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19 Jan 2018 Attractions Management Handbook
 

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Attractions Management Handbook - Importance of Context

ALVA

Importance of Context


Delivering a sound visitor experience is key to success and will be rewarded with positive recommendations, higher spend and better acquisition, retention and revenue

Finance workshops at The View from The Shard help to measure performance against industry best practice photo: © the view from the shard
ALVA benchmarking participant, The Shard photo: © the view from the shard
Staff working at the Roman Baths attraction go on annual visits to ‘best in class’ sites photo: © bath tourism plus/colin hawkins
Staff working at the Roman Baths attraction go on annual visits to ‘best in class’ sites photo: © bath tourism plus/colin hawkins
Staff working at the Roman Baths attraction go on annual visits to ‘best in class’ sites photo: © bath tourism plus/colin hawkins
Staff working at the Roman Baths attraction go on annual visits to ‘best in class’ sites photo: © bath tourism plus/colin hawkins
The Science Museum Group immediately recognised the value of the Experience Intensity Model photo: © Benjamin Ealovega
Flying Object will bring artworks like Azalea Garden and Great Day of His Wrath to life using sound, smell and taste
Flying Object will bring artworks like Azalea Garden and Great Day of His Wrath to life using sound, smell and taste
Flying Object will bring artworks like Azalea Garden and Great Day of His Wrath to life using sound, smell and taste
Flying Object will bring artworks like Azalea Garden and Great Day of His Wrath to life using sound, smell and taste

Why Benchmark?
Whether our motivations are educational, charitable or profit focused, delivering a great visitor experience is key to any visitor attraction’s success. It leads to more recommendations, higher spend and ultimately better acquisition, retention and revenue. But how do we know what level of return, recommendation or spend is good?

ALVA (Association of Leading Visitor Attractions) runs two benchmarking surveys: a financial survey to benchmark income, productivity and profitability, and a visitor survey to benchmark the on-site visitor experience. These two surveys allow attractions to track their performance over time, make comparisons with their peers and identify best-in-class sites to look to for inspiration.

Benchmarking Operational & Financial Performance
With ever-growing competition from new attractions, other forms of out-of-home leisure and in-home entertainment, the need for visitor attractions to remain competitive and to operate in a financially sustainable manner has never been greater. Although this has always been key for commercial attractions, as government and other funding sources come under increasing scrutiny the subsidised sectors are also increasingly having to focus on driving income from visitors and need to ensure that costs and productivity are closely monitored.

ALVA’s annual Financial Benchmarking Survey provides participants with the context within which they can evaluate their own performance and identify areas where there is potential to grow visitor spend, increase productivity and improve contribution.

Trends in visitor spend indicate that, for many, participation in the survey has supported growth in all main areas of spending, as shown in Figure 1, with spend per visitor growing by an average of just under six per cent per annum for a constant sample of participants.

The opportunity for visitor spend varies considerably by type of attraction, as shown in Figure 2, and the survey results are divided into three main sectors to allow participants to benchmark their performance against the most comparable of their peers. Many of the museums and galleries in the sample have free entry to their main collection and hence the ability to benchmark on-site spending on catering and retail and tickets for temporary exhibitions against other museums and galleries is of particular relevance.

Participants in the ALVA Financial Benchmarking Survey have been able to use the findings to improve their performance in a variety of ways, such as identifying the opportunity for increasing the scale of their retail and/or catering offer, providing evidence to support price increases, and generally informing internal decision processes.

For one recently opened participant, The View from The Shard, the findings have been invaluable in helping them to consider their year one performance in the context of the wider attractions industry. The View from The Shard has also used the findings to run finance workshops with their management team to support discussions on how to further improve performance against industry best practice.

Attractions participating in both of ALVA’s benchmarking surveys also get the additional benefit of being able to compare their financial and productivity results with their visitor experience findings. For example, as shown in Figure 3, whilst the income per staff member (full-time equivalent) has increased by an average of five per cent per annum for the constant sample, the number of visits per staff member has actually declined by an average of nearly three per cent per annum.

As average attendances have also increased over the period, the data indicate that staff numbers are growing at some sites. This may appear to indicate the possible opportunity to increase staff productivity. However, in the past, comparisons with the Visitor Experience findings have shown the impact of reducing staff on visibility of staff and hence visitor satisfaction, indicating that a reduction in a site’s visits per staff is not always a negative indication.

Benchmarking Visitor Experiences
Expectations of visitor attractions have always been high, but there’s been a significant shift during recent years, with visitors expecting more from their visits (Figure 4).

It is difficult for sites to constantly improve their offer, especially at a time when budgets are being slashed. However, to maintain and grow visitor numbers (and financial success), evolution of your offer is necessary. It is therefore vital to invest available resources where they will have maximum impact.

Stephen Covey, the author of 7 Habits of Highly Effectively People, tells us “the key is not to prioritise what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities”. Great advice, but how do we know exactly what to prioritise?

BDRC Continental, which manages the visitor experience benchmarking survey on ALVA’s behalf, have developed a key driver model to identify the importance of different aspects of an attraction’s offer and delivery on the overall visit experience.

The drivers of an optimal visitor experience, or ‘Experience Intensity’, can be divided into three categories:

1 Site Content: this relates to features/ exhibits, activities and learning.

2 Emotional Impact: the way the site makes you feel, and supports your emotional wellbeing.

3 Service Delivery: this encompasses staff presence and operational elements, such as cleanliness and upkeep, way finding and staff appearance.

Statistical analysis has revealed that, across the attractions market, Site Content has the biggest impact on the visitor experience, followed by Emotional Impact. The relative importance of these macro areas is shown in Figure 5. However, the importance of these driver categories varies by sector. For parks and gardens, for example, the Emotional Impact of the site is the most important.

Tim Neal, senior visitor insights executive at the Science Museum Group, immediately recognised the value of the Experience Intensity Model: “as an organisation we spent a lot of time focusing on operational elements, such as cleanliness of toilets, because these elements are tangible and easy to respond to… The ALVA Experience Intensity drivers showed us we were assigning too much time and resource to these elements”. As a result, the Science Museum Group has shifted its focus to prioritise the aspects of their offer that will have a more significant impact on the visitor experience.

The best use of resources comes from prioritising important drivers that the attraction performs less well on compared with peers. Comparative performance is key because visitor expectations are set through visits to other attractions and will review your site in line with their personal benchmark.

There will of course be limitations in what can be changed, but by looking at ‘best in class’ sites, it is usually possible to find ideas for improvements that could be applied, or that provide inspiration for other enhancements. Patricia Dunlop, commercial manager of Bath Heritage Services, which manages a number of attractions including the Roman Baths, arranges a staff outing to a ‘best in class’ site each year. The team are given a homework task to do in advance and asked to feedback learnings and ideas on their return, which are then shared and used as inspiration for developing their offer.

The final step in the development process is to track improvements over time in order to ensure that changes have the desired effect.

In total, BDRC identified 23 aspects of the visitor experience that drive Experience Intensity. The most important of these at a market level is ‘bringing the subject matter to life’. There are endless ways in which sites can do this; the best approach will depend on your sector and audience. One site that we will be watching with keen interest this summer is Tate Britain as they launch the Tate Sensorium installation, created by the Tate’s 2015 IK prize winner, Flying Object. This immersive, multi-sensory installation promises to bring artwork to life through the addition of sound, smell, taste and touch, helping visitors to experience the art in a completely new way.

How to join
ALVA has run the Financial and Visitor Experience surveys for 20 years. Over time the surveys have been adjusted and finessed to best support participants.

The Financial Survey, managed by consultancy Morisetti Associates, covers around 80 sites and is available to both ALVA members and non-members with the requirement of a minimum of 100,000 visits per annum. The Visitor Experience survey, managed by research consultancy BDRC Continental, collects feedback from over 30,000 visitors a year across more than 80 leading UK visitor attractions. Participation includes 375-450 research interviews at each site per annum across three waves of research.

Figure 1:

Spend per visitor

 



Source: ALVA Financial Benchmarking 2013/14, Constant Sample
Figure 2:

Total net spend per visitor by sector

 



Source: ALVA Financial Benchmarking 2013/14, Constant Sample
Figure 3:

Staff productivity

 



Source: ALVA Financial Benchmarking 2013/14, Constant Sample
Figure 4:

Visitor expectations

 



Source: ALVA Visitor Experience Benchmarking 2013/14, Constant Sample
Figure 5:

Experience Intensity Model

 



Source: ALVA Visitor Experience Benchmarking

About the authors:

 

Lesley Morisetti ((left) and Katie Vosper
 

Lesley Morisetti, director of Morisetti Associates and Katie Vosper, research director of BDRC Continental.



Originally published in Attractions Handbook 2015 issue 1

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