Visitor experience: are you being served?
English Tourism Week 2015 (14-22 March 2015) is a yearly celebration showcasing visitor experiences and the value tourism brings to local communities and the national economy. Last year a big variety of local and national events, discounts and special promotions were on offer, including museum events, exhibitions, sports experiences, crafts workshops and regional celebrations like the Big Chilterns Weekend.
Public and private tourism operators are aware of how crucial it is to improve visitor experience, yet you often find old leaflets lying around museums and websites that have not been updated for several weeks if not months. Budget and digital skills constraints are often responsible for this. In some organisations the website and social media accounts are manned by volunteers so they might lack continuity and consistency, especially if the tasks are shared by several people.
Tourism is a highly competitive industry; therefore the quality of visitor experience is key to revenue. Using tourism data, Euromonitor International has ranked the world’s top 100 most-visited cities and London comes in at number four. London attracts more tourists than chic Paris and vibrant New York. A recent UK survey also places London in the top spot. Other popular destinations are Cambridge and Royal Windsor, especially with Asian visitors.
Monitoring visitor experience is also crucial to cultural organisations. ALVA (Association of Leading Visitor Attractions), which this year is celebrating 25 years, is the professional and lobby organisation representing museums, galleries, palaces, castles, cathedrals, zoos, historic houses, heritage sites and leisure attractions. Its members comprise over 2200 tourist sites that boast over 119 million domestic and overseas visitors each year.
ALVA’s 2014 report on UK visitor attractions shows a 6.5% increase in visitor numbers on 2013 figures. Scottish attractions, boosted by the Commonwealth Games, rose to over 9%, followed by London (7.11%). Surprisingly, the Library of Birmingham, which opened in 2013, was the most visited free attraction outside London, the top spot going yet again to the British Museum. Museums and galleries throughout the UK experienced a 6.09% increase, driven by art exhibitions, such as the Matisse exhibition at the Tate Modern and the Francis Bacon/Henry Moore exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. So the recent discovery of the only surviving example of Michelangelo bronzes in the world at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge last month is bound to boost visitor numbers in 2015.
Anniversaries and celebrations also play a big role – the 100th Anniversary of World War I in 2014 had a big impact on country houses, such as the National Trust’s Dunham Massey in Cheshire, whose historical recreation of its WW1 role as a military hospital produced a rise in visitors of 50.9%.
A tale of three cities: how websites can boost visitor experience
VisitLondon.com hosts extensive and useful articles on attractions, entertainment, family activities, celebrations, accommodation, tickets and special offers. The website is supported by e-newsletters highlighting what is going on and how best to organise and enjoy a day trip or a longer stay. It even offers a free app to help visitor find top attractions and things to do, including offline maps and GPS to avoid roaming charges, personalised itineraries and a search by category (restaurant, sight, etc) or location. There is also practical information on amenities and services, so you can plan an itinerary ahead, and of course our own Theatrical London tour is not to be missed!
Royal-Windsor.com displays information on popular attractions such as Windsor Castle, Eton, Ascot Racecourse and Legoland but also local business information such as restaurant and nightlife guides. You can organise your entire trip and even book accommodation through the website. The site also serves local residents and those who wish to relocate for short or long periods. There is even a page for local jobs! Visitors can subscribe to its social media channels and read the official blog. There is also a glossy Borough website, which includes Maidenhead and offers tourism and business information, including festivals and fairs.
VisitCambridge.com covers the historic university city and its surroundings. It is a one-stop information hub for accommodation, events, sights, things to do, official tours, shopping and events. Cambridge has a busy social calendar including festivals organised by the University, such as the Science Festival in March and the Festival of Ideas in October, theatrical shows, trade and consumer fairs and crowd-pleasing outdoor events organised by the City Council, such as the Guy Fawkes fireworks in November and the Big Weekender in July.