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.