Optimizing the Visitor Experience at Living History Events

Part 2

The details can greatly improve visitor experience. These are often the things that we don’t want people to find fault in. But, to really enhance the visitor experience at LH events, we need to give them what they ask for before they ask for it. Ideally, they will never notice they needed it in the first place or be completely “wowed” by the fact we thought about it.

Let us start with one of the biggest needs people will have at every event…. the bathroom. Did you know there are actually blogs which discuss the conditions of bathrooms and what they mean in terms of customer service? There are. While we likely can’t have beautiful spa bathrooms at events, we can strive to have the best services available. But, I hear you. What can we do to make porta-potties nice? First and foremost… Keep them Clean!!! To do this, there needs to be the right number of potties for the people. To few potties makes for messy potties and long lines. Next, a solid cleaning schedule. Potties must be professionally emptied every morning or more frequently if there is non-invasive access. But, don’t leave the cleaning to the service. A housekeeping staff needs to check on the potties throughout the day. I know, ick. Who wants to do that? You do, because that means happy visitors and happy attendees who will return and spend money. Now, how do we improve the bathroom experience when dealing with porta-potties? Don’t just line them up out in the sun. Be smart. Find a way to turn the potty set-up into a more pleasant bathroom type experience filled with the amenities a bathroom would have. One method I have seen which does this well uses the back of a barn which creates shade and wall-type fencing. The potties are lined up in the shade of the barn with the truck access point on the far side. The side towards the event has a wall made of fencing. From the outside, you just see the wooden fencing. From the inside, you see a counter filled with “running” water, paper towels, hand sanitizer and mirrors. Benches were provided for those waiting in line. A curtained changing area provided a private area for infants. While not an indoor bathroom or a period correct one, this provided a well improved visitor experience.

Another must for visiting an all day event is food and water. Well fed visitors stay longer and remember the event well. Hungery visitors are tired, cranky, irritable and just want to leave. You must include on your advertisements and website whether food will be available. If it is available, mention what kind of food will be there. This will help those with special diets or allergies determine if they will be able to eat and plan accordingly. If food will not be available, invite visitors to bring a picnic. This way they know to bring food. Provide picnic space whether it is on tables, under a large tent or simply on a blanket on the ground.

How many times have you been asked if you are hot in your clothes? Chances are if a visitor is asking if you are hot, they are also hot.  Not everyone has the constitution to walk for hours and hours through an event, standing in the sun watching demonstrations. Events need to have places where visitors can sit down in the shade. This could be where there is natural shade along a tree line or under a tent. Presentation and demonstration areas need to be placed where natural or building shade is available. Seating should also be provided for those who get tired or can not stand for an extended period but still wish to listen and watch. This seating should be well placed with a good view. Seating could be wooden benches or even building steps if need be.

A few weeks ago I had some very puzzled looks when I was asking at a meeting about quiet areas during a different kind of event. It was okay; they didn’t understand. Once you hear a toddler burst in to blood-curdling screams at the sound of a cannon or see an incredibly grateful mother as you welcome her and her terrified child into a quiet gallery, you will never forget just how important a quiet area is for children. Cannons and gun-fire can be loud and scary. Every event should give parents of small children an alternate option to battles and louder demonstrations. Otherwise, families heading to the solace of the car may leave and be leery of returning. If there is an onsite house or gallery building, these will be ideal for reducing the sound. If such a space is not available, a children’s area with a moderate size tent and shaded fly set a good distance from the battle or in a comfortable area can be made to work. In either type of area, provide comfortable places to sit, small water bottles, ear-foams in their packages, and a variety of toddler safe toys. Also have items for older kids who may be frightened as well.

If at all possible, alternate transportation should be available at larger events despite issues with being an anachronism. Older individuals and families with children will greatly appreciate the availability of a trolley or wagon. There are many medical conditions that decrease a person’s ability to walk long distances or be in the sun. These visitors will also appreciate being able to access parts of an event they would not otherwise be able to reach. A trolley can circle an event stopping at designated points or criss-cross an event.  

I think this is all for now. Please stop back for additional thoughts on planning events looking at the visitor experience.

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Really excellent points, all the way around! Even being a Mom, I’d not really considered how often I do use quiet zones when at events or big sites… it’s more than I realized, and I would definitely notice the lack of them.

  2. This is a great post! I wish more event planners would read this. I have seen those lines of baking toilets and thought twice about using the woods.


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