Ark Encounter numbers are strong and getting stronger

Ark Encounter, a theme park designed as a replica of Noah’s Ark, is located in Williamstown.
Ark Encounter, a theme park designed as a replica of Noah’s Ark, is located in Williamstown. Herald-Leader file photo

While speaking at our sold-out conference in Ireland, I was sent a Herald-Leader article about the Ark Encounter, our themed attraction in Williamstown. The piece suggested the Ark was struggling with attendance and revenue as it was entering its third year. I just had to rub my eyes.

You see, attendance for year two (it concluded July 7) actually eclipsed year one. New attractions almost always see a drop in numbers after the excitement of the first year or two wears off.

The average theme park or aquarium sees a decline of about 25 percent to 30 percent in attendance after the first year. But I don’t remember seeing blaring headlines in this paper proclaiming those attractions were struggling after their second year.

Local hotel owners, restaurant managers and tourist bureaus all know of the Ark’s success. The reporter apparently did not talk to owners of tourism-related businesses in Dry Ridge, just five miles from the Ark (Williamstown by comparison lacks hotels and restaurants and misses out on most of the economic impact), and to other businesses throughout northern Kentucky, like BB Riverboats, that have grown dramatically because of the Ark.

Instead, he seems to have relied heavily on information spoon-fed him by an anti-Ark activist and ignored the evidence of the Ark’s significant economic impact on the region.

It’s important that readers ignore what many in the media (plus bloggers) have falsely claimed — that 862,000 is the total number of people who actually visited the Ark in its second year.

First, that’s an impressive number on the face of it, even though it is not accurate. That 862,000 figure was released by Williamstown as the city reports the amount of safety tax collected from each paid ticket at the Ark.

However, it is not a true count of attendance due to a number of factors, including: children under 5 are free, and many types of tickets, such as lifetime passes (of which there are many thousand passholders), multi-day passes and annual passes do not require visitors to purchase a ticket at the gate.

You can’t accurately project attendance for the third year based on safety-tax numbers, let alone the fact this article was published only three months into the Ark’s third year.

The huge growth of motor coach tours, a nationwide TV campaign, and word-of-mouth buzz generated by our visitors are prompting more and more people to visit the Ark. AiG’s Ark and Creation Museum have made Kentucky the nation’s leading faith-based tourist destination.

Because quite a number of people have informed us they couldn’t find hotel rooms on some dates, attendance will increase as more hotels open. We’re happy to report that new hotels in northern Kentucky have recently been built or are under construction, primarily to accommodate our guests.

Actually, misinformation spread by the media could be counterproductive for Williamstown, as potential investors could shy away from building much-needed hotels, restaurants, etc.

While there are no public records of the Ark’s true total attendance a reporter can access, I can confirm that the Creation Museum (2007 opening) and the Ark Encounter (a July 2016 launch) have welcomed well over 6 million paid visitors.

Now, if the Ark is supposedly struggling, how could we build a new $20 million multi-purpose center, seating 2,500 people (opening in a few months), and greatly expand our zoo?

Meanwhile, our sister attraction, the 11-year-old Creation Museum, is seeing its best attendance ever.

With up to 1,200 full-time and part-time and seasonal staff members, AiG has had a remarkable economic impact in the region. Yet some anti-Ark activists keep feeding misleading information to the media to suggest that this growing ministry is struggling.

Meanwhile, we are excitedly preparing to welcome tens of thousands of guests to ChristmasTime at the Ark Encounter, starting Nov. 23.

Ken Ham is CEO of Answers in Genesis and the Ark Encounter.