The hordes flocking to the Louvre in Paris fell to 9.6 million in 2019 as the museum tried to limit overcrowding, its director said Friday.
After numbers rocketed by a quarter the previous year to a record 10.2 million, the most-visited museum in the world said it set out to actively discourage tourists in the peak summer months.
"The real change was in June, July and August," Louvre director Jean-Luc Martinez told AFP, when it "purposely" cut visitor numbers by 600,000.
"We tried to limit the numbers so that there would not be more than one million visitors a month, which happened in 2018."
To do that, the museum shut down completely for some days during the peak summer season, Martinez said, when the French capital was also hit by a heatwave.
"We are the only cultural institution in the world to do this and we are very clear with people," he added.
"We do this because we want to welcome people better and not just take more and more visitors."
The Louvre is by far the most visited museum in the world, ahead of the National Museum of China in Beijing on 8.6 million visitors, and New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, which attracted 7.3 million people in 2018.
Internet reservations, which now account for half of Louvre visits, have helped regulate the numbers, Martinez said.
- Book or risk disappointment -
Advance booking is obligatory for its blockbuster Leonardo da Vinci show but Martinez said he did not want to force all visitors to book their visits far ahead.
Some 180,000 people booked their tickets for the "once in a lifetime" Leonardo show in the week before it opened at the end of October.
The sell-out show pushed visitor numbers up by 14 percent in November, with the museum now laying on six additional late-night openings to cope with the demand before it closes at the end of February.
"The message we want to get across is that only by making a reservation are you guaranteed entry into the museum within a 30-minute window," Martinez insisted.
He said the almost weekly "yellow vest" anti-government street protests in the French capital during 2019 had little effect on numbers.
"Seventy-five percent of our visitors come from abroad", with Americans and Chinese the most numerous.
Nor have strikes over pension reforms, which have paralysed public transport in France over the last month, had much of an impact, he added.
"We have managed to open every day, although sometimes a little later," and the museum's website has warned that some rooms may remain closed because of staff shortages.
"Around a fifth of our staff have not been able to get in" because of the lack of trains, buses and metro, Martinez said.
The director also hailed the success of the Louvre's new Abu Dhabi base, which has attracted more than two million visitors in two years, "notably from India".
Its satellite museum in Lens in northern France has also passed the half-million visitor mark for the first time this year, he added.