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Visitors to St. Louis tourist attractions still lag pre-COVID numbers

While visitor numbers are moving in the right direction, they are still nowhere near where they were in 2019.
Credit: UPI
Visitors watching the grizzly bears are greeted by new signage at the Saint Louis Zoo in St. Louis on Thursday, June 11, 2020. The Zoo will reopen on June 13, 2020, with employees practicing new social distancing rules, new guidelines and the wearing of masks. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI

ST. LOUIS — As with many businesses, tourist attractions and museums saw lengthy pandemic-related shutdowns in 2020, beginning in March that year. But now, two years since the pandemic first impacted St. Louis, we're seeing a rebound in visitors to these cultural and entertainment spots.

Some 7.6 million people visited the top 15 museums and tourist attractions in 2021, according to Business Journal research. That's up from 3 million in-person visitors in 2020 for those same destinations.

While visitor numbers are moving in the right direction, they are still nowhere near where they were in pre-COVID 2019, when the those 15 museums and tourist attractions brought in almost 14 million visitors. Total in-person visitors to the top 15 destinations on this week's List of the St. Louis region's Largest Museums and Tourist Attractions were down 78% from 2019 to 2020, due to temporary closures, reduced reopening capacities and a hesitance by some to go to exhibits in COVID times.

The volatile pandemic years for tourism created changes in staffing at the institutions we surveyed — some institutions have increased headcount, while others have cut their staff size.

For example, the Saint Louis Art Museum reported 235 full-time employees in 2020 and 240 in 2021, but only 216 as of February this year. Similarly, the St. Louis Science Center had 149 full-time workers in 2020, 111 in 2021 and 107 as of last month.

But it’s not all decreases. Schlafly Beer, which ranked No. 19 on this year's List of Largest Museums and Tourist Attractions, increased its staff 14% since 2021, to 137 full-time employees as of February this year. The staff increase is due to the company’s two new brewpub locations, according to a Schlafly spokesperson.

Read the full story and see interactive charts of visitor counts on the St. Louis Business Journal website.

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