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Building the Future We Want: New Opportunities Amidst the Crisis

Updated: August 27, 2020 | Share on LinkedIn

Written by Greg Banecker

There’s a quote we’ve been passing around the office since COVID-19 forced us to close our doors. I can’t remember who said it, or exactly how it goes. But it’s something like: “We shouldn’t be working to get back to normal, we should be working to create the future we want.”

On a recent Webinar Wednesday, we had Bernard Donoghue as a panelist. Bernard is the Director and Chief Executive of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions in the United Kingdom. While we didn’t specifically talk with Bernard about opportunities and the future we want, I think a lot of his points illustrate the meaning behind this quote perfectly. We absolutely can’t mitigate the negative impact coronavirus has had on our operations, our staff and our guests. But in the same vein, we absolutely need to acknowledge the opportunities in front of us to shape a future we want.

Find New Audiences

Many attractions have found that they are reopening to a different set of guests than the ones they closed to in March. This is likely due to many reasons.

First, as closures extended, attractions found new and creative ways to engage their audiences online, exposing their brand to thousands or hundreds of thousands of people who had never visited before. Second, people are not traveling as often or as far as they did previously, leaving untapped portions of the local market ripe for visitation. Third, people have a more philanthropic mindset during the pandemic. They may never have visited the small local zoo, but they certainly don’t want to see it close.

Finally, and this is key, people are very pent up.

All of these factors have left new demographic segments of guests searching for an attraction to visit. What are you doing to make sure they choose you?


Find New Partners

We’re lucky in the attractions space that for the most part everyone is ready to share information, data, research and best practices in an effort to help the entire industry move forward. This is likely because our inter-connectivity and interdependence is more apparent in the hospitality and leisure space than it is in other industries. By that I mean: We need public transport to deliver a safe and secure experience so people feel safe getting to our venues. Similarly for airlines. Or, hotels, so our guests have a safe place to stay. It’s the same for restaurants, public parks and even the other attractions around us. If one entity delivers an experience perceived unsafe, at best, we all suffer, and at worst, we all shut down again.

So now is the time to develop new partnerships.

We’ve heard of groups of local attractions forming joint committees to set safety and security standards for any attraction in the area. This way, guests going to any venue know what to expect and how to behave, which in turn makes them feel comfortable to visit any of these venues. Standardized safety practices also reduce the risk of one attraction ‘messing up’ and hurting the reputation of all attractions.

We’ve also seen attractions creating package deals with new partners in an attempt to drive more business. A local restaurant or brewery that you’ve never partnered with before is suffering just as much as you.


Find New Profit Centers

Initial reports are in – attractions are seeing massive retail sales, some even reporting their best ever months. Guests have been pent up for six months now, and so have their wallets. Not only are they ready to spend, but they’re also looking for souvenirs to commemorate their first trip back to your venue.

Now I’m not suggesting selling souvenirs in a gift shop is a new idea, but what you sell and how you sell them might be. If you don’t have a retail center, get one. Seriously, we’ve heard of tables out on the lawn driving record retail sales. If you do have a primary gift shop, are there other areas within your venue where you can setup additional retail touch points?

Guests are proud to be back and they’re buying retail that alludes to coming back after closures. What opportunities do you have to develop new themed merchandise that respectfully capitalizes on COVID messaging?


Find New Communications Channels

The greatest communication tool by far during the pandemic has been video. If it’s not part of your communications arsenal yet, make it. If your video strategy could use some sprucing up, do it.

Specifically, attractions are filming a short, compact version of their guest journey to show visitors what to expect before they visit. Just have a staff member shoot something on their mobile: parking, walking to the entrance, scanning their ticket, showing staff members wearing masks, showing social distancing signs and social distancing being practiced, how to use the bathrooms, and how to purchase food or retail. It doesn’t need to be sophisticated. In fact, the more amateur (within reason), the more authentic the video feels.

Attractions in the UK are reporting that 97% of visitors view their guest experience video before arriving because they want to know what to expect.


Find New Methods of Communication

Attractions that are selling free timed tickets to their members are seeing huge no-show rates the day of their reservation – upwards of 40%. Members are still accustomed to how their experience used to work: just show up when you want and get in. And they’re treating their reserved timed tickets similarly.

Many non-profit institutions have started using messages on their web store and through their customer relationship management tool to help address this issue. They’re making sure to be very clear about why members need to book a reserved time, and why it’s important that they show up at that time or let them know they won’t be showing up.

If you don’t currently use a CRM right now, it may be worth investigating your options. Venues are then using their CRM to send automatic emails reminding members of their reservation. They are even giving members the opportunity to let them know they will be cancelling their reservation. We don’t want this to become a serious issue, members reserving tickets that could go to a general admission guest and then not showing up. So it’s important to use your available communication channels to get ahead of this.


Find a New or Improved Company Culture

Many attraction staff haven’t been working at all since closures. Others have been furloughed and looking forward to coming back. Others have been working 100% from home. And others have been working in-venue. When we do reopen, the dynamic may be similar. Some staff are physically coming back to the venue while others remain working from home. And still others remain laid-off or furloughed. We now all have a dispersed workforce with staff engaging in the buzz of reopening at different levels.

So it’s more important than ever to take a look at your company culture and HR policies and make sure they reflect the dynamics of your new staffing policies. We need to make sure those furloughed or working from home don’t feel ostracized. Similarly, we need to make sure those coming back to the venue don’t feel more important than others, or conversely, resentful or overworked. And are there opportunities to have staff continue to work from home, and are their any financial benefits to that?

If you were considering making changes to your company culture or HR policies, now may be a great time to execute them.


Now is the Time to Experiment

Cutting operating hours or full days of operation. Opening later and staying open later. Ending the season early. Special promotions or partnerships. Special ticket types and different product offerings. If there was ever a time to tweak something old or test something new, now is it. And that’s exactly what attractions are doing. Amidst the crisis, we have the opportunity to build the future we want.

What new audiences should you pursue?

What new partners are on the horizon?

What new technology can you adopt to add communication methods and channels?

And what are you doing now because of coronavirus that you fully intend to keep doing even after the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror?

We want to give a special thanks to Bernard Donoghue from ALVA for his insights during our July 22 Webinar Wednesday which inspired this blog post.

What can we help you find?