Interest in (and Profits From) Titanic Not Expected to Sink Soon

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — The sinking on April 15, 1912, of the RMS Titanic is still considered the worst disaster in maritime history. The largest luxury liner of its day was considered unsinkable, but struck an iceberg and sank into the icy depths of the north Atlantic, killing 1,502 passengers and crew.

More than 100 years since the ship last saw the light of day, the world’s fascination with the disaster continues. During this past year of the centennial anniversary, a museum opened in Belfast, Ireland, near where the ship was built, the 1997 movie Titanic was re-released in 3-D and Clive Palmer, an Australian businessman, announced plans to build a Titanic replica cruise ship.

“I think [Titanic] stays in our conscience because of the idea the ship was ‘unsinkable,’ the enormous loss of life, and the class gaps, between first-class and third-class, for example,” says Edward Sheehy, professor of history at La Salle University in Philadelphia, Pa., who is also a maritime scholar.

In the United States, RMS Titanic Inc. is the official steward of more than 5,000 artifacts recovered from the wreckage and has put the artifacts on traveling display with the Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition. According to the website, more than 25 million people have viewed such exhibits since 1998.

John Joslyn, president of Titanic Museum Attractions in Branson, Mo., and Pigeon Forge, Tenn., was with the company that is now RMS Titanic in 1986 when the wreckage was discovered and for subsequent dives to the wreckage beginning in 1987, which were filmed for television specials.

In 1998, a year after the surprise blockbuster movie opened, Joslyn had the idea of opening a museum. “I met an author on the tour who said I would be amazed at the mystique of Titanic and the very broad interest the ship holds with so many people,” Joslyn says.

Joslyn says his partners at RMS Titanic weren’t interested in a bricks-and-mortar museum and wanted to continue the traveling exhibit, so he separated from the company and invested in the first Titanic museum in Orlando, Fla., in 1999.

By 2003, Joslyn and his wife, Mary Kellogg, had been visiting Branson on vacations and was interested in creating a different kind of Titanic experience. “I knew we couldn’t put the museum in a plain building. We needed an icon,” Joslyn says. “We had the idea of constructing a building that was in the shape of the ship.”

Joslyn found some prime real estate on the main strip in Branson and negotiated with the owners for more than a year. Construction on the scale replica of the Titanic was started in December 2004 and the attraction opened in 2006. The venture was so successful that the couple decided to build the second museum attraction, which opened in 2010.

Joslyn says they invested approximately $50 million in both and, while he would not disclose revenue, he says both meet their annual revenue projections – Branson is expected to beat projections this year by 9.9% and Pigeon Forge by 4%.

That’s because of the company’s commitment to the experience, as well as creating activities that draw in repeat visitors, Joslyn says.

Visitors to the Branson attraction, for example, can go on a self-guided tour of the “ship” he rebuilt, with staff in period costume, some with British and Irish accents, on hand to tell stories and answer questions.

Artifacts in the museum were acquired from survivor’s descendants and are not salvage items, which have never been sold by RMS Titanic, Inc.

Still, the artifacts, including letters, journals, tickets, a deck chair, a life jacket, a steamer trunk, photographs and other memorabilia, make for a fascinating tour. The museum hosts different special events in each city, including concerts on the deck, ice-carving competitions and a special Father’s Day event.

“We are constantly pushing our team to come up with new events,” Joslyn says. “That keeps us in the press, which keeps us in front of consumers and keeps bringing people back.”

The museum also creates special exhibits dedicated to certain passengers, including an exhibit for Molly Brown, one of the wealthy Americans aboard, and the dogs of Titanic. This year, they revealed their archivist’s research into what became of the 700-plus passengers who survived from 1912 until their deaths.

Joslyn is aware they will need to continue long-term to build audiences with an interest in Titanic, but he doesn’t believe interest in the fated ship will wane with the ending of the centennial.

An exhibit dedicated to the children of Titanic will open next year, which may help spark the interest and imagination of children who visit the museum today.

But Joslyn says it is more about telling the stories of each of the passengers than about building a generation of museum visitors. “We have one of the best archives of any Titanic organization,” Joslyn says. “The best justice we can do for Titanic is to tell all of the stories of the passengers and crew.”

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