Workers take down a sign at the Palace Museum's ticket office in Beijing on Tuesday. [Photo by Jiang Dong/China Daily]
The Palace Museum in Beijing－China's former imperial palace, or Forbidden City－announced on Tuesday that it has begun to sell entry tickets solely through its online booking system, with few exceptions.
The move is designed "to avoid crowds at the box office, reduce waiting time and provide a more comfortable visiting experience", said Shan Jixiang, director of the museum.
Online ticket booking is available on the official website, www.dpm.org.cn.
To relieve the heavy pressure and safety concerns brought by huge crowds, a daily visitor quota of 80,000 was set in June 2015, and an online ticketing system was launched. On launch day, about 7,500 of the day's 50,000 visitors－about 15 percent－bought tickets online. By 2016, the number had expanded dramatically to 40 percent. As of August, it has mushroomed to 77 percent.
"Because of our promotion, more people are buying tickets online," Shan said. "The online platform also facilitates analysis of big data, which can lead to better service in the future."
Shan said web-only ticket sales worked so well during the recent National Day holiday that a decision was made to make it permanent.
On Oct 2, for example, all 80,000 entry tickets were sold in advance online.
"We thought it was time to formally adopt web-only ticket sales after a long trial," he said, adding that follow-up measures will be taken to solve some remaining problems.
"For example, a huge crowd came to the museum in the morning, but the entrance was virtually deserted in the afternoon," he said.
On average, more than 7,000 people entered the museum between 10 and 10:30 am during the eight-day holiday. The number dropped below 3,000 between 1:30 and 2 pm.
The booking system will provide tickets at different visiting hours to balance the number of visitors throughout the day.
Tuesday marked the 92nd anniversary of the Forbidden City's opening as a public museum. It welcomed 16 million visitors in 2016, topping all museums in the world.
It rolled out its web-only ticketing plan for public comment in May. Some people thought it might be an inconvenience for anybody unfamiliar with internet. But Shan said museum employees carrying a QR code for the ticket-booking system walk around the square near the entrance to help people in need.
One box office window remains－reserved for visitors with special needs, like overseas visitors who do not have Chinese online payment channels.
"We cannot shut our doors to someone merely because they don't know how to buy a ticket online," Shan said.
Beyond ticket sales, digital technology is being used in other ways at the museum. A virtual display of the Hall of Mental Cultivation, residence of the last eight emperors of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), opened on Tuesday in the Duanmen Gallery.
The exhibition uses virtual reality and multimedia to show the interiors of the emperors' residence and interact with visitors. The hall is currently closed for renovation but is scheduled to reopen in 2020.