The Visitor Experience: Adapting in Post-Covid World
The heritage and tourism industry has suffered in numerous ways due to the Covid pandemic currently prevalent in our world. When we think about the relationship between heritage sites and consumers who are eager to explore history and heritage, this has naturally been subject to change during these challenging times. Ensuring that collections, artefacts and displays are appreciated, and that the heritage is valued by the visitor is key for a successful visitor experience (Wallace, 2017, p. 3) and this coupled with the new safety precautions, is what all heritage sites are attempting to balance.
As a researcher, I have visited different heritage sites and experienced how they have adapted to the current circumstances where social distancing, improved hygiene practices and safety precautions have been put in place. One heritage site of note is New Lanark, where I have also had the privilege of working for the past year on a part-time basis. Awarded World Heritage Site (WHS) status in 2001, New Lanark celebrates the industrial history of Scotland through a Visitor Attraction Centre and various other tourist facilities such as a hotel, café and shop. It can be found alongside the River Clyde, between Glasgow and Edinburgh. The purposes of this WHS are summarised below (New Lanark, 2020):
- Conserve the site’s heritage, site and environs,
- Contribute socially and economically to the area,
- Evolve to stay relevant to our people and the world.
As the Covid pandemic has swept through the country, New Lanark has attempted to balance the consumer needs and wants with government restrictions and guidelines to ensure a safe, enjoyable and informative visit to the site. Arguably, this is in keeping with the above purposes of the site. With the visitor experience already being widely recognised in literature as a ‘multidimensional and complex’ learning environment with varying perspectives (Packer and Ballantyne, 2016, p. 129), adding necessary safety precautions into the mix has created many challenges which have required urgent solutions.
Using online platforms such as social media to further promote heritage and history has enabled New Lanark to reach various target audiences and promote the visibility of the site. A new socially-distanced exhibition entitled ‘A Tenement Through Time’ has also been opened to the public, where the consumer can learn how people lived through their words, lives and wallpapers. Despite these successful promotions of history and heritage, New Lanark has been unable to fully open its doors to tourists which is sadly the reality for a great number of heritage sites. Thus, we ask ourselves… How long can this be sustained?
The temptation to think negatively of such circumstances is to be expected but perhaps when we think of the diverse and complex nature of the visitor experience in its entirety, we realise that as the individual consumer experiences the visitor journey in different ways, the means through which such an experience can be explored can promote various levels of engagement and meet varying consumer needs (Garner et al., 2016, p. 341). On reflection, perhaps the more New Lanark adapts to current circumstances, the more likely they will be able to meet their aims and purposes to evolve to stay relevant to their people and the world.
Garner, J., Kaplan, A., and Pugh, K., (2016) Museums as Contexts for Transformative Experiences and Identity Development, Journal of Museum Education, 41:4, 341-352.
New Lanark World Heritage Site, New Lanark Website, available at https://www.newlanark.org/.
Packer, J., and Ballantyne, R., (2016) Conceptualising the Visitor Experience: A Review of Literature and Development of a Multifaceted Model, Visitor Studies, 19:2, 128-143, DOI: 10.1080/10645578.2016.1144023.
Wallace, V., (2017) Success Guides: Successful Visitor Experience – Getting it Right, Association of Independent Museums, available at https://www.aim-museums.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Successful-Visitor-Experience-2017.pdf.
Picture by Lucy Lannigan
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