The Opportunities and Challenges as Visitor Attractions Prepare to Re-open

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On the day the government is due to announce that zoos and safari parks can reopen from 15th June and other attractions across the UK look towards reopening their doors to visitors over the coming weeks and months, we reflect on the challenges still to be faced. Working with a wide range of visitor attractions in recent weeks we are seeing clear patterns emerging.

Support for attractions

The overwhelming response from the public is one of warmth and support for attractions. The public want them to reopen, but equally want to see measures in place to protect visitors. However, there is also recognition that it is a challenge for many attractions and that they must simply do the best they can under the circumstances. This view therefore comes with an acceptance that attractions cannot be perfect.

We’re in this together

Aligned to this there is a real sense of shared responsibility, to borrow the IKEA philosophy “we do our bit, you do your bit”. There is a widespread sense that it is a shared responsibility. The attraction can take many practical steps itself, but it is also reliant on the public to play their part. Visitors recognise that they have a part to play in keeping themselves and attraction staff safe and it is not solely the responsibility of the attraction

Current media coverage reports on a variety of activity by individuals and groups that are bending or breaking the rules, particularly around social distancing. A visit to your local supermarket will already show a more lax approach among shoppers to the 2-metre rule.

What then transpires from this is concern among many visitors that the greatest risk lies in other visitors not following the instructions and guidelines. To counter this risk, visitors expect attractions to be firm in their instructions and to challenge visitors who are not ‘sticking to the rules’ this would perhaps save the visitor from feeling uncomfortable or having to challenge other visitors who are too close, or are handling items without sanitising etc.

Confidence Counts

One of the most striking things from working with individual attractions is that we are seeing intent to return either immediately or soon after reopening to the specific attraction is higher than the benchmark national data.

Clearly annual pass holders, social media followers and emarketing recipients will logically be at the ‘front of the queue’ to return, but it appears to be more than that. It seems that the familiarity around the unique circumstances of the attraction builds a confidence from understanding the scale of the risk.

That familiarity allows the prospective visitor to visualise the attraction and perhaps imagine how social distancing would work, or to rationalise how a one-way system would work, or how visitor flow could be managed across the attraction.

It makes sense – there is a confidence boost in returning to a place we have been to before – we look forward to returning to shops, bars, restaurants we are missing through lock-down and the same appears to be true of visitor attractions. The likely first visitors will be loyal, returning ones rather than those seeking out a new destination and new experiences.

Whether that is an understanding of how one might effectively socially distance throughout the attraction, a view of sanitising requirements on interactive elements, the size of the restaurant or shop etc.

When the numbers do not add up

Getting the doors open however, is not the end of the challenge for the visitor attraction sector. There is a double-whammy from a drop in revenue and an increase in costs. There are long lists on both sides of the equation some of which we note here:

Revenue StreamsCost Implications
Reduced visitor volumesAdditional Staff (cleaning, security etc.)
Deferral of annual membership renewalsHand sanitisers (capital cost and consumables)
Reduced on-site spend – retailPPE, gloves, masks
Reduce on-site spend – food & drinkSigns & markers
Temporary closure of incremental entry options (rides, displays, guides etc.)Infrastructure changes (e.g. changed installations, screens, automatic doors, footfall counters etc.)

As attractions look to encourage visitors back it will be important to really understand the impact on revenue of reduced visitor volumes and potentially reduced on-site visitor spend. That revenue drop is then set alongside the increased costs associated with being COVID-compliant.

Attractions reopening will clearly not be the end of the financial challenges. The need to ensure revenues are optimised and incremental expenditure is channelled to the aspects of visitor experience that are most wanted, will remain a priority.

Taking the Right Action

Our research has included museums, galleries. theme parks, animal attractions large and small, indoor, and outdoor. Each has generated a unique set of recommended actions to optimise their venue for returning visitors. Two key factors influence requirements:

  1. The individual attraction’s unique environment that leads to varying action priorities. Two attractions with the same list of features may differ greatly in how they are delivered (space, layout, access, visitor footfall etc.). The visitor requirements to support reopening and the actions that need to be taken may well therefore differ between those two attractions.
  2. The unique visitor profile: Different people expect different things and have differing priorities. For example; if an attraction’s core visitor profile is people who are older or vulnerable their requirements and expectations may differ from families with small children or groups of young adults. Taking core visitor needs into consideration will ensure not only budgets are effectively allocated, but that the visitor experience will be optimised.

The Road Ahead

It is good to be talking about the future and the imminent reopening of visitor attractions across the UK. Signs are strong that people are looking forward to days out and revisiting their favourite places. Intent to revisit attraction is is high and, while it will take time to build up visitor volumes, it certainly looks as if there is great willingness both from the attractions and the visitors to make it work.

What next?

XV Insight are working with individual visitor attractions to help them plan for the future. The attraction-specific research is designed to

  • indicates the potential change in visitor volumes
  • highlights features and facilities within the attraction that are likely to cause greatest visitor concern or anxiety
  • prioritises actions the attraction needs to take to meet returning visitor expectations

If you would like to know more, please get in touch here or contact us on 07500 005449 or

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