By Sabine Lehmann

Visitor attractions are an important part of our tourism economy. Museums, national parks, aquaria, and water parks are currently all closed, but they will need to plan for reopening when the time comes and consider how to respond to pent-up visitor demand.

While research in South Africa does not currently exist as to where customers will wish to socialise and visit when the lockdown ends, research in the USA and the UK indicates that museums and other attractions are considered desirable places to visit and spend time with family and friends .

Research in the USA by Colleen Dillenschneider looks at adults’ “intention to visit” cultural entities and indicates that “most people are currently maintaining comparatively strong intentions to visit” within the next 3 to 6 months. Similarly, in the UK, BVA BDRC, a consumer insights consultancy, has been tracking consumer sentiment towards travel, leisure, and hospitality. 29% of respondents said they would “go on a day out to a visitor attraction” within the next 3 to 6 months. It should be noted that this is during the USA and UK summer, traditionally indicating higher intentions to visit than during winter.

It is not certain when attractions will be fully operational again, but we do know that dampened economic activity and depressed international tourism will affect visitor numbers for the foreseeable future.

Rework 2020 budgets considering post COVID-19 visitor numbers

The reignition of the attractions economy is likely to be in segments, with highly localised demand opening first (i.e. closest neighbourhoods), followed by day trippers who can visit in cars or public transport, and then domestic visitors from further afield followed by regional and, finally, international visitors. What the timeline is for this is, as yet, unknown, but attractions need to start assessing their historical consumer data to understand what their demand curve will look like.

Open outdoor sites are likely to have a higher demand than closed confined sites. A customer base that was heavily dependent on international visitors will look very different to the attraction that was dependent on local and domestic travel. Additionally, sites that depend on older customers may see a different demand profile to those that predominantly serve a younger profile. Sites that saw significant visitor numbers due to conference, events and concert experiences will have a different recovery trajectory than sites that relied on individual visitors. What role will school groups play in visitation in the next 6 months as the school year remains significantly disrupted?

To ensure readiness to open, attraction managers need to focus on four areas, which we will be unpacking over the next few weeks:

    1. Physical distancing measures
    2. Plan for contactless transactions wherever possible
    3. Increase visible hygiene
    4. Communication

Making Space: Physical Distancing and Contactless Transactions

Attractions are designed to accommodate large groups of people at a time and this will need a rethink as managers plan and integrate physical distancing and contactless transactions throughout their site. This may sound like an anathema to attraction managers – after all, the tourism and attractions industry is about meeting new people and immersion into new worlds, and attractions are designed and indeed hope for large groups of people on their site, but introducing measures to help visitors maintain physical distancing as they venture out post-lockdown will help ease the transition.

Attractions may find it difficult to create structural changes as these are often costly and require a longer timeline. However, the seeds of both physical distancing and a contactless economy already exist at many attractions.

Physical distancing already exists in the form of VIP queues and venues, fast track queues, special opening times (e.g. pensioners, school groups or members only) and reduced capacity (for most attractions these are the winter times). Most attractions spend time considering how to spread demand during peak periods so that the experience is not impacted negatively. Management teams need to use these as starting points for planning and designing physical distancing at their sites on reopening.

The contactless economy exists in that many attractions already pre-sell tickets online, use credit cards or SnapScan for payment options on site, and allow membership cards as entrance tickets. How can this be escalated to ensure that less cash changes hands? Contactless economy refers not only to the exchange of money but also human contact. Sites that rely on direct human contact as part of their experience ( for e.g. putting on VR headsets, or tastings) will need to look specifically at these contact points and assess how these can be done differently and safely.

Whilst visitor attractions are currently in lockdown mode, revised planning and budgeting for visitor numbers (often up to 80% of admissions income) based on domestic demand as well as accelerating physical distancing and contactless transactions can be planned for now.

Next week on the AAVEA blog we’ll discuss the importance of increased visible hygiene practices at sites, and how we should be communicating with our visitors in this time.