Ready Visitor One….? Why it’s time to say goodbye to the ‘visitor’​

Ready Player One Film Poster
As a part of the Commonwealth Games that took place in Queensland earlier this year, the legacy group launched an initiative called ‘Be My Guest‘. Its aim was to positively shift the mindset of the local tourism industry in terms of the way it consciously and sub-consciously treated its consumers.
Gold Coast 2018 Banner

Referring to standard industry monikers such as ‘passenger’, ‘visitor’, ‘customer’ or ‘tourist’, it points out that, “from these definitions, people will be treated with varying degrees of personal care, according to the way they are viewed.” They go on to encourage every host to consider their audiences as ‘guests’ – because we are taught from a young age that guests are special, to be afforded special privileges and treated exceptionally well.

It is undoubtedly true that the names we use for groups of people have an impact on our behaviours towards them, and that ‘guest’ cues many positive attitudes that ‘visitor’, for example, does not. But, thinking of visitor attractions specifically, does it go far enough?

In order to continue to thrive and grow, museums, galleries and heritage sites are having to engage increasingly tech-savvy audiences whose expectations of the ‘IRL‘ experiences they choose are rising every year. Despite best efforts, traditional approaches to audience engagement, curation, interpretation and exhibition planning risk falling short with experiences that remain static, flat, linear and impersonal, and invite audiences to be little more than passive observers. That treat them as visitors, the same way they always have.

The ‘Be My Guest’ initiative defines a visitor as “One who visits a place or person, socially/as a tourist; is not permanent, does not belong to the area; a passer-by; not local.

It is becoming clear that, as an attitude towards our audiences, this simply isn’t good enough if we are to meet their rising demands. They – we – live in an experience economy characterised by increasingly blurred lines between the physical and digital worlds, where we carry supercomputers in our pockets that keep us topped up on entertainment-fuelled dopamine every few minutes. As a result, our expectations of everything we do and everywhere we go are changing. We want to be active participants, feel immersed and part of the experience and, most importantly, have fun.

Which means we don’t want to be visitors. Or even guests.

We want to be players.

‘Play’ should not be mistaken for frivolity – it is a fundamental, even profound motivation, and is being given a prominence in culture like never before, fuelled in large part by technology.

If we stop thinking of the people turning up at our sites as ‘visitors’ and start seeing them as ‘players’, we will start to build experiences with more of the characteristics of games: competition, challenge and reward. This is the interactivity and dynamism we crave; by making places playable, and designing them for players, not just guests or visitors, we can equip attractions to reassert their relevance in the digital era.

Visitor attractions: it’s time to say goodbye to the visitors, and hello to the players.

Kids using SEA LIFE Junior Ranger AR App

A New Sense of Place in the Digital Age

Family Using Augmented Reality App in Aquarium

The term “sense of place” has been the subject of much Architectural and Social discourse – conceptually it is used to “define the undefinable” bonds between people and places. A sense of place can be described by specific characteristics of a physical place, or by the perceptions of people who visit a place. Crucially those characteristics help foster a sense of authentic human attachment and belonging.

At Arcade we believe that a sense of place has never been so critical to society as it is today. Indeed, our long standing mission is to help define and create a new sense of place in the digital age. Whilst the explosion of digital technology has had huge undeniable benefits, academics are only now beginning to identify some of the widespread side-effects. The decline of traditional social structures mixed with an unparalleled access to technology has uprooted the traditional notion of community. People have been left to self-define their identity through reference to a myriad of media and technology driven sources, often detached from their physical whereabouts. We have become disconnected from our places.

Our medium is Augmented Reality (AR), with which we have identified a huge opportunity for technology to right its own wrongs. Critically AR ties digital information to the real world, thus giving us all the chance to reconnect to the world around us – not despite of, but because of our want for new technology. We believe that the most prescient opportunity for AR to evolve is within the visitor experience industry, where consumers are now demanding personalised services and participative encounters, which ladder towards a new sense of place.

Underpinning our work is the identification and understanding of several key characteristics, which we respect with every line of code we write and every polygon and texture we create. These characteristics combine to create places that are playable. We define play through its more esoteric sense – not gamification – but learning & discovery leading to liberation and empowerment. The playable place achieves the following:

PERSONALISED INTERACTIONS

In the new world of complex identity it is critical that a place should be able to connect to its visitors on their level, displaying a diversity which encourages them to build their own sense of place and empower their self-identification.

LEARNS FROM ITS VISITORS

Our relationship with a place should not be one-way in nature. Our playable places learn from their visitors experiences, and then adapt accordingly – they become responsive in nature and thus elicit a greater emotional connection with their visitors.

BUILDS COMMUNITIES

The very definition of a sense of place lies within the physical and emotive connection to a group of people. Places should not force this, they should cater for many types of emerging community groups and become a place for the many, not the few.

INCREASES PARTICIPATION

The consumer now expects participation ahead of a passive experience, our technology provides this closer connection to a place by encouraging its visitors to truly participate. That could be through the contents of the place, the history and meaning behind a place, or by re-imagining new uses and functions for a place.

REVEALS ITS SECRETS

The static materials and forms that make up our physical world all have stories to tell, every brick and every blade of grass contains a thousand words could it but speak. Well now they can. Through AR we reveal narrative driven information that has never before been experienced in-situ.

IMPROVES OPERATIONS

The custodians of a place have a duty to make the connection between that place and its visitors as meaningful and continuous as possible. This will help advance operations across estates, and can include marketing and brand benefits.

EXTENDS ITS ESTATE

For millennia many places have been hampered by their geographic location, especially when attempting to build relationships with new typologies of visitor. Our technology can break down these boundaries, enabling cross pollination of estate assets and relationships with the user before and beyond their visit.

A new sense of place is not just academic posturing. The building of new identities and new communities within a truly user focused framework leads to advanced levels of engagement. This manifests in higher rates of repeat visit, increased dwell times, higher satisfaction scores and ultimately the achievement of commercial goals.