The importance of Sector Cooperation with Carlton Gajadhar and Rachel Mackay

In today’s episode on the Skip the Queue podcast, I’m joined by two brilliant guests:

Carlton Gajadhar MSc – a Visitor Experience Professional and co-founder of the Visitor Experience Forum – Providing opportunities for problem-solving, developing new ideas and sharing learning within the visitor experience industry.

– Manager of Historic Royal Palaces at Kew, including Kew Palace and the Great Pagoda. Creator of The Recovery Room Blog – a space for sharing resources to support museum and heritage professionals as they rebuild after the Covid-19 pandemic.

We discuss lockdown experiences in both the UK and Kuwait, crisis management for museums and heritage organisations and improving sector cooperation.

Carlton provides expert consultation to brands and organisations within the tourist attractions industry. As a freelance consultant in visitor experience development, Carlton has overseen the debut of global attractions that include Kuwait’s renowned Sheikh Abdullah Al Salem Cultural Centre and the Al Salam Palace Museum — each a national landmark built to share and preserve the culture of the region.

Carlton earned a Masters in International Tourism Management from the University of Lincoln. Over ten years, he has lent his leadership and advice to stand out brands like Merlin Entertainments, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, The Coca-Cola London Eye, Madame Tussaud’s, and companies from an array of industries.

“We’re making the industry better, in problem-solving and sharing information, in a very safe environment.”

www.carlton-gajadhar.com – Carlton Gajadhar

Rachel is a museum and heritage professional currently managing Kew Palace at Historic Royal Palaces. Huge experience of leading change in several visitor attractions from national museums to Royal Palaces. Specialist areas are visitor experience and operations. Studied medieval history and Masters degree in Heritage Management.

The Recovery Room was created as a resource for sharing research around crisis management of the Covid-19 crisis in museums and heritage organisations.

“I wanted to create something to help – free practical resources, training scenarios you can use for crisis management and tabletop exercises.”

www.therecoveryroomblog.com – Rachel Mackay

What will you learn from this podcast?

  • Lockdown experiences in both the UK and Kuwait
  • Crisis management for museums and heritage organisations
  • Improving sector cooperation
  • Eurovison – because why not!

To listen to the full podcast, search Skip The Queue on iTunes, Google Podcasts and Spotify to subscribe. You can find links to every episode and more at www.rubbercheese.com/podcast.

You can also read the full transcript below.

The interview

Your host, Kelly Molson

Our guests, Carlton Gajadhar and Rachel Mackay

Kelly Molson: Oh guys, thank you so much for coming on the podcast today. It’s really, really lovely to have you both on.

Carlton Gajadhar: Yeah no, thanks for having us. We’re really excited to come and join you today. So yeah, let’s do this.

Kelly Molson: Let’s do this. Well, I mean, you know how this podcast starts, right?

Carlton Gajadhar: I know.

Kelly Molson: So it’s icebreaker question time. All right, I’ve got really good ones for you both. Right, Carlton, I’m going to start with you first. So, what would be your superpower and why?

Carlton Gajadhar: I will say, invisibility.

Kelly Molson: Yeah.

Carlton Gajadhar: I can go anywhere and everywhere and nobody will be able to see me and I can snoop on people and get all the juicy gossip and all that kind of stuff.

Kelly Molson: Yeah, lovely.

Carlton Gajadhar: So that’s what I would do.

Kelly Molson: Yeah, 100%. We’d all take that opportunity, wouldn’t we?

Carlton Gajadhar: No.

Kelly Molson: Right. Rachel, I’ve got a good one for you. What’s your favorite Eurovision song?

Rachel Mackay: Wow, you’ve done your research. Okay, good. My God, well that’s an easy one. It would have to be the last time the UK won, so 1997, Katrina Waves, Love Shine a Light is the best song but I do think that almost every Eurovision song is a banger.

There’s only a few that are not, so I could really choose anyone but that’s got to be the best one. I actually cry when I listen to it. There’s a real emotional experience for me.

Kelly Molson: It’s a really good song though. It’s surprising how many good songs have come out of Eurovision, right?

Rachel Mackay: No. It’s not a surprise. It’s a fantastic musical contest.

Kelly Molson: It is glorious. I’ve got really good memories of listening to it with my nann, weirdly and my nann was a massive Eurovision fan. So while we’re on this topic, what about the Icelandic song from this year because that was good?

Rachel Mackay: I love it.

Carlton Gajadhar: Yes. That was awesome.

Rachel Mackay: I was actually thinking about, we’ll actually buy tickets to see them in April because I think they are fantastic and I really want to go to Iceland, I’ve never been and I think, well actually, they could win next year, now that they’ve got … Because they’ve got a better following now, that band. So I think 2022, Reykyavik, I’ll see you there.

Kelly Molson: You would love Iceland.

Rachel Mackay: It is.

Kelly Molson: It is a great place. We went about three years ago and it’s been the best place that I’ve ever been. It is so spectacular and so different. I’m a bit of a winter girl, really, I kind of like coats and hats and boots and stuff.

Rachel Mackay: Me too.

Kelly Molson: So it’s my dress vibe there.

Rachel Mackay: I went to Lisbon in 2018 and that was the first time I’d actually been to the contest. It was just amazing, the cooperation between everybody and how much everybody loved each other. And it was just hugging everybody that was wearing all different flags and especially, post-Brexit, it was such a lovely feeling. It was one of the best weekends of my life.

Kelly Molson: Oh, that’s amazing. I’m so glad I did my homework with this question. Right Carlton, back to you. Ooh, I like this question. If you can have an unlimited supply of one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Carlton Gajadhar: Ooh, I love pasta. I can eat pasta until I die, honestly. Any sauce, any shape of pasta, just bring it on.

Kelly Molson: Carb fest, massive carb fest.

Carlton Gajadhar: Yes. I love pasta.

Kelly Molson: I’m so with you on that one, actually. Although I’d be a whale because carbs and me, we just don’t agree.

Carlton Gajadhar: Oh, don’t worry about that. It’s fine.

Kelly Molson: You’ve got the physique for it. You’ve got the metabolism and the physique for the carb overloading.

Carlton Gajadhar: Of course. Of course.

Kelly Molson: Right. Okay. Last icebreaker question and then it’s onto the unpopular opinions. Rachel, what fictional family would you be a member of, if you could?

Rachel Mackay: Oh, actually, the family from Schitt’s Creek definitely. They’re really good, they’re fantastic. I don’t know if you watch that show but it just gets better and better and you just love them more and more and more, as it goes on. And all four are hilarious. Sometimes, I talk like Moira Rose now, which is a real bad habit to break but yeah, definitely. The Roses from Schitt’s Creek.

Kelly Molson: I’ve just started it. That’s been recommended to me so many times. It’s brilliant.

Rachel Mackay: It gets better and better and better. I think the moment where you fall in love with it, is the last episode of season 2 and then it just gets better from thereon in.

Kelly Molson: Good too. Good questions, good answers as well. Thank you. Right, unpopular opinions. What is something that you believe to be true, that hardly anybody else agrees with you on?

Rachel Mackay: I had thought of something but now I feel like when I see it, people will think I’m a bit one track. It’s to do with Eurovision, so I don’t want people to get the wrong idea about me but my unpopular opinion is and this is actually true, which is that the best music of the 20th and 21st Century has come out of the Eurovision Song Contest.

And also, the European Song Contest is like a great mirror of European politics and actually, a really intellectual form of study. When I was at uni, we did a module on international relations and you had to come prepared with a current news topic. And I would always come in one-shop about the European Song Contest and they just kind of rolled my eyes at me. I’m like, “Look, you want to see European politics in action, just watch Eurovision Song Contest, it’s so easy.” So, yeah, that’s my-

Kelly Molson: Did anyone agree with you? Was this a really unpopular opinion?

Rachel Mackay: Yeah. Yes. Yeah. Although there are people who have degrees because I’ve been to a Eurovision conference and people have degrees in Eurovision. They did their post-grads in Eurovision studies and all that kind of stuff. Yeah.

Kelly Molson: This is amazing, I actually have a friend, who’s another agency owner, who is a huge Eurovision fan and she’s going to love this episode. All right. Well look, this is the first time on this podcast that we’ve had two guests on at the same time. I’m really glad that you’ve both come on. There is a big reason for it. So you both work in very similar roles and you both know each other as well, which is great.

You both have the visitor experience forum in common, which we’re going to talk about in a little while. But what is really key and what really shines through with both of you is, that you have this real kind of passion and drive for improving sector cooperation. And that’s what we want to talk about on the podcast today, that’s why you’re both on.

But I think for us to get to the grips of, why that’s key for you both and the things that you’ve been doing for the last few months to help that, we kind of have to go backward a little bit. So I’m going to ask you both about your experiences. And Rachel, I want to start with you. If you can share with us a little about what your lockdown experience has been like.

What have you been able to do, what have you not been able to do and how have you spent your time, actually? Because I know that you’ve been furloughed for some time of that.

Rachel Mackay: Yeah. Well I mean, firstly, obviously I was very lucky that I wasn’t personally faced by COVID. Genuinely wasn’t, so there’s that side of things, where you’re just lucky and that was your luck time. But also, I got to spend most of it in Scotland and that was great, to have a bit of fresh air and space and stuff like that. So that side of things was all really nice.

There was a bit of frustration in and I’m sure this is the case for so many people, the timing of the lockdown was quite cruel, particularly for this sector because it’s just when you’re about to open up. And we were just about to open an exhibition at Kew Palace, which has been a real labor of love for me. Three years in the planning, all about King George III and his mental health and it’s such an important topic and one I’m really passionate about.

I’ve really tried to bring this exhibition into being and we were one week away from doing it and then all of the sudden, all of it just went.

Kelly Molson: No.

Carlton Gajadhar: Awful.

Rachel Mackay: And you start reading because you still had events in your diary and it was like, “Oh, today would have been the press day. Today would have been the opening day.” Oh, that was awful. Really, really annoying but I know that lots of people were in that situation as well. And then as you said, I was furloughed quite early on and I did not take that well, I’ll be honest with you.

Kelly Molson: No. It’s interesting because a lot of people that I’ve spoken to in my agency world, where they’ve been furloughed, there’s been really mixed feelings about it. For some, it felt like a real sense of rejection and that’s really hard to take, right? In any circumstance.

Rachel Mackay: Yeah. I mean, it’s a completely good thing. I just couldn’t bear the idea that I wasn’t critical to the business and it made total sense because my site is seasonal, which is open this year. So I’m kind of not needed now until next year but it was a real blow to the ego. And I feel awful for my boss, I made just a barking fuss of it and was really winging at him.

But yeah, that kind of took a bit of getting used to and a bit of having to get to grips with that idea. Because yeah, it’s a real bust to the ego and I am somebody who, I’ve got a real tied up in work and that’s really important to me. To have that taken away, was a real loss for a few days, while I got my head around that idea.

Kelly Molson: Yeah and Carlton, while we were stuck in the UK and Scotland, you were locked down somewhere completely different, weren’t you? So you were out in Kuwait. Can you tell us a bit about what you were doing out there and what it was like?

Carlton Gajadhar: Yeah. No problem. Yeah. So I was stuck in Kuwait during the Corona period. So I was a Head of Guest Experience for a brand new attraction, called Al-Salam Palace Museum. So the museum was set up by the government, to get people to experience how the Palace used to be like, before the invasion of Kuwait in 1990. So the place literally was in ruins after the war.

And what the palace was used for, before that, was kind of to … Is kind of like a stately home, I would say, where international guests like the Queen and Diana will come and stay, if they did rural visits to Kuwait. So it’s a very high profile location. So my role was to help with all the operations. I have a team of 16 and we lead the VIP element of the organization, all the tours of the museum, as well as all the back office, the call center and that kind of stuff on there.

So it was very interesting regarding lockdown because the government, I will say, they did a really good job in Kuwait, where they shut everything down straight away. It’s like, “Let’s shut everything down, and let’s see what happens.” I think they can afford that as a government because they’re kind of depending on oil money. So for them, it was kind of like, “Okay, we can kind of manage all of that.”

But as a museum, it was really tricky because I think, everyone was in this situation worldwide. We had no idea what to do in that scenario, where you had loads of people with tickets contacting our guests, saying, “We’re not open at the moment,” and then trying to understand what to do with our staff after that as well. So it was a very, very tricky situation for us, while it’s amazing.

Kelly Molson: Was it similar to what it was like here? Were you allowed out? Could you go to the supermarket, that kind of stuff?

Carlton Gajadhar: No. It was very different. It was two types of lockdown, so you had the lockdown, which means that all retail outlets and leisure outlets were all closed. So everything was closed, except the supermarkets and the pharmacies and hospitals, so they were the three things that were opened. And then on top of that, we had the curfew.

Kelly Molson: Oh, right.

Carlton Gajadhar: So we were only allowed to go out of our homes for a specific time. I think the most challenging one we had, was 22 hours curfew. So 22 hours in our homes and then 2 hours, we were all allowed to leave in 45-degree weather.

Kelly Molson: Wow.

Carlton Gajadhar: So if you didn’t leave, you’ll be literally stuck in your house. So I decided, why not start doing a 10k walk in 45-degree weather?

Kelly Molson: Of course, it’s exactly what would have gone through my mind.

Carlton Gajadhar: Of course. It’s something to do. It’s something to do. So that’s kind of what I did during lockdown and kind of just been there for my staff, on WhatsApp, and just making sure that everyone was okay. Unfortunately, at that point, my contract finished. So I was literally stuck in Kuwait because the airport wasn’t open.

Kelly Molson: Wow. Oh gosh.

Carlton Gajadhar: Yeah. It was a challenging period but amazing at the same time.

Kelly Molson: Yeah. It’s so interesting to hear about everybody’s individual experiences and what we’ve been through. I think even mine, it’s horrible to say it out loud sometimes because I know how difficult it has been but actually, there was elements of mine that was really pleasant. It was easy for all of us to pick up our laptops, pick up our computers, and work from home. It’s a very lucky position to be in but I quite liked working from home.

I quite enjoyed that slightly slower pace of life. Not having to rush around quite a lot, was quite nice. But I’m thinking back now, to when it first started to happen and my first thought, when we saw our clients, who are in the attractions world and tourism world when we saw them starting to close and then we could see the effect that it was going to have long-term, my instant reaction was like, what can we actually do to help?

What is there, that we have that we can help? And we started, I think I sat down one Saturday and just started to pull together loads of resources that were being put out. People were very generous with their time and with the information that they were kind of putting out there. And so, I started a blog, where I started to collate support and advice for the industry and kind of bring it all together.

And what I liked about what the two of you did as well and this is how we get around to talking about the sector cooperation is that, it’s kind of like what you did as well, in various guises. Rachel, you shared a post on LinkedIn that I saw, that was a toolkit that you put together for frontline managers. And it was slightly kind of later down the process, so a few months after lockdown.

But it was about how people could bring their front of house team back safely and what was important to them. And I thought this is fantastic, it’s such a generous thing to do, to put that kind of information out there. How did that come about? How did you start to do that?

Rachel Mackay: Yeah. So well, one of the things that I guess was a bit upset about in terms of furlough was that, as an Operations Manager, you wait your whole life for something like this to happen, so you can really get in there and manage a crisis, you know. And then I couldn’t because I was on furlough, so I was just like, “Well, this is a terrible nightmare.”

And so, one of the things I did, just to try and keep my head in the game was, to go out on Twitter and just ask if anybody needed a hand with their opening plans because that’s something I really enjoy doing. Opening places and Carlton’s the same, there’s a real rush about re-openings and we’re openings and we’re excited, it’s all good. And everybody was doing that.

And so, I talked to a few different organizations and helped them just kind of go, run through their re-opening plans and just kind of troubleshoot them and try and suggest things and that sort of thing. And so, that was really good. It kind of kept my head in the game but then, there was a common thread throughout a lot of these conversations. And some of the wider discussions within the sector, about front of house and most of them were furloughed.

And so, not really being consulted about what was going to happen, when they came back. And then, from a financial point of view, they were kind of mostly going to be brought back quite soon, before they were then expected to be on the floor, do everything. A complete role from what we’ve always asked them to do. We’ve always encouraged people to be very engaging and trying to get away from that idea of, particularly museums at the warder and the policing of the space.

And now we were going to have to ask them to do that and that’s not what we hired them for and not what we trained them for, so it’s a completely different role. And another thing was that a lot of first-time managers, so people who have come into their first supervisor or team leader or management job, a lot of them are quite young. It’s maybe their first manager job.

And I was just worried that there wasn’t going to be that support there for them to think through what they were going to have to do because everybody was so busy and so stretched. And so, what I wanted to do with that was just, was just create something that was not a manual because every site is going to be really different. But just took it, just to help people think through the things that they wanted …

How they can best support front of house. So I asked, there’s a lot of front of house people on Twitter and I asked them what they wanted to see when they came back and I thought by my own experience because I’ve worked front of house as well. And kind of put together something that I thought would be helpful.

Kelly Molson: And it’s been really well received, hasn’t it and you’ve gone on and added … You’ve actually now started a blog and added more and more resource to that as well. So there’s obviously been a demand for that kind of information and help.

Rachel Mackay: Yeah. Yeah. There was that and then there was other stuff to do with the fact … So I was doing also my Master’s research and crisis management at the same time. So there was resources that came out of that as well. So eventually, I just needed a place to put all this stuff into, allow people to access it, and also, to point other resources that were being helpful at the time because there was lots of other stuff coming out from the sector as well.

That’s why I started that website, just to have a place really to put all this stuff so that it can be useful.

Kelly Molson: It’s brilliant. It’s one of the heartwarming things that has come out of all of this is, how generous people have been and wanting to help and help others. I’d love to see that continue within the sector. I mean, I can see that that’s happening. It’s happening in other sectors as well and there’s been so much advice that’s been out there for agency leaders, that we’ve been able to draw down on and share with as well.

Carlton, so prior, this has been set out for quite a number of years but the VE Forum, the Visitor Experience Forum, you were a Co-founder of that forum, right?

Carlton Gajadhar: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: Can you tell us a little bit about it? Because what I saw, was some really great kind of engagement in that community over lockdown and also, you put out webinars and things to help the sector?

Carlton Gajadhar: Yeah. We started in 2016, so there was four of us and we were all heads of departments in various attraction. And I remember, we were just sitting down and we were just talking, “Okay, we’re having all these issues and I bet there’s people in the same shoes as us, that have the same issues but we just don’t have the opportunity to talk about it.” So we just decided, let’s just do a little small event, a little meetup event in the bar and we did.

And we slowly found out that there was a massive need for a space for people, just to talk. I call it like the counseling sessions. Especially our meetups because as we’re experienced professionals, we’re constantly on the go. We just don’t stop, so having that space to do and it’s been amazing, the warmth and the welcome that we’ve received from people from all over the sector, it’s been amazing. So far, we’ve got about 700 members.

Kelly Molson: Wow.

Carlton Gajadhar: ..that is linked to the forum, from around about 350 attractions and businesses and then, we have associate members as well, which is about 250, that makes up. And then, alongside that, we have sponsors as well and with the combination of these people, we’re literally making the industry better, in problem-solving and sharing information, in a very core and safe environment, where they can do so.

We mainly aim for management level, so anyone from heads of departments and up, that can come in and share ideas and areas. And we do also organize six different types of events, from meets up, as I mentioned. We do a seminar on an annual basis. The last one we did, we had about 300 people turn up for both our seminar and our awards ceremony, which we’re really, really proud about.

But the main purpose of the forum, is literally sharing information and learning from each other and that is the key of what we do. We are all volunteers as well, so we don’t get paid to do any of this. We do this kind of the goodness of our hearts because we’re passionate about the sector and we love what we do and we just wanted to make sure that people enjoy their jobs, as well as we do as well.

Kelly Molson: It’s brilliant and I think it’s that kind of field of dreams, type scenario, isn’t it? If you build it, they will come. So you’ve built it and now people are really trying to come in and they really engage with it. Is that quite a new thing for the sector though? Has it always been like this or is that, just in recent years, people have become a bit more open to peer to peer learning and sharing experiences with each other?

Carlton Gajadhar: I think there are other organizations that are out there but they’re paid and I think that’s a massive barrier for people that want to learn, that don’t really have high paying jobs or not in really critical roles. So we kind of saw a need of them type of people. And just kind of being there for someone, who just needs an extra helping hand, who’s not linked to your organization, it makes such a difference, such a difference.

Kelly Molson: Yes and you’ve put, so some of the things that you’ve been doing to support the industry during lockdown, you’ve put out a number of webinars. You had a specialist LinkedIn group, which it was a really great place to go because what was lovely, is that every day, there was updates being posted in there about, the updates, what was happening.

And so, it was kind of a realtime support for everybody, that was a member of that group and they could see all of the information that you were putting in there.

Carlton Gajadhar: Exactly. Exactly. We’re here to support people in the industry and anything we can do as a team to do so, we will. We’re all about open communication, so if members have any questions about a procurement or how do I organize my Cumin system during COVID? What are you guys doing? Then they have that space on LinkedIn, where they can have the conversations.

So they don’t even have to wait for us as an experienced forum, they can actually take the initiative themselves with the group of people around them, to build that network and build that connection, so everybody can make sure our visitors has the best experience possible.

Kelly Molson: Yeah. And Rachel, you’re a member of the Visitor Experience, so you kind of see it from the other side. So Carlton’s talked a lot about how it’s been set up and what they do. Now how have you found it as a member? Have you felt there’s been an awful lot of support for you and it’s been useful?

Rachel Mackay: Yeah. It’s a fantastic group. I mean, I think one of the best events I think that they do, are the hacks. They’re [inaudible 00:24:44]. So hacks are when somebody has a particular problem, so for example, I held a hack when I worked at the Natural History Museum because I was trying to get rid of the Danish [RQ 00:24:53], which if anybody’s ever been to the National History Museum, you’ll know it was quite big.

And you have a hack, you just say, “I’ve got this problem.” And they sort of sent a bad signal and the Visitor Experience Forum sort of descending with people who are interested in solving that problem and you all sit around a table and kind of hash out. And there was one recently at the London Transport Museum, looking at their entrance, it’s just the most fun.

And it’s so good if you are the person that has the problem because you have people who are interested in that problem, whereas with the operations, usually, you’re the only person in your organization who does that. Whereas these are all attractions, these operations absolute geeks and I mean that in the best way possible.

And that’s brilliant but then, as well just to be a participant in them, it’s so refreshing to focus on somebody else’s problems for a while. The one at the Transport Museum, I really enjoyed and that’s just a really great thing to do. And something I don’t think happened in a lot of other sectors as well. But the sector is like that, it’s very open and very sharing. And the other side of it as well is the social side.

I mean, I love visitor attractions people. They’re just the most fun. They’ve all got really dark awful senses of humor and they just have that kind of personality, where they’re just fun people to go and get a drink with. And so, that social side is definitely something that we need to think about, how we’re going to try and take that forward with the social restrictions that are in place at the moment. But that’s a really important thing.

It’s not just about the information and the sharing of experiences. That moral support as well.

Kelly Molson: Yeah. It’s interesting actually because I guess, Carlton, you’ve got a bit of a challenge on your hand, in terms of how you plan the events. I mean, usually, you’d be running events all throughout the year but I guess now, we’re looking at 2021 and what that means and how you run them in the best way. Yes, we’ve all sat on webinars. They’ve had varying degrees of success, right, let’s face it. They’re not all brilliant.

Carlton Gajadhar: Information sharing is as good as this one.

Kelly Molson: Yeah. But you’re very much being talked at a lot of the time and it’s less collaborative, in a way. So I guess, that’s a challenge for you, in terms of how you run a hack. Can you do this virtually now? How do you make those work? What was lovely is, I saw that there was a quiz night, wasn’t there? There was a Visitor Experience Forum quiz night and I know that that went down really well.

And I guess like you say, Rachel, that’s a big part of being part of an organization and a group like this, that it’s that social side of things. So it’s really lovely to see that that could at least carry on.

Rachel Mackay: Yeah. That was a really good night. I was hosting that with another member of the group and we kept on bringing, after a round, we’d just bring somebody up on the screen. So Carlton popped up from Kuwait with his little orange juice and it was so nice to see as well.

It was just so nice to see people in their back gardens or wherever they were. We hadn’t seen our friends for a really long time and it was so nice to get to and chat, it was a really good evening.

Carlton Gajadhar: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: Yeah. It’s lovely. So what are the plans, Carlton, do you have an idea about what it will look like for 2021 at the moment or is that all still kind of up in the air?

Carlton Gajadhar: At the moment, it’s still up in the air. So we’re still really focused in organizing these events but we just kind of have to wait and see because of the social distancing measures and gatherings as well, that’s set by the government, we just have to be very, very mindful and respect what’s been said. But we’re still keen on organizing our seminars, our award ceremonies, our meetups.

Some of them, we might just have to continue doing it virtually, which is not ideal but at least we can still have that contact with our members. We also do one-to-ones as well, so people will reach out to myself and other co-founders and try and get advice and stuff. So I did a lot of that when I was in Kuwait, so attraction would just kind of reach out and say, “Hey, we have this issue. Can I get some advice?”

I’m like, “Yeah, no problem. Happy to help on there.” I was going to say, one of my favorite events we do at the forum is a seminar, and Rachel’s been great. She’s actually spoke at the seminar and how it is, it’s like a mini TED Talk.

Kelly Molson: A very generous way of describing that.

Carlton Gajadhar: No. No. I mean, it’s great. So the mini TED Talk. The speaker has 10 minutes to share their message and I remember, Rachel was sharing her message about her Pagoda opening and kind of-

Rachel Mackay: [inaudible 00:29:21] a euphemism.

Kelly Molson: It’s not that kind of show, Rachel.

Carlton Gajadhar: Oh, isn’t it? Oh, isn’t it? Oh, sorry. I forgot.

Rachel Mackay: That was a building actually, that we opened in [inaudible 00:29:32].

Kelly Molson: Thank you for clarifying that.

Carlton Gajadhar: What I love about the forum is, us given opportunities for our members to do stuff, that they would not normally do as well. So speaking at our conferences and building that confidence and building their personal profile, we’ve had two of our members actually go to America to actually speak at other Visitor Experience current based on their talk in our conference, which is fantastic.

So anything we can do to support. I mean, Rachel, I don’t know if you remember this guy called James. He was like a young guy from the London Transport Museum?

Rachel Mackay: Yes. Okay.

Carlton Gajadhar: And he was brilliant because he was like an apprentice at the London Transport Museum and he was talking to us, there’s a room of 100 filled people, Visitor Experience professionals and he goes, “If you were like working in this industry, if you like work in it, I would really recommend it.”

And it was so brilliant having him talking about how the industry is for him because sometimes we forget because we’re so caught up in our jobs, it’s really refreshing. And that’s what our seminars are all about, is giving a new perspective or reminding us of how we used to feel back in the day, so we can go back to our team.

Rachel Mackay: There’s not that many conferences where it’s free, it’s all folks from Visitor Experience. You’ve got your front of house people there, you’ve got front of house people speaking, you’ve got front of house people winning awards. There’s not that many things in the industry, where that would actually happen. So it’s just very simple but absolutely fantastic.

Kelly Molson: Do you know what was really nice as well is, while you were talking about that Carlton, your face was literally lit up. There was a real kind of … But it’s nice, there was a real kind of sense of, I think pride probably because you’ve created something that it gives people these opportunities but it’s really heartwarming to see.

What I just want to go back to is, you mentioned about offering people one-to-one advice and just being completely open to help. And that for me, is the one thing that has been so again, heartwarming again to see throughout this crisis, is people just saying, “I’m here. Hit me up, I can help.” Rachel, I know that you’ve been offering pro bono one-to-ones with people as well.

Is that to share … You talked a little bit about your MA research into crisis management. Is that to share some of your learnings from that with them, about the situation?

Rachel Mackay: Yeah. So the research I was doing, which was meant to be on my exhibition and of course, [inaudible 00:32:19], so I swiftly changed it to crisis management, which felt quite pertinent. But yeah, that research was essentially … I did 10 interviews with visitor operations people, about their experiences of shutting down.

And those transcripts have just ended up being the most fascinating and often, quite emotional at times. It was like, was really a couple of the most challenging weeks in somebody’s career usually. There’s a lot that’s come out of that, in terms of learning and I feel that what a lot of our organizations haven’t had the time to do yet, is actually sit down and look at their experience of that initial phase of that crisis management and the shutdown.

And have a bit of a wash-up and a bit of a lessons learned, which most people would do in any normal circumstance. Because this is a very odd shape of crisis and it’s not over yet. It’s kind of rotating into another crisis of a financial recession, people have been so focused on re-opening and staying open, that there just hasn’t been the time to do that and it’s a really valuable learning opportunity.

So what I’m going to be doing with a few organizations over the next few weeks is actually, going through that process with them and doing it for them, so that they can learn some of the lessons that they went through but also, from the research that I’ve been doing. So that if there is a second wave or there’s a war or aliens invade or whatever the next unprecedented thing is, then people really are kind of ready for it.

Kelly Molson: I was going to ask you actually about sharing maybe some top tips from your crisis management learnings. I mean, would that actually be one of them, is to go back and do a debrief of what’s happened and really sit down and look at what happened in the processes?

Rachel Mackay: Absolutely. I mean, it’s such a valuable learning opportunity because we so rarely get to practice these muscles in real life. You might do your tabletop or exercises or your fire drills but this was a real-life crisis that happened to every single institution in the country and that’s such a valuable learning opportunity.

There’s a crisis manager scholar, called Patrick Lagadec, who calls crisis an abrupt and brittle audit, which I really love and I’ve stolen that title for my dissertation because I think that’s the most important role that crisis does. It offers that opportunity to just really assess your skills at dealing with crisis and there’s two adaptions that pass that really.

Kelly Molson: Yeah. Yeah. For sure. I kind of want to talk about what comes next for the sector, in terms of how people have been incorporating and sharing their knowledge. I want to ask you both, what do you see next? Like you said Rachel, the crisis isn’t ended. We’re still in the middle of it, it’s just mutating and changing every day.

Do you think that this is something that’s here to say, the level of support that people have been offering? What do you think it will look like and will continue to look like, as we continue to go into 2021?

Rachel Mackay: I think you’re right. I don’t think it’s a new thing. I think the sector has always been super open and helpful, in fact, one of the people that I interviewed, made the point that, if you were the head of Marks & Spencer’s, you couldn’t ring up next and be like, “How much money did you make last week?” You just wouldn’t do it. Whereas, there always has been that within the sector.

So I think it’s not something that people have just done because there’s a crisis. It’s something that has been ongoing throughout. I mean, it’s definitely come out. When in my research, one of the big themes was, how great the sector was, and actually, that’s filled a bit of a gap, in terms of maybe the communication from official channels wasn’t always the clearest, in terms of this useful government do things.

Kelly Molson: Which ended very quickly.

Rachel Mackay: Yeah. And actually, even somebody I was interviewing as well, even the fact that they were at 05:00, meant that you couldn’t make changes for the next day in your attraction. So things like that. So it really pumped a hole, that needed to be filled in terms of support and information and experience, most of that came from the sector.

In fact, in one of the surveys I did, 81% of people said that the most useful thing in terms of resources, was information from their colleagues in the sector, we have both gotten updates. It’s something that has always been in the sector but has just come out a lot stronger. I think as we go forward, what I’m worried about is, the slightly more junior levels, so again, your first-line managers.

Because in my research, it came out that they didn’t necessarily have the same networks as their more senior colleagues. That they felt a little bit more disconnected from the sector. So once we already had all these networks in place and we just kind of turned it up, they didn’t necessarily have that. Now I worry, if this is a state that’s here to stay that, how are they going to go to those networking events? How are they going to get started and build those networks?

I really don’t want a whole generation of Visitor Experience managers to lose out on having that wider network because as we’ve seen it, it is so important. But then again, I think a lot of these things grow organically and people will find a way. When I first started out as a Manager, there wasn’t the networks that you get into it or now, even just in museums, there’s museum is muck, museum detox from past museums, all these grassroots groups that have grown up and a lot of it does happen online.

So maybe that’s a way forward but I think it would be a shame if people couldn’t meet face-to-face and have these conversations that we all know are really useful.

Kelly Molson: Yeah, for sure. But it’s about finding the ways that they can continue until we can get back to that point of doing more of the face-to-face things.

I mean, Carlton, maybe just hearing from what Rachel said, maybe that’s something that the Visitor Experience Forum can concentrate on, is that slightly junior level of people that don’t have the network. The Visitor Experience Forum could be something that is key to that level of people.

Carlton Gajadhar: Yeah. No, you’re definitely right. Again, we’re here for everybody who needs our support. I mean, we’re mainly focused on senior management but there’s always a need for the next generation of people in the industry, that need that support. I remember working in the industry way, way, way, long, long time ago, and didn’t have any support at all, during my career when I came up.

So having the forum there in place, it has definitely helped out but also, having the people, members who are attending the forum, to share that information as well is key.

Rachel Mackay: Yeah.

Carlton Gajadhar: It’s no point holding that information in you, sharing that as well is very, very important.

Rachel Mackay: And also I think it’s the responsibility of senior managers to make sure that those people who are coming up in their team, do have access to that. I mean, I started going to the Visitor Experience Forum all those years ago because a more senior colleague brought me along.

So it’s a responsibility I think, people have to take seriously. You have to usher them into the world and I hope that they don’t get too drunk.

Kelly Molson: It’s probably more likely to be us getting drunk, isn’t it? Let’s face it.

Rachel Mackay: Yeah.

Carlton Gajadhar: Yeah, very true. Very true.

Kelly Molson: I’ve loved speaking to you both. I’ve got one more question for you both before we end the podcast today and I always like to ask our guests, if there’s been a book that’s helped shape their career in some way or just a book that they absolutely love, that they’d love to share?

Rachel Mackay: Yes, so I’ve got one. It’s very heritage focused but it’s called, Anarchist’s Escape to Historic House Museums, by Franklin D Vagnone and Deborah Ryan and it really challenges what it means to be a historic host museum and goes against that very stayed guided tour model and looks at, what can it be as a visitor experience and what can it be, in terms of community value?

The author, Frank, he also does a project called, One Night Stand, where he goes and sleeps in different historic houses and then does a blog on it. He’s American but he came to do one at Kew Palace and obviously, wouldn’t let him anywhere near the beds but he is fantastic. But it was amazing and the way he sees historic houses has really shaped how I now deal with my historic properties and he’s all about trying to use the house in as a natural way as possible.

One of the properties that I manage at Queen Charlotte’s Cottage and it’s a folly. It was never lived in, it’s just a really posh summer house and we used to take people around in a tour. And then I realized that the point of that was so that the royal family could enjoy the gardens. And the minute I realized that it just completely changed how we used that space.

And then we put deck chairs, garden games out and it was about the outside of the cottage, not the inside.

Kelly Molson: Right.

Rachel Mackay: And so, I think that’s really helped me to see actually if you can get as close as possible to the original purpose of that building, it just becomes a much more natural visitor experience. So yeah, that book has really shaped my thinking, in terms of that.

Kelly Molson: Oh, lovely. All right, that’s great. I really love that experience, that you’ve been through with the folly and understanding what it is that people … They’re not actually coming to look at the folly, it’s almost about being inside it and looking out at everything else.

Rachel Mackay: Right. It’s about the visitor experience.

Kelly Molson: Absolutely. Yeah. Who knew? Carlton, what about you, do you have one that you’d like to share?

Carlton Gajadhar: Yeah. I think there’s one book that I’ve read and really enjoyed and it’s called, Insider In. It’s very American style but it really focuses on how to put your customer in the center in everything you do.

So it talks about the different kinds of frameworks, kind of like customer journey mapping, empathy mapping, and why that is very important. But it also gives you really cool case studies as well in that book. So yeah, outside in, can’t remember who it’s written by. But for me, that one kind of jumps out at me.

Kelly Molson: Brilliant. Great book recommendations. Well as ever, if you would like to win a copy of those books, if you head over to our Twitter account, which is: skip_the_queue, and retweet this episode announcement with, “I want Carlton’s and Rachel’s books,” then you’ll be in with a chance of winning them. It’s been really brilliant to have you both on today.

What we’re going to do, in the show notes, we’ll link out to the Visitor Experience Forum. It’s free to join the Visitor Experience Forum, which is incredible and we’ll put all of the details on how to do that in the show notes. Rachel, we will link out to your blog. If you can just give us the domain name for that?

Rachel Mackay: Yeah. So it’s threcoveryroomblog.com and practical resources have just gone out, which is a site shutdown template so that you can plan for another lockdown. And [inaudible 00:42:52] some practical training scenarios, that you can use for crisis management and tabletop exercises. So there’s lots of free practical stuff going up there in the next few weeks, as well.

Kelly Molson: Brilliant. It is incredibly useful. Please go and check that out. It is a really, really great resource. All the links to it will be in the show notes and that just leaves me to say, a massive thank you for having you both on the podcast today.

Rachel Mackay: Thank you for having me.

Carlton Gajadhar: Yeah. No, thank you very much for having us. It’s been great.


Do you know someone we should be talking to?

Do you know someone fascinating we should be talking to?

If so, email us at hello@rubbercheese.com – we’ll get back to you shortly.

Paul Wright.
Kelly Molson Managing Director

Host of the popular Skip the Queue Podcast, for people working in or working with visitor attractions, she regularly delivers workshops and presentations on the sector at various national conferences and universities including The Visitor Attractions Conference, ASVA and Anglia Ruskin University.

Read more about me

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