When tourists are few and times are hard, local attractions turn on creativity to lure visitors in the doors.

For the first time, Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant will allow visitors to pay what they can this weekend. It's a promotion some local theater companies have offered and tweaked over time.

For example, on Thursday, Pure Theatre in downtown Charleston will offer a pay-what-you-can preview of its latest stage performance, and Charleston Stage allows patrons to pay what they can on the second Wednesday of each performance. The next one is Feb. 15.

"With the downturn in the economy and people struggling to make ends meet, we wanted to offer them a break so they could come to the museum and have a good time with their families,"

Patriots Point spokesman Rob Clark said. "If they are able to contribute, they can, and if they can't, that would be fine as well."

This isn't the first time Patriots Point has dangled a promotion to lure in visitors during its slowest month of the year. In the past, the naval and maritime museum offered a buy-one-get-one-free deal and a separate free weekend promotion, but it didn't waive the $5 parking fee.

This weekend, South Carolina residents can name their price to park at Patriots Point as well as pay what they can at the ticket office in lieu of the normal entrance fees of up to $18. They just need to bring identification to prove they are residents.

" 'Pay what you can' makes a lot of sense," Patriots Point Director Mac Burdette said. "There are families out there that might not be able to afford anything. Some might say, 'All I have is a 20-dollar bill, take this.'

"Just plain free is going too far. There are some people out there who can afford to pay something."

Children under 6 and service members dressed in uniform always get in free.

Naming your price at the theater can save a bundle for those on a budget.

Tickets to the Pure Theatre dark comedy "A Behanding in Spokane" will go for up to $25 after Thursday, and Charleston Stage tickets at Dock Street Theatre for "Avenue Q" range up to $52 for regular admission.

By offering pay what you can, theaters draw in customers who normally might not go to a show.

It's a way for a patron to see a show for which they might not be able to pay full price, Charleston Stage marketing director Beth Curley said.

"Tickets go on sale online at midnight the day of the show, and usually about half of them are gone within an hour."

Also offering free admission once every quarter through its Community Day is the Gibbes Museum of Art.

The next one is Feb. 25, saving patrons up to $9 on a ticket.

"It's an opportunity not only to see our permanent collection and special exhibition, but also to participate in special programs specially created for community day," museum spokeswoman Marla Loftus said. "It's about access."

Other attractions around town might also offer specials during the slow winter months or at other times. Check with them for details.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or on Twitter at @warrenlancewise.