14 March 2020
Image: Hillsborough Castle/ALL Creative
Visitors are becoming more discerning, as the age of Instagram drives home demand for maximalist experiences. At the same time, guests are more interested in meaningful ways of connecting with places and the people behind them.
The challenge for heritage brands is to create “wow” moments while maintaining their historical integrity and a sense of place. A great visitor journey should feature standout moments of adventure and innovation. But it also demands authenticity, and a strong community ethos.
With the rise of VR and interactive discovery, tech takes centrestage in crafting a standout visitor experience. Meanwhile, our attention spans are shorter than ever – but personalisation offers a powerful way to cut through the noise, tailoring experiences to guests of all backgrounds and ages.
Booming trends such as wellness and sustainability also offer scope for development in a competitive sphere. Here are the key trends to get visitors flocking to your heritage site this year:
Image: Henrique Junior on Unsplash
Worth £22 billion in Britain alone, wellness is a lucrative market with global appeal: and savvy heritage are making good on the trend. New York’s Museum of Modern Art runs a museum workout”, where guests can interact mindfully with exhibits.
Give: Volunteering for Wellbeing is a partnership project between London’s UCL university, the Natural History Museum, Valence House Museum and the Horniman Museum and Gardens. It aims to enable a wider range of people to volunteer with their local museums and be inspired by their collections, in support of their personal wellbeing.
Mindfulness meditation is part of the weekly agenda at New York’s Rubin Museum, while Egeskov Castle in Odense, Denmark, has a new sensory garden that encourages guests to stay in the moment, via an innovative fusion of shapes, plants, colours and scents.
Integrating themes of wellness into your heritage site has a twofold impact: it draws in new groups of visitors, and it can also help you develop a multipurpose space. There’s limitless scope for interpretation, too.
Image: Hillsborough Castle/ALL Creative
In a global world, we’re placing a higher premium on experiences that are bound up in local identity. While a great heritage site may well attract visitors from all over the world, this same audience wants to “get under the skin” of a place. Spotlighting local stories and talent is one way to do this. It helps an experience feel genuine and unique.
Engaging local craft specialists was a central part of the makeover brief for Hillsborough Castle in Northern Ireland, which re-launched in April last year. As part of the new look, the site (and the team here at ALL Creative) consulted with stone masons, iron workers and blacksmiths in the area to create a series of installations and placards across the grounds. The new visitor experience at this grand old family home also unlocked long-lost local stories and characters from the castle’s past.
Local community plays an important role here, too. The Derwent Valley Cycleway in Derbyshire plans to cut through the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site, linking together six local communities along the way. Human Henge is a concept based at Stonehenge that helps people living with mental health problems in the local area engage with the ancient landscape via community gatherings such as walks and lunches.
If you can engage your local community, you not only create new reasons to visit your site; you’ll also start to build up a group of unofficial caretakers who may be key to safeguarding its future.
Image: Jorrit Lousberg/ Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision
In an era where we’re forever hunting for original experiences, personalisation is a great way to stand out. If you can tailor your journey to meet the demands and needs of individual guests, the potential for engagement is huge. Few people can resist an experience that speaks directly to them.
At LEGO® House in Billund, Denmark, guests wear customised RFID passes that allow them to interact with digital touchpoints and receive personalised snippets of info, as well as capturing their own LEGO creations.
The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision uses the same RFID technology to serve individual guests with age-appropriate information and recommendations based on the exhibits they’ve seen. RFID rings also let visitors choose their virtual guides, and save a copy of their performances in the booths for disc jockeys, pop stars and more.
Personalisation is not solely about tech, either. Hillsborough Castle has installations that are infused with layers of information. These can be discovered and interacted with in different ways, depending on how old you are and what you’re looking for. In this way, the visitor becomes the architect of their own experience.
Image: Blubel on Unsplash
Adventure is the must-have capital for heritage brands: visitors want bold and unique experiences that sell well on social media.
Often, this involves some element of culinary inspiration – or for a more grown-up theme, booze. Gingerline is a London-based experiential company that explores the stories of people and places through interactive dining experiences. Guests are let on a mystery tour of interactions and animations set within an abandoned railway arch, learning about anything from British garden heritage to the history of Singapore en-route. Meanwhile, Tally Ho tours lets you cycle back in time on a Dickensian gin safari, tracing the roots of the London’s gin craze in the alleyways and breweries of Bermondsey.
You don’t need all the flashing lights for adventure, though: it could be something as simple as a wine tasting evening in a 17th Century dining room. For younger guests, think of events like foraging, leaf collages, high-rope courses or the National Trust’s barefoot trails”: where guests, young and old, are invited to peel off their socks and connect with the landscape.
Image: Lucrezia Carnelos on Unsplash
Most of all at the start of this new decade, we can expect heritage brands to blaze a trail with their use of creative technology. As we’ve seen, RFID devices can be really useful here: as can interactive digital displays. But Virtual Reality is the real game-changer, allowing visitors to step inside an experience, and bringing exhibits to life the world over.
The National Museum of Finland in Helsinki was one of the early adopters of the trend, inviting guests to become time travellers by putting on VR headsets and going behind the scenes R. W. Ekman’s painting The Opening of the Diet 1863 by Alexander II. The Musée du Louvre is currently hosting its first VR experience, taking visitors on an interactive voyage of discovery behind its most famous painting, The Mona Lisa.
And just recently, the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago brought Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech to virtual reality, with a 10-minute immersive experience that is aiming for the most realistic digital rendering of a human ever seen. Meanwhile, The Kremer Museum features 74 Dutch and Flemish Old Master paintings that can only be seen through virtual reality technology, with global visitors able to tune in and examine the masterpieces’ colours and textures up-close.
For those willing to embrace them, the opportunities in this area are rich indeed.