Now that we have identified what cultural tourism is, in this chapter we will look at how it feeds into the visitor experience, and this is important to future success. At the end of the toolkit we have detailed practical ways you can apply this. 

By understanding who your visitors are, you can make informed decisions on how to reach them.  By giving them what they want they will be happy with the experience.  By understanding this you can widen out and attract new customers who are similar in outlook, but who have not considered visiting Dorset before.

Remember that those who are satisfied are more likely to recommend you to others, stay longer and come back. Visitors feed back on their experiences through public review sites such as Google, Trip Advisor or Facebook so it is important to manage your reputation online. Social media is a fast, cheap and effective way to market a business and we will look more closely at this in Chapter 5 of this toolkit.

What is the visitor experience?

The visitor experience is divided into the following steps, or cycle (as each part of the trip informs the next):

Pre-visit

  • Inspiration – where will we go?
  • Planning – let’s go here to do this
  • Travel – part of the experience

During visit 

  • The destination – what do we plan to do
  • The activities – is there something else we can do?
  • The surprise – what did we not expect to do?

Post-visit

  • Travel home – did we enjoy it? What was good or bad?
  • Immediate reaction – what did we like best?  What shall we tell people about?
  • Revive memories – it was good (or bad). Will we go back? (or not)

If you are interested in knowing more about how tourists decide where they want to go, here is a more in-depth study: LINK – Research study

Four steps to managing your visitor experience 

  • Who are your tourist visitors and what do they want?

How can you find out what type of people come to your town? A tourism destination, one where tourism is recognised as an economic driver, can use market segmentation as a tool to do this. We look at this more closely in Chapter 5, using Dorset as a case study.  

Tourism companies such as hotels hold invaluable information for market segmentation as they hold the postcodes of those who visit them. Using these a town can identify the types of visitors that come, and adjust their offer accordingly. For example the South West of England attracts most of all holiday and short break visits to the coast, and these visitors are generally more affluent than those visiting coastal areas in the North and East of England. 

You can also judge ask whether visitors come to you as a main holiday destination, for a second holiday or a short break, or both. Do they come every year for a particular event, cultural or otherwise?  Do they come more than once?

Remember that some visitors want to fully experience the local scene. They want to eat and drink local, shop at local independent shops, listen to local bands, view local art. They want to experience the local culture. These are an excellent target group for businesses offering local experiences of produce to target. 

  • Who are your cultural visitors and what do they want?

By identifying who comes to your town as above, you can also see why culture, in all its forms, can be a main attraction. Ask yourself, what do people perceive as your cultural offer, and does it match what your visitors are expecting?  If it does, then you have successfully fulfilled the expectations of stage 1, and you can build on this. If it does not, then they will be immediately disappointed and your offer will be a harder sell. Some types of offer include:

  • Heritage – can people find out about your story? Is it entertaining to do so? Are there museums, stately homes, castles to visit?
  • Events – do these match the description?  Are they enjoyable, priced correctly, accessible?  Are venues welcoming and well-serviced. Is there parking, and do organisers know what else is on offer around the event?
  • Natural landmarks – are these signposted, accessible and kept clean?
  • Famous landmarks and people – do retailers and so in the town know about these, and could they tell people where they are?
  • Understanding what all your visitors want

Closing this gap between expectation and reality is very important to the visitor experience.   So how do people form an expectation in the first place? These can be through:

Websites

Google your town’s name.  What is the first thing that comes up?  Google ‘What can I do in….’ or ‘What can I find in…’ or even ‘Is … a nice place to visit?’ 

Other people’s shared experiences

Look at some review sites such as TripAdvisor; hotel or attraction reviews, event reviews and so on.  What are they positive about? Are there any negative themes emerging, such as difficult parking, crowded at certain times, ‘avoid when….’ and so on. 

Social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube – all capture people’s immediate reactions and are a vital source of information about a town and what is going on

Advertising and other publicity

Publications and press advertisements – does your town advertise itself? Is this in the same publications every year, or is there a better way to use this part of a marketing budget?

Literature, television and film

Towns or areas that are used as filming locations, or appear in books, or are the names of famous authors, often see a surge of visitors who are in many ways expecting the same experience as their favourite characters. This is sometimes known as the ‘Poldark’ effect, for example, as the Poldark series of books and several popular TV adaptations draw people to Cornwall regularly.  While it is difficult to maintain the illusion on film, tours and maps showing specific locations can do much to fulfil the expectations. Tour operators can bring people from a distance away to visit places made famous by film and television, and towns can capitalise on this sudden influx of visitors. But remember that these visitors will have certain expectations!  

As an example, the coastal town of Lyme Regis in Dorset recognises that people may come to it for the following reasons:

  • A popular beach and famous landmark in The Cobb, part of a bustling harbour
  • A reputation for fossils, and a famous fossil hunter in Mary Anning, subject of a new film filmed in the town.
  • The location for several books and films, from Jane Austen’s Persuasion to John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman, and the films of these 
  • A strong heritage strand, and newly refurbished museum
  • Several annual festivals, such as Lyme Regis Rocks, Jazz Jurassica, and an annual Fossil Festival
  • Performances at the Marine Theatre
  • Looking after your visitors during their stay

Cultural and heritage organisations can learn much from the tourism sector in this regard.  The majority of cultural and heritage organisations are also tourist attractions, and all are customer-facing.  What steps can you take to make sure that visitors are welcome?  

Is your customer care training for employees up to date?  Do you rely on volunteers in your box office, or working in your venue?  In 2017, Culture+ offered all the volunteers at Shire Hall, a new heritage attraction in Dorchester, West Dorset, customer care training to make sure they understood the basics – read our blog on this here.

It is important that your customer-facing staff know details about what else is on offer in the town, so that can they recommend these through experience. For example, tourist attractions often offer reduced entry to local employees so that they can recommend from experience.  Could you do the same? Some do the same for local people; an excellent marketing strategy as this allows them to recommend to other visitors, and also to friends and family.

This approach can also work with local restaurants or cafes.  If a cultural organisation partners with one of these then there are obvious publicity benefits to be had, but also recommendations.  Do your staff know the local restaurants that serve local food and give good service? Can they recommend them from experience?

Knowledge is power. The Culture+ project created a number of resources to help local people and those working in customer facing roles learn out the place in which they worked using Dorset as a case study.  We look at these in more detail in Chapter 5.

What we will look at in the next chapter 

So, as a town, how do you attract new visitors and improve your visitor experience? Where do you start? In the next section we will look at the steps you can take to bring the cultural and tourism sectors in your town or city together, to work together, to attract new visitors and improve the experience. Read more here.