Optimizing the Visitor Experience at Living History Events

Part 1

I’ve been enjoying reading Stephanie Meyer’s Creating Great Visitor Experiences: A Guide for Museums, Parks, Zoos, Gardens, & Libraries. Reading her book, has prompted me to consider several additional aspects of the visitor experience at living history events. Here are some of my developing thoughts:

The visitor experience begins before the visit. Whether a potential visitor is learning about your event through a website, radio advertisement or print advertisement it is important not only to entice them to come but to give them an accurate understanding of what to expect through words and/or images.

The way a visitor’s day starts can impact the whole  day. This can include how easy or difficult it was to find the event, what parking was like and finding the entrance. A map, good directions and clear signage can help ensure visitors find your event without getting stress or taking excess time. Once a visitor pulls through the front gate a combination of signage and parking guides are a good way to help visitors find the right parking spot. Ideally, parking will be adequate and on a flat, even surface. Given the nature of many events, this is not always the case. Parking guides should be well aware of the parking plan and potential issues with parking. They should also be observant of lower riding cars, taller trucks, families with small children or those who may need handicap parking or shorter walking distances. Guides should be well versed in the safest way to the entrance, the nearest water source and bathroom They could also know for those exiting, how to get back to the highway and where the nearest restaurants are. Another extremely important piece of information that must be covered in the parking lot, via signage, preferably at the entrance and several times after, is whether or not certain items are allowed on site. This could include coolers, glass drink containers, alcohol, chairs, strollers, etc. It will greatly affect a family’s plans for the day if some of these items are not allowed or if they get them to the entrance and have to turn around to take them back to the car.  Signage with a helpful approach can be greatly appreciated. A sign that says “don’t forget your water and sunscreen” could help save a person’s day.

The entrance is not just the way into an event, it sets the stage for the event. An admission table or gate should be welcoming and well informed. Admissions people should know the plan for the event as well as the site layout backwards and forwards. They should be able to not only hand you the very well designed map of the event and accurately detailed schedule, they should be able to answer questions about bathrooms, activities for small children, demonstrations and where particular groups or units are.

I am particular about literature. I believe a map needs to clearly show all the necessities a visitor is looking for as well as the locations of everything they will want to see. The locations of demonstrations, battle seating, hands-on activities, bathrooms and food all need to be marked. Schedules must be accurate. They should cover military and civilian activities, presentations, demonstrations, hands-on activities with times and locations. Most often we see this as a list with what is happening at each time. One of my favorite schedules for an event was actually a chart, in full color, that showed times on one side and locations on the other. Reading across the chart you could see everything that happened at the xyz pavilion through the whole day. Or you could see all the domestic demonstrations colored in green through the day. This format, though costly in color, allowed visitors to easily plan out their day or to glance at to find what is happening nearest them at a particular time.

It is all about details …. next…

Published in: on April 5, 2011 at 3:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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