Turn Potential Visitors into Real Visitors at Real Places

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Community Development

By Colleen Dilenschneider, Chief Market Engagement Officer for IMPACTS Research and Development

We’re only one month away from the Real Places 2019 conference taking place in Austin on January 16-18. I’m thrilled to share market research at the conference and shine a light on what motivates potential visitors to historic places to become actual visitors. There’s a lot of fun and exciting information to cover.

The conference is a bright spot in my calendar as the seasons are changing, especially as it gets colder in nippy Chicago. Even in Texas, ‘tis the season to put on another layer and start bundling up a bit. Boy, does a vacation to Hawaii next week sound great before the conference.

What do you think? Are you interested in going to Hawaii next week as well? I’m going to guess you probably are. It sounds amazing, doesn’t it? I can see it now. Sandy beaches, a palm tree waving in the warm breeze, and a piña colada in my hand. Given your interest, consider this: You may agree that you are interested in a piña colada cheers on the beach in Hawaii next week, but do you actually intend to go to Hawaii next week? Drat.

Now, that’s a different question, but it’s a similar question to the one facing potential visitors to historic places in Texas. Data shows that over 30 percent of people who actively report interest in visiting a cultural organization or historic site do not actually attend within two years. Why not? Because interest is different than intent.

Asking questions about interest doesn’t take into account the tactical barriers to visitation such as time and other responsibilities. While I am interested in going to Hawaii next week, I have previous commitments and quite a few deadlines. (Perhaps you do as well, fellow Hawaii fantasizer.) Similarly, interest in visiting a historic destination may be a prerequisite to visiting, but that doesn’t mean that these folks will visit. It means—simply—that they are interested.

At IMPACTS Research and Development, we call these folks “inactive visitors.” They make up a full 16 percent of the U.S. population (approximately 52 million people)—and it’s my job to dive into data about who these people are, what they expect, how they make decisions, and what motivates them to actually visit historic destinations. This is the information that I will be sharing at the Real Places conference in January, with a focus on activating inactive visitors in Texas, specifically.

Here’s a jarring (though perhaps unsurprising) fact: The most prevalent attribute among people who have visited any museum or cultural institution in the

U.S. in the last two years is that they are white, non-Hispanic. This is a problem in a state like Texas, where diversity has grown at a faster rate than much of the rest of the country. You know what’s coming: In order to reach new audiences and activate inactive visitors, we benefit by working to be welcoming to those beyond the profile of our traditional patrons. During the Thursday morning keynote on January 17, I will share with you the four data-backed trends that we’ve found most helpful in engaging new audiences and activating inactive visitors to history-based places.

These trends illustrate findings that individual organizations can leverage. The information comes from advanced, big-data methodologies (and a sample of 121,000 people). The data shows that your organization’s mission matters, and though we live in a world increasingly marked by digital connection, people matter most. I’ll share how you can leverage these elements of your experience to activate patrons and motivate visitors. Most importantly, perhaps, I’ll share the data-informed framework for how to think about engaging new audiences so that conference attendees may integrate it into their culture and strategic approaches.

Are you ready for another fact? Data shows that the top reason why interested people do not actually attend historic destinations is simply that they prefer an alternative activity.

This makes sense. Time is precious. Though someone may be interested in visiting a history museum, they may be more interested in spending their Saturday taking a hike, going to a sports game, or hanging out on the couch watching Stranger Things. It begs a relevant question: What are inactive visitors doing, and how can we motivate them to visit our cities and organizations instead? As it turns out, I have data on that to share with you in January.

Following the keynote, I’m running a breakout session called “Happy Hours? Fun Runs? How to Successfully Diversify The Visitor Experience.” In this session, we’ll dive into the nitty-gritty of who inactive visitors are, their interests, and what they are doing instead of visiting. By understanding what potential visitors like to do, we are better able to create effective community partnerships that leverage strengths and motivate visitors to come see us.

We’ll also explore the data-informed top destination attributes that motivate someone to visit a city or area. For instance, how much does unique dining matter to likely visitors? How big of a motivator is visiting a historic location relative to attending a sporting event? How much does “learning something new” factor into the decision to go somewhere? I’ll share the answers to these questions and more. This session may be especially useful for people from institutions that are looking to create impactful programs and partnerships and strengthen their understanding of destination motivators.

If you’re interested in visiting Hawaii before the conference, then I hope you get there—but don’t stay long! The Real Places 2019 conference has a fantastic lineup of speakers and presenters, and I am honored to be included. I’m looking forward to sharing information with leaders of history and heritage organizations so that you may better understand current and potential audiences—and effectively create data-informed cultures that help educate and inspire your communities. Until then, I’m sending you an imaginary cheers with a piña colada!

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