections care, exhibitions, and other visitor experiences.

Air Force Museum Retail Supervisor Cherie Cooper with some of the t-shirts available for sale in store and online. Shop sales are a vital revenue source for the Museum. Air Force Museum of New Zealand.

A large portion of this self-generated income comes from venue hire for corporate functions and events, as well as sales from the Museum Shop and public donations; all of which have taken a hit from COVID-related restrictions. In response to this, the team met the challenge with new domestically focused marketing campaigns, community initiatives, in-house small venue hire operations, and Shop sales strategies. The effects of this proactive approach were evident when we ended the 2020/21 financial year having drawn 151,046 visitors to the Museum (just 1,600 less than our highest ever total), and an additional 80,898 corporate visitors to the site.

Community events such as the ‘Pop Up Penguins’ art trail and Van Gogh Alive experience played a large role in drawing people to the Museum over Summer and Autumn this year. Air Force Museum of New Zealand

The job is by no means done, however, as our crucial income streams continue to be far from certain. One way you can help support us and the work we do to preserve and share the RNZAF’s history is by making a purchase from our Shop, either in store or online. With Christmas fast approaching, you’ll find plenty of aviation-themed gift ideas from books to clothing, badges and patches, toys and more. This year our team have released a new t-shirt, designed in-house to represent the RNZAF’s current fleet, as a complement to the ‘AFM Collection’ design, which represents the historic aircraft in our collection.

The new ‘Current Fleet’ t-shirt, available now for pre-order from the Air Force Museum online shop. Air Force Museum of New Zealand.

The Museum Shop is taking orders for this brand new ‘Current Fleet’ t-shirt! Show your support for your Air Force, while also helping your Museum! Order yours online now.