When a visitor walks through your door, they are choosing to come to your museum rather than going to the cinema, park, library, café, or anything else on offer in the area. You are competing for their leisure time so you must be confident that you can meet their expectations. Regardless of what you provide, a customer-focused service can transform their experience.
Remember to involve all your staff in this process. Everyone in your museum should be aware of what you offer, and how to get this across. From volunteers to full time staff, everyone is crucial to a positive visitor experience.
How will visitors find you?
Digital or print
At the very least your website should carry a comprehensive map of where you are, a photograph of your museum, and your opening hours and facilities. See our top tips for a visitor-friendly website.
Social media can also be helpful – include links in your social media profile directing people to your website, letting your users know what facilities and services you have on offer. Read more about how to use social media to engage with your visitors in our social media advice guide.
You can also produce leaflets or location maps and place them in local businesses, or have them distributed further afield depending on your audience. Find out more about identifying your audience.
It is important to get external signage right. If your audience is predominantly local people your job may be easier, but your museum can still be overlooked. Consider signs on your building and on major routes to your museum.
Signage on listed buildings has to be considered and should be discussed with Historic Environment Scotland and if in a conservation area, should be discussed with your local planning department.
Brown or ‘tourist’ signs can be applied for from Transport Scotland. Museums are eligible but you must:
- Be recognised as part of the VisitScotland Quality Assurance Scheme
- Attract or be used by visitors to an area
- Be open to the public without prior booking during normal opening hours.
VisitScotland provides further information and advice around applying for a tourist sign. You should be aware that the signs are not free and can range in price depending on their size.
What facilities do you offer?
Not all museums have space for a shop or café, and sometimes you might not want to take business away from other local businesses. You have to provide the facilities that are right for you, your visitors, and fit in to your local area.
If you have a fantastic café nearby, then tell your visitors. This will then leave you free to concentrate on other services that complement those of your neighbours.
Inclusivity and accessibility
Accessibility not only covers the perception people have of your museum – it can also mean ensuring those that are differently abled are catered for and your museum provides an inclusive experience for all your visitors.
Advice on your legal responsibilities on accessibility are outlined in the Equality Act 2010, which states that ‘tourism businesses should treat everyone accessing their goods, facilities or services fairly, regardless of their gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, gender reassignment, religion or belief, and guard against making assumptions about the characteristics of individuals’.
Euan’s Guide provides a wealth of information on accessibility as well as rating the most accessible attractions around the UK, and VisitScotland’s ‘Easy Does It’ guide also provides advice around provision for different types of visitor.
VisitScotland Quality Assurance Scheme
Also known as the ‘star rating scheme’, the VisitScotland Quality Assurance Scheme (QA Scheme) is a recognised standard assessed by independent experts which grades the quality of visitor attractions and other businesses in Scotland.
The Scheme rates attractions based on nine categories, from ‘pre-arrival’ (encompassing information provision prior to arriving) to ‘core experience’ (encompassing décor, inclusivity, interpretation and signage). Ratings range from 1 star (acceptable) to 5 star (exceptional).
Attractions pay for the service, with subscribers receiving a report with areas for improvement.
Visitor experience checklist
In a nutshell, you don’t have to offer everything. However, what you do offer needs to be good, safe, and clean. Here’s a list of things to consider to ensure everyone enjoys their visit:
- Are you easy to find?
- Are you open when people want to visit? Do you advertise your opening hours?
- Does your site feel secure and safe?
- Will visitors be dry and comfortable?
- What will visitors do with wet coats?
- Where are the nearest (clean) toilets including baby change and accessible toilets?
- Where can visitors get refreshments?
- How will you welcome people to your museum?
- What will a visitor’s first impression of your museum be?
- Is there a safe space for school groups or vulnerable people to have a break?
- Is there space for members of the public and academics to research your collection?
- Is your interpretation accessible and easy to understand?
By considering these questions and more, you can identify your own areas for improvement and ensure you provide a welcoming and attractive space for visitors.
VisitScotland.org contains details of their Quality Assurance Scheme and how to get involved, as well as further information on brown signage.
Euan’s guide is a site that’s used by disabled people to review, share, and discover accessible places to visit. Any venue can list their details on the site, which will ask about your range of accessibility. They also have resources and top tips for venues wanting to improve their accessibility.
The Association of Independent Museums has a success guide titled Successful visitor experiences with resources on how to offer your visitors better experiences. Their Hallmarks project has a ‘Visitor Focus’ element with further information and case studies.
Kids in Museums works with museums to help them welcome and include families, teenagers, and children.
The Scottish Government introduced its Community Empowerment Act and associated action plan in 2009 to help communities shape the services that are offered to them.
The ‘Open Up: Museums for everyone’ project, made possible through funding from Arts Council England, AIM, MALD, Museums Galleries Scotland and National Museums Northern Ireland, is designed to help all size museums to increase the diversity of their visitors.
Information on making alterations to listed properties can be found on Historic Environment Scotland’s website.