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'Larders not Cakes and thoughts on museums in an uncertain world'

Advisor to government on tourism matters and current Chair of Tourism South East, the Hampshire Solent Museums Open Forum was incredibly fortunate to have Ken Robinson CBE provide the 2017 key note speech.

Corina Westwood, deputy chair of the Advisory Panel and Curator of Human History for the Isle of Wight Heritage Service shares her notes for those who missed it:

Ken’s credentials in the tourism industry are impressive. His consultancy has completed over 1,700 different assignments across the World of which over 200 were specific museum projects. In1969 he was responsible for the development of the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu. He was involved in the foundation of: AIM, Historic Houses Association, ALVA and English Heritage.

The back of Ken Robinson’s business card reads ‘’innovation and creation to optimise the economic and cultural benefits of tourism’’. His speech provided an inspiring mix of data, trends and ideas; placing museums within the National and International tourism market whilst providing inspiration at what our audiences want and how we can meet their needs.

Now to the statistics!

Great Britain has over 6,000 visitor attractions which is the highest density of any location in the World. Most visitors to these attractions come from a 20 mile radius, are local and are repeat visitors. Domestic tourism makes up 80% of visits (although this is of course dependent on location).

Despite funding cuts museums operate in a benevolent economic environment – they are ‘too important to fail’, they are community assets and very important to a destination’s appeal.

The diverse heritage and history of the UK is harnessed to market our destination across the World and is one of the key reasons why visitors come to the UK. The ‘Great Campaign’ promotes GB across the World (in key locations) and spreads the word ‘Culture is Great’. Of the cultural products associated with the UK, museums come top – and they appeal across the age ranges and nationalities. Many visitors to the UK will head to London and visit the National Museums. Their current free entry policy has not changed the profile of visitors, and most would pay an admission fee if asked. 

With Domestic tourism making up 80% of our trade the analysis of our customers is important to be able to successfully meet their needs. The 21st Century leisure consumer is older, more affluent and educated but less happy. People are seeking to improve the quality of their lives and are looking for genuine authentic experiences through which they can do this.

Technology within museums can get in the way, it is expensive to maintain and quick to date but with the increase in ownership of Smart phones, visitors bring their own device which we can speak to them through.

The future is Bluetooth Beacons!

‘Bluetooth beacons are hardware transmitters - a class of Bluetooth low energy devices that broadcast their identifier to nearby portable electronic devices. The technology enables smart phones, tablets and other devices to perform actions when in close proximity to a beacon’

Bluetooth beacons are operated by a free App. and they can be set to signal when visitors are within a range of between 3 – 70 metres of a Beacon. Information can then be sent about an exhibit, an object, or a part of the building. Visitors can choose to explore more about what interests them whilst avoiding what may not. They are low cost, low energy and allow greater interaction with collections, allowing visitors to explore items with a technology they are already familiar with and own. Reality will always be more satisfying than virtuality’ and visitors will be looking for interaction with people but the Bluetooth Beacon allows an interaction with our objects through a technology that people already have and are familiar with.

The speech closed with a summary of trends and an emphasis that it is critical museums embrace changes. It is inevitable that attractions will have to try harder, privatisation will increase and museums which have free entry will be forced to gather income from elsewhere. But the most poignant conclusion was that audiences are looking for bespoke, personalised experiences attractions that capture excitement, wonder and discovery.

Philip Kotler said ‘People do not buy products they buy expectations and benefits’. 

Ken Robinson ended his speech with his metaphor of museums as larders not cakes. Larders from which we are free to decide what cake we make, what stories we tell and how we present these stories. Audiences want to see something new, engaging and relevant and we must cook these different cakes to meet their needs.

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