Visitor attractions aim to please. That’s the point. So, when negative reviews or remarks appear on Tripadvisor, it hurts – emotionally as well as financially.
We’ve worked with some of the best, and even they can fall victim to bad reviews. In an effort to help keep your visitors happy and charm the trolls, we’ve compiled tips that will help you avoid these negative comments.
The attraction operators dilemma
Let’s set the scene. It’s the height of the summer season and your attraction is clocking in the footfall you’d been hoping for. This is great news! But, deep down you know these numbers will start to drop off come autumn. That is unless you can maintain your status across the trip review platforms and keep those 5-star ratings coming.
Alas, down on the ground, your worst nightmare is slowly unfolding. Let’s check in on some of your visitors:
The ‘queue-rage’ review
Ooof. Everyone hates waiting. Queue anxiety is real and can quickly destroy a visitor’s experience. To tackle this, you have to do two things. First, give personal reassurance about queue length and wait times. Secondly, you should find ways to start the experience before your visitors are in the door. What we know is that if you need to create a line, you have to make sure there’s entertainment along the way.
Consider an intervention such as a web app (QR scan-activated as opposed to a downloadable app) with content teasing what’s to come. Control the elements you can in the environment, whether that be indoor or outdoor. Some elements you can consider include: extending pleasant ambient lighting and audio into the queue, introducing the graphic language of the experience early on, or offering compelling photo moments. Visitors may still need to wait longer than they had hoped, but you can use that extra time to create a connection before visitors even set foot in the experience. This builds anticipation while creating familiarity and comfort in their expectations.
Or, you can take it to a whole new level, just as The Empire State Building and Skydeck Chicago did. The experience of getting to the top floor of each of these iconic towers is essentially one long queue, but it never feels that way. Each journey is highly curated, where you learn about the history of each city, take a deep dive into the architecture of the building, immerse yourself in digital media and hit a few choice photo spots along the way.
The ‘expectations weren’t managed’ review:
This is a classic expectation management fail. The terms “museum” or “experience” are fairly malleable these days, but even so, certain expectations still come with each. This visitor paid and showed up expecting something completely different from what was offered. This can happen when you lose control of your marketing and it gets aggregated by many third-party sites. Not a good start.
Controlling your pre-visit experience and managing visitors’ expectations are vital to ensuring a happy experience. This means you should reach out to your audiences earlier and be more generous with your content. If you can give them a genuine idea of what to expect — via an intuitive website, a well-curated Instagram feed, and ensuring your content actually matches your offering— they’ll arrive with accurate information and be more engaged with the experience.
The ‘I didn’t really get it’’ review:
Extremely clear wayfinding is vital to helping visitors know what to do and when. We’ve seen a growing number of comments that say ‘I didn’t know how long to spend in which area.’ If your visitor is expecting 10+ galleries but you only have four, they are going to race through and find themselves in the gift shop before they are ready to quit.
Let’s make sure you are helping out. You can do this through traditional wayfinding, but you can also make it feel more personalised if you go the next step with digital wayfinding.
Audiences increasingly expect a more immersive and personalised guided experience. Digital wayfinding can be interactive, answering the questions visitors have and offering bespoke routes depending on your particular interest area. Where you have single exhibits that cause crowds, using digital media to duplicate these experiences at multiple points can smooth visitor flow.
Controlling dwell time is critical in linear experiences. Working with Historic Royal Palaces in London, we are currently redesigning the experience of a key national heritage asset with up to 10,000 visitors per day. In this case, we are designing three timing modes that dynamically adapt to the number of visitors passing through, media content changes in length to speed-up crowds on busy days, therefore managing the flow.
The ‘force majeure’ review:
No one (except Paul McCartney) can control the weather. But, when the whole point of your experience is to get a view from the top, you’d better have a backup plan in case things take a turn.
In 2019, we were part of the team that helped The Most Famous Building in the World solve this problem. With 4 million visitors a year and plenty of overcast days throughout the calendar to ruin that iconic view, the Empire State Building invested heavily in providing a full experience for visitors, even if they didn’t get that skyline selfie at the end.
Create experiences other than the main show that are worth the trip, like King Kong which is now well known Instagram fodder. These experiences create that “reason to return” factor (e.g. it was cloudy today but at least I saw the museum, and I’ll come back here next time).
Consider playing on the force majeure with custom content. For instance, if there is a foggy night, project a show into the fog itself! Look for unique experiences you can create, prompting a reason to return or creating a welcome surprise.
Final advice: Create an authentic connection
Naturally, the relationship between visitor and experience starts well before anyone steps foot inside. Visitors might be coming in with a deep interest in the subject matter, or they may simply be trying out something new.
Regardless, there are various touchpoints that can be used to further build an authentic connection with the experience and increase appreciation for the main event. Whether it be a stunning view, a remarkable object, or a luminous backdrop, identify the experience’s main appeal and make necessary improvements.
And you can use your pre-show and queue to build up to something, but be mindful not to give away too much of the final experience. Regardless of how cool your supporting experience is, people come for the main event. Don’t detract from it too much through that queuing experience.
And lastly, be transparent with what your experience is about and what you’re trying to do. If you’re a pure selfie fest, then give it all you’ve got! The ultimate goal is that your visitors don’t end up walking away disappointed because their expectations and the actual experience don’t match up.