‘Visitor delight’: a key measure for attractions

By Stefanie Jirsak

Few attractions (or consultants) are aware of the importance of ‘visitor delight’ (or the ‘wow’ factor) when measuring a visit experience.  Typically, they settle for the metrics of satisfaction, enjoyment or recommendation in isolation.  Visitor delight is regarded as a more discriminating and realistic gauge of a positive visitor experience than any of the standard metrics on their own.  By not measuring visitor delight, attractions are in danger of missing out on a complete understanding of the experience they are providing.

‘Visitor delight’, a concept grounded in academia as ‘customer delight’, combines visitor enjoyment with visitor surprise.  We are able to measure it in our ALVA Benchmarking Survey using our questions on ‘visit enjoyment’ and ‘visit versus expectations’.  By doing so we reveal some important and surprising results.  In 2015, the top-placed visitor attraction for enjoyment was actually the lowest placed attraction for exceeding expectations.  Despite providing the most enjoyable experience, the venue was not ‘delighting’ visitors at all.  According to academic studies, this means visitors would be less likely to spend on site, to visit again or to recommend to others.  Similar inconsistencies occur at other venues.

So what does this mean for attractions?

Primarily, it means enjoyment should always be measured against expectations.  If ‘delight’ is not being delivered then steps should be taken to rectify it.  The question is, how?

  1. Staff delight
    Staff are central to a delighting experience. Empathy with people and the attraction, emotional commitment, and a ‘visitors-at-the-heart’ attitude are important.  I encountered delight with staff at the Tower of London. Their enthusiasm, commitment to the site and joy when dealing with visitors was totally unexpected. I wasn’t just visiting the site: I was entering the world of Yeoman Warders and their relationship with the Tower.
  1. Immersive delight
    It is nice to look at heritage behind displays with signs explaining each artefact. But visitors will become delighted when they can ‘co-create’ their experience.  London Transport Museum has this delight factor.  Rather than just looking at old vehicles I was given the opportunity to create transportation heritage. I dressed as a conductor, felt like a tube passenger from over 150 years ago and sat on a vintage bus, immersing myself in the imagination of driving from Tower Hill to Trafalgar Square. One hands-on experience.
  1. Sensory delight
    Visitors like to feel history, find out how heritage smelt and hear the sounds that filled the air. An exhibition that hit this spot was the Tate Sensorium, letting people encounter art in a multi-sensory way. Instead of just looking at paintings, my brain was activated through sensory signals relating to the theme of the painting. I wasn’t just engaged with the paintings, it was as if the paintings suddenly came alive.

All three examples had the ‘wow’ factor for me. However, these are clearly not exclusive, but like many other measures are easy and cost-effective.  The emotional impact they provide is the difference between an enjoyable experience and a delightful experience.  Delight will bring people back, and with their friends.  Enjoyment alone may not.

We are in the process of integrating visitor delight into our visitor research and over the next few months will continue to develop our understanding of its relationship with the wider visitor journey.  If you take part in our surveys and would like help understanding how effective you are at delighting, please get in touch.

You may also be interested in our blog Avoiding ‘the IKEA effect’. Bringing the collections to life at visitor attractions.

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