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  • Brand-stretching, risk-taking, provocative, disruptive (Weekly blog, 20 March 2016)

    Posted on March 20, 2016
    A blog by Catherine Leonard, Secretary-General
    Ai Weiwei at Blenheim Palace (from Western Independent blog)

    Ai Weiwei at Blenheim Palace (from Western Independent blog)

    Last week, I was lucky enough to attend a seminar at the Tower of London hosted by Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA), in association with World Heritage UK.  It was a fabulous day and I thought I’d briefly share some nuggets from the excellent presentation by Bernard Donoghue, Director of ALVA, on ‘What good looks like’ in heritage tourism.

    His top four tips for heritage sites were:

    i) Refresh and entice – Both Blenheim Palace and Chatsworth memorably installed contemporary art exhibitions that attracted younger audiences more likely to tweet, hand over their email address, become a member, spend in shop.   (The words “Brand-stretching, risk-taking, provocative, disruptive” peppered Bernard’s talk!)

    ii) Authentic sense of place – Make sure you’re selling local produce in your shops and cafes (how about a ‘Five-mile Menu’?). Also, check out ‘Knights for a Night’ glamping at Leeds Castle.

    Five-storey stainless steel slide installed in Shanghai shopping mall

    Five-storey stainless steel slide installed in Shanghai shopping mall (

    iii) Telling stories …. We know how important this is and probably deserves a separate blog so just a reminder (as it won another award last week!) of Dunham Massey’s ‘Sanctuary from the Trenches‘, an ambitious re-interpretation as a First World War hospital which raised the bar for authentic and engaging story-telling.

    iv) Staff not stuff – It’s people who make or break the visitor experience.   The friendly guide who gives you an interesting titbit; who takes the time to chat to your unruly children or gives you a top tip (Like last weekend at Kingston Lacy, “Have you youngsters tried out the ‘Edwardian intercom’ from the dining room to the kitchen?  They tell me it still works …”)

    Bernard also mentioned the following in the context of current trends:

    v) Competition for the ‘leisure hour’ is mostly from shopping.  UK visitor attractions are recruiting most new staff from the retail sector – and losing visitor experience staff to … retail.   (A new Printemps shopping centre in Shanghai which has installed a giant slide to entertain shoppers)

    vi) Grow the love  The first 3 ½ years of a membership/friends scheme are generally transactional.

    vii) Late night openings Top themes last year were death and sexuality, followed by gin and chocolate.

    viii) More people visit heritage sites at the weekend than watch football matches (and they are 9 times cheaper!)

    ix) Blockbuster events/exhibitions drive visitor numbers (Last year, Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty was the Victoria and Albert Museum’s most visited exhibition ever with 493,043 people seeing it in total during its 21-week run. For the final two weekends, the V&A opened the exhibition throughout the night for the first time in its history to accommodate unprecedented demand).  As does public programming (like Somerset House’s open air cinema).

    x) Under 25s tweet more in one day than over 50s will tweet in a year.   72% Americans will update social status more than twice a day when travelling.

    And finally, just more activity that is brand-stretching, risk-taking, provocative, disruptive


    To promote a forthcoming exhibition, the Art Institute of Chicago has recreated Van Gogh’s bedroom which can be rented on Airbnb



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