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You need visitors for your museum to be a success. Understanding your visitors and who you’d like to attract is essential: who they are, where do they come from, their likes and dislikes. This can help you build a stronger museum that appeals to more people.

Who visits museums?

This all depends on where you are and what you have. A major city museum with a large and diverse collection will have a larger pool of people to draw from than an isolated rural museum with a specialist collection. 

It’s very easy to overestimate how many visitors your museum will attract, this can have serious consequences for the viability of your organisation. There are several data sources that will help you to predict the number of visitors your museum could attract and how to carry out targeted promotional activity. 

New museums are entering a very competitive market. Scotland has a population of over 5.3 million and a third of them visit a museum or gallery at least once a year. However, even established museums, who have had time to identify their audiences and target their marketing, only secure a small percentage of all visits. 

Who will visit my museum?

Knowing who your visitors are will help you to plan exhibitions, events, and help you target your marketing activity. In the first instance you could use local population data such as the Census (last carried out in 2022 although these results are yet to be published) to identify the scale of potential audiences. Speaking to similar or neighbouring museums or attractions may also help you to estimate visitor numbers. 

Once you are up and running, make sure you put systems in place to find out who is visiting your museum and to get some feedback on their experience. Monitoring visitor numbers through patterns of ticket sales, asking front of house staff to informally identify the types of people coming in (eg. groups, couples, families), using Gift Aid postcode data to identify how far visitors are travelling, and carrying out visitor surveys may all help. 

However you find out the information, make sure you know what you want to do with that information, and remember to set time aside to analyse it all and discuss your response. 

It’s also vitally important that you abide by the new GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) guidelines (25 May 2018) when keeping or using data. 

Segmenting your audience

When analysing information on who is visiting your museum, you will probably find they are not all the same. For example, you may attract elderly couples, young families, or teenagers.

Try to classify your visitors into different groups based on where they live, what they like, and what age they are. This is called segmentation and will prove very useful when you are running promotions or looking to communicate with them. The group you put them in will dictate what you offer and how you speak to them. 

Further resources

VisitScotland – About our Visitors  can help you to identify why people choose to visit Scotland and why they are coming from the UK and overseas. In addition, they have produced a Visitor Survey Toolkit for those wanting to find out more about their existing audiences. 

VisitScotland –  Scotland’s regions, Tourism Research and Statistics provides more detailed information and valuable insights, including the latest visitor survey for each region. 

Culture Republic is Scotland’s audience development agency, and their website holds a range of resources around the topic. 

The Information Commissioners Office website is the best source of information on the GDPR guidelines introduced in May 2018. These are important if you are storing and using data on individuals. 

Scotland’s Census paints an important picture of Scotland’s people, their characteristics and behaviour. The last census was run in 2022 although the results haven’t been published yet. The 2011 Census is still a useful resource to use when planning. 

Scotland’s Towns Partnership: Understanding Scottish Places is a collection of freely accessible information that helps you to better understand your local area and those that live in it. 

MOSAIC Scotland is a paid service from Experian that allows you to profile your audiences based on location, preferences, and behaviours. 

Culture Hive has developed an audience persona template for cultural and creative businesses which might help in classifying and segmenting your audiences. They also have an audience development guide which will help if you’re looking to expand the audience that uses your museum or services.