A Lasting Impression - Quality trumps quantity
Do visitor attractions need more visitors or fewer but more satisfied and engaged visitors for business sustainability? Quality trumps quantity in 2022.
In a recent interview with Maxine Bradley, Zoo Curator at Northumberland Country Zoo, she envisioned a future whereby she wouldn’t need to have her zoo open seven-days a week and as many days of the year as possible to remain operational. This may sound counter intuitive, but as it happens, not necessarily so, as it would free the operation to continue developing the exhibit, enriching the experience for when the visitors arrive, whilst also looking to the welfare of its inhabitants and doubling down on conservation research and efforts.
The question is, how to generate the income to put the zoo in a position that isn’t totally reliant on a revolving door of onsite visitors?
Bradley has an appreciative awareness of how radically the COVID pandemic’s visitor lockout affected the tourist attraction sector. No visitors, no regular income. An anthem that roared around all zoological attractions across the world in 2020, sparking an ensuing shift in thinking, and how these establishments safeguard against future droughts of onsite-driven revenue. In short, how do they do business going forward?
Digital Transformation of the Experience Economy
The arrival of the pandemic also signalled a rapid adoption of technology across the globe, influencing almost every aspect of life in the process. As necessity has been proven to spark invention and rapid adoption, much of the visitor attraction sector wasn’t so much as dragged into the digital era, as leaped in with eyes wide open.
Social media is well known as a medium to reach more people, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram or TikTok. These digital channels can spread messages far and wide, with links that can be shared via email, WhatsApp, or text message. They are today’s peer advocacy podiums. Get the content right and they become viral carriers of whatever it is the messenger wishes to convey.
Paradise Wildlife Park in Nottinghamshire is a case in point, with more than 229k followers on their TikTok channel, a leaf out of whose book, Bradley has taken for Northumberland, and which now has more than 165k fans.
Successful social channels like these, have also been turned from working solely as marketing communication platforms, into mechanisms for generating direct revenue streams. The trick then, for any visitor attraction wishing to follow suit, is how to get the content right (whether it’s the physical onsite experience or communication information), and how to avoid the pitfalls of ‘meme’ tourism generated by social media.
This becomes even more important, given the fact that leading attractions are still tracking 57% behind pre-pandemic levels, according to the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA) who released stats in March this year reflecting its members’ 2021 visitor figures.
Overcrowding is not a pleasant experience for anyone. Consequently, attractions are reassessing the capacity-driven quotient in their operations and marketing, with a view to moving to value-based offerings. A steady flow of visitors is still of an essential nature though to ensure survival, especially those in the arts, cultural & heritage, and animal/marine sectors. But sustainability may now well depend on an extended relationship with visitors instead.
Quality trumps quantity in 2022
To that end, the rack it and stack it mentality of pre-2020 is out, maximising visitor satisfaction & experience is in. In understanding how visitors feel and what they take out of the experience, attractions can form longer lasting and more loyal, as well as profitable relationships with their customers.
Sentiment is of great import and can generate exceptional insights for brands. A fact duly noted by the advent of a new advertising platform called AdFreeway for instance, that uses sentiment-driven voting as a way for brands to gauge the effectiveness of their online ad campaigns. Thumbs up or down icons afford the viewer the opportunity to share their opinion (or voice) about the ad, and if a registered voter on the AdFreeway system, also qualify for rewards. These can be redeemed in store or as appropriate. In so doing, campaigns gather a life of their own as they are peer recommended, and the recommender is rewarded for their efforts.
In research conducted by Gartner in terms of retail, 81% of marketers believe that customer satisfaction is the main competition area for their industry. Whereas a report by the UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI), issued in January shows that, “proactively managing customer relationships and communications will become more critical to customer satisfaction and business performance in 2022.”
Further, Gartner reports that 80% of customers are more likely to buy from businesses that personalise experiences. The omnichannel always on surprise and delight epoch, is well and truly here.
Whilst most of this research and prediction focus is aimed at the retail sector, similar metrics and hypotheses can be applied to the visitor attraction sector, who compete for the same share of wallet and audiences, and whose businesses are founded on ‘experiences’ in the first place.
There is, thus, a growing need for a better understanding of the experience and what drives customer satisfaction, as well as engagement.
Audience Engagement Platforms & Audience Experience Apps – geared to visitor attractions.
The answer for the attraction sector lies in knowing exactly what content moves the audience in the desired direction and why, which not only connects with them on site, but once they have left too. It also requires analysing the visitor’s sentiment towards a given exhibit or experience.
In understanding the stimuli that triggers behaviour, the attraction operator is empowered to mould strategies to encourage visits and then increase the number of times visitors return.
Audience engagement platforms (AEPs) and their attendant audience experience apps, deliver the required crucial insights, and are the experience economy’s tool du jour. The reasons for this are plentiful, not least of all the technological ability to gather and process substantial amounts of data – automatically. This data is analysed according to operator requirements and is then segmented to deliver personalised information.
Cloud-hosted, Software as a Service (SaaS) AEPs, are highly customisable, yet simple to install and use. By tracking the visitor’s dwell time through their mobile device downloaded with the attraction’s experience-powered app, the operator can begin to get a sense of which exhibits/displays work and those that don’t. This informs curation and serves up tailored content to the visitor for a deeper dive into the material they’ve taken an interest in.
AEPs are also base platforms into which a host of other software can be integrated. As a sample, the n-gage.io platform comes as standard with a range of tools to enhance the audience experience, increase engagement and track behaviour. Just some of these platform features include event planning, education modules, beacon triggering and object recognition, heat mapping, digital navigation and signposting, digital asset management, content management, push notification, membership management, gamification and feedback and behaviour tracking.
There’s even something appealing for the meme tourist too, with a digitally downloaded and shareable image frame of their time at the experience.
AEPs allow visitor attractions to work smarter, requiring fewer resources to operate, freeing attractions to do what they do best, creating exceptional experiences that have lasting impressions – for all the right reasons.
For more detailed information on audience engagement platforms and how they help your attraction prosper, get in touch today.