Working on the Visitors Count project for the last couple of years has been a satisfying experience of learning where we are performing well and where we could work to improve ourselves. I started at Heritage Museums & Gardens in 2013 and in the summer of 2014, I was given the Visitors Count project to oversee. In 2015, not only did I oversee the project and survey collection, I was also able to travel to Nashville for the interactive seminar where we go over the results in detail with other participating museums and historic sites.
Being part of that one-day seminar was illuminating. This was our third time doing the Visitors Count surveys, having done them before in 2012 and 2014. Being able to see how we have grown in some areas, stayed the same in others, and in one case, declined in an area was interesting. Doing the surveys in multiple years is so important as you can not only see how you stack up against other organizations but also how you compare to yourself year after year.
In looking at the 2015 results, one of the biggest things to note was how visitors view us in terms of ease of getting around. Our score actually went down in 2015 as compared to 2014 and we scored lower on ease of getting around compared to all other museum/ historic site benchmarks….except for other gardens. Compared to other garden sites, we are on par with visitor expectations in how easy it is to get around. That was so telling for us as we can now look at expectations of visitors and control our messaging around that, as well as continue to make improvements with our transport system.
To improve our ease of getting around, we’ve tried a few things. Last summer, during our busiest months, we did time tests to see how long it actually would take to do a full loop around the gardens and from there, we adjusted our language to visitors about the transport service. However, given that we scored lower in 2015 than we did in 2014, there still seems to be a lot to do in terms of managing visitor expectations. From the 2015 results, nothing has been decided yet, but I think we are going to do some follow up mini-surveys/digging-deeper surveys in the spring to learn more about how visitors look at value, what does value mean to them and how did Heritage meet their expectations or not.
Visitors Count surveys have also really demonstrated the powerful emotions and connections our visitors make when they are here. We outperform other museums/historic sites in many categories and the open-ended questions reflect that with our visitors telling us how our exhibits, gardens and staff help make their experiences here unforgettable.
I look forward to continuing our work with the Visitors Count program. With changing exhibits each year and gardens that are ever-evolving, Visitors Count surveys help us see the big picture of what is resonating with our visitors and how we can continue to improve their experience.