What your visitors really think about pre-booking. With Jon Young, Director – BVA BDRC

In today’s Skip the Queue podcast episode, I speak with Jon Young, Director at BVA BDRC, an award-winning international consumer insight consultancy.

We discuss their exciting new research around pre-booking and what your visitors really think about it!

“70% stated that they would still go ahead and visit if they found out that the place they wanted to visit required pre-booking. We also asked the question in a slightly different way if post-COVID attractions went to 100% pre-booking, would you see this as a good or a bad thing? And 75% stated either a good thing, or it wouldn’t make any difference to them.”

What will you learn from this podcast?

  • Their exciting new research around pre-booking
  • What the drawbacks to pre-booking in the eyes of the visitor
  • How their consumer sentiment tracker has helped the visitor attraction industry

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 guest, Jon Young

Kelly Molson: Jon, thank you for joining me on the podcast today. It’s really lovely to see you again.

Jon Young: Yeah, you too. And yeah, I’ve been listening for quite a while now. So it’s an honor to actually to be on here as well. I think it’s got a great role to play for the industry. So thank you as well for doing it.

Kelly Molson: Aww, Jon, thank you. That’s super kind of you, right? Don’t be too nice to me yet because you know that we’re going to go into our icebreaker questions.

Jon Young: Yeah. Which I’m a bit worried about.

Kelly Molson: Don’t be worried. I think I’ve been quite kind to you, Jon. So I want to know what would you rather give up, your smartphone or your computer?

Jon Young: I would say my smartphone definitely because I’m always trying to spend less time on it and I think that’d be a great way of doing that. I have actually read stories of people who’ve done it, but they’ve never sort of followed it through. But yeah, so definitely the smartphone.

Kelly Molson: What do you do to try and reduce your screen time? Do you lock it in a drawer in the evenings or-?

Jon Young: I’ve put it into a separate room. I’ve tried that. What else have I done? You can set your settings so it’s grayscale. And apparently, that sort of deactivates the colors in some of your apps, which makes them less appealing. I’ve actually tried quite a lot and miserably failed. I’ve read loads of books about that sort of thing, but I’m still sort of scrolling through a tad at night and it’s next to my bed at night as well. So I’ve failed at that. So if you could take it away from me, I’m sure my wife would say thank you as well if you do that.

Kelly Molson: Okay. I don’t know if I can help you with that because I’m the world’s worst. It’s difficult, isn’t it? Because I think I like to engage with people. We speak on Twitter every now and again. And I think that the Twitter platform and LinkedIn for me-

Jon Young: Yeah. Actually, that is something I’ve done. So I can’t access Twitter on my phone now, is just through my laptop. So that has helped. But you end up just wheeling that out then at night.

Kelly Molson: I’ll just get my laptop out and check.

Jon Young: Yeah, check something. Yeah.

Kelly Molson: Okay. All right. Next one, what was your least favorite food as a child? And do you still hate it or do you love it now?

Jon Young: Mushrooms. I remember quite clearly when I was about five years old, my dad tried to feed me a mushroom. I think he thought that this would be a good way to get me to like them. And I hated them and he chose to… He actually physically puts it in my mouth and I bit his finger. And he didn’t talk to me for a while. He had a few stern words. I remember it really clearly. And my wife, she’s Polish and they love going mushroom picking whenever we’re in Poland. It’s like quite a regular pastime. So they go into the woods and they go mushroom picking and they really, really try to get me to like them. But I think I read that if you eat something five times, then you will like it. So maybe I just need to do that, but I still hate it.

Kelly Molson: So you still hate them. You’re still a mushroom hater. I think that’s quite common, isn’t it? Mushrooms are a bit of… They’re a bit marmite for people, aren’t they?

Jon Young: Yeah. I like marmite, but mushrooms, no, unfortunately, but it’s an ambition to like them.

Kelly Molson: To like mushrooms?

Jon Young: Yeah. That’s what lockdown does. You have these weird ambitions.

Kelly Molson: I love that. It’s such a strange goal, Jon. Okay.

Jon Young: Well, I’m full of them.

Kelly Molson: All right. Well, let’s go to the unpopular opinion. So tell me something that you believe to be true that hardly anybody agrees with you on.

Jon Young: So I struggle with this. So I’ve oscillated between going really superficial to really deep. So I’ve ended up with something a little bit superficial, but so my unpopular opinion is that I really don’t enjoy Bake Off or Strictly. Just not for me. And I’ve tried really hard to like both, but I just can’t get excited about people baking on TV or dancing. And I like doing both. And I know the masive tube layer or something like that, the dance, and the Soggy Bottom and all that. I can hold a conversation. It’s almost like people who don’t like football, but they can kind of hold that kitchen conversation.

Kelly Molson: You’ve got the cultural reference down.

Jon Young: Yeah, absolutely.

Kelly Molson: But you’re not down with the shows.

Jon Young: But it’s a no, unfortunately.

Kelly Molson: I’m kind of feeling you on this one because if it’s on, if Bake Off’s on, I’d watch it, but I’m not a massive baker. So I don’t have a huge kind of interest in it. And also, I thought I would love Strictly. I used to tap dance when I was a kid.

Jon Young: All right. Okay.

Kelly Molson: But I was really big into tap dancing and I thought I’d love it. Just don’t love it. I feel like we’re taking one for the team there, Jon, because I’ve agreed with you on this. And I think we’re going to get some Twitter backlash.

Jon Young: Backlash, yeah.

Kelly Molson: Sorry, everyone. But thank you for that, Jon.

Jon Young: No worries.

Kelly Molson: So Jon, you are Director of the BVA BDRC.

Jon Young: Yes.

Kelly Molson: It’s also a name that I have gotten wrong about four million times on this podcast.

Jon Young: I know. It’s a nightmare.

Kelly Molson: Something needs to be done about this, but tell us a little bit about what you’re doing.

Jon Young: So with the name, I think it was the brainchild of the founders about 25, maybe 30 years ago now. And they just came up with a name, Business Development Research Consultants, and there were just two of them and it got shortened. And now here we are. There’s about a hundred of us and we’re stuck with it, but we’ve got bought by BVA, which didn’t help. That’s where that comes from. It wasn’t some kind of genius branding idea. But yeah. So as a company, we’ve got an international presence, so we’ve got offices around the world, but we are so split up into divisions. So we’ve got two divisions in our London office. So we’ve got this of the commercial team and that they work with the banks and media. So ITV, Channel 4, et cetera.

And then we’ve got our division, which we call On The Move. And the teamwork in, we sort of specialise with attractions and tourist boards. So I’ve been there 11 years now. And throughout that time, I’ve worked pretty much exclusively with visitor attractions and tourist boards, so the likes of Visit Britain, Visit Wales, Visit Scotland and a few overseas as well. So we do market research and we do the whole spectrum really. So it can be anything from focus groups to one-on-one depth interviews, to online surveys. So we do audience segmentation, membership work, pricing, pretty much anything that involves trying to understand what the public thinks.

And yeah, we work with loads and loads of brilliant attractions. It’s a wonderful sector to work in as I’m sure you know, Kelly. So we work with the little museums and some of the large nationals as well. We run the ALVA Benchmarking Survey. So this is a survey that is conducted a few times a year amongst visitors to around 80 different attractions across the UK. And we then sort of benchmark each attraction against the others just to understand the visitor experience, which marketing they’ve used, their profile, and a load of other things as well. So it’s quite broad, but yeah, it means we work with lots of great organizations.

Kelly Molson: It’s incredibly useful as well, the things that you provide. And I think one of the ways that we met was through the Visitor Experience Forum.

Jon Young: That’s right.

Kelly Molson: We both spoke on one of their webinars, didn’t we?

Jon Young: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: And I had become aware of what you guys do at the BVA BDRC because of the consumer sentiment tracker that you’ve been doing all the way through lockdown, which was something you were… It was something that you did off your own back. So tell us a little bit about it because it was incredibly useful for us as a kind of suppliers to the industry, but it must have been a fantastic resource for the sector itself.

Jon Young: Yeah, it was really great. So it was actually the brainchild of my colleague, Thomas Folque. I’ll give him a name check there because it was his idea back in, I think, late March. And obviously, a lot of our work got canceled. We work with a lot of hotels as well. So that’s the other team in our division. And so he just felt it’d be good to have some sort of tracker and then we also discussed it and it grew from there. And there’s, I guess, a dual motivation just like any sort of content marketing. It did obviously paint us in a good light. It was a good way to sort of stay in contact with organizations that we worked with, but also to make new contacts. And I think I spoke on about 10 different webinars in the first two months and one of which I met you yourself.

But it was also really good for us to help out as well. And most of us in our team, we are regular attractions visitors ourselves, and we’ve sort of built up relationships with the people we work with as well. So it was nice to be able to provide something for free. And we did that for 23 consecutive weeks. So every week, we produced a new report. It kept some of my colleagues busy as well because I think in the end, it was about 70 pages which is a bit ridiculous by the end of it. But it was full of data to understand how people felt, whether they were open to go out in public and who was and who wasn’t and loads and loads of other things.

And so we stopped that in August, but we’ve now gone down to conducting the research on a fortnightly basis and producing a monthly report. And so there should be one actually landing around about now.

Kelly Molson: Oh, fabulous.

Jon Young: Yeah, it’s been a good experience. And when we did stop originally, we had a load of lovely emails from lots of different attractions saying how useful it had been. So yeah, it was worthwhile.

Kelly Molson: I think that’s something that’s really come across from great people in the sector throughout this situation that we’ve been in, is that things that have… Like you described it. I mean, ultimately, it’s a marketing piece. It was a content marketing piece, but it was helpful. And that’s what’s been really, really important, is that anything that people were pushing out was helpful and useful to the sector. And it was so invaluable to be able to see the snapshot of how people were feeling. And even for us, we were able to kind of build our own content pieces on your content piece because we thought, “Oh, wow, people have really changed their opinion on how they feel about this thing.” Now, that’s something that affects what we do. Now, we can talk about it. And so, yeah, thank you for doing it because I just think it was such a great and useful piece of data to produce.

Jon Young: Yeah. Thank you. And I think I’m not sure if other sectors would have responded so well to, I think, because one thing that’s really striking about the attraction sector is just how much everybody works together. And more often than not, they are actually technically competitors, but they don’t see it that way. They think that as the sum of the parts is greater than the individual. Yeah. You see that with ALVA and I think we’ve had lots of organizations who we may sort of compete with also promoting this as well. So yeah, it was great.

Kelly Molson: Brilliant. Yeah. And sector communication is something that we’ve been talking about all the way through this. Long way, it continues.

Jon Young: Yeah. Absolutely.

Kelly Molson: So this brings us to a very recent and new piece of data that you have been working on. And I’m really excited because I have a little copy of it here, and I feel like there’s not many people that have got this. So I feel quite special. Now, this is about a topic that has… We have been talking about this probably since March, but it is still a hot topic and it’s on everyone’s minds and it’s pre-booking. Now, there is a huge debate at the moment around the benefits of pre-booking versus the more kind of traditional walkup approach the attractions have taken. And you’ve carried out a new piece of research, which is specifically around this. Just give us an overview of what you’ve done, of what you’ve carried out.

Jon Young: Yeah. So actually listening to your podcast and some of the various conversations that we’ve witnessed on various webinars, we felt that there was a lot of debates and a lot of opinion that maybe is worth putting some numbers against some of these opinions just to understand what was an issue and what wasn’t. So we added, I think, around a dozen questions to our fortnightly tracker that we’ve just spoken about amongst a nationally representative sample of the UK population. And we just try to understand what proportion of these people had pre-booked, what proportion had booked but not shown up? What were the reasons for this? Were they understandable? Now, what proportion had actually booked and didn’t fancy a visit but actually visited because they booked?

And then we’ve also looked at whether people are put off by pre-booking generally. Whether people would think it’s a good or a bad thing to go to 100% pre-booking after COVID. And what are the reasons that people like it and the reasons people don’t like it? So I guess that’s it in a nutshell. And we’ve also looked at some of the different audiences and dug into some of our other data as well just to understand some of the other issues that people are talking about such as spontaneous visits. So that’s it in a nutshell.

Kelly Molson: Excellent. Let’s dive in to this because it’s really interesting. I’d have to say I am a huge advocate for pre-booking. And I know, again, I’ve said this over and over and over on these podcast interviews. And it’s quite surprising. I think I put a post out on LinkedIn a little while ago asking people what their experiences of it are and whether they think it’s a good thing, whether they’re uncomfortable with it. And the responses I got were really surprising.

I think potentially because I’m very much a planner and I’m very comfortable to book in advance about what I’m going to do, but obviously, there’s a percentage of people that are more spontaneous and they would prefer to just decide what they’re going to do on the day. And pre-booking doesn’t work for them at all. And it’s really fascinating, the data that’s come out. So from an attractions perspective, we know what the benefits to the attractions are. We know that pre-booking, it allows them to know how many people are coming. It’s great from an operational perspective. They know how much of their team they need in. They can even out that kind of pattern of visitor arrivals throughout the day. And we have seen an increase in donations and gift aid contributions as well via pre-booking. But let’s start with what the visitors see as a benefit. How supportive are visitors of pre-booking?

Jon Young: So I think it’s quite sort of striking that the majority of your markets, so these are people who visit attractions, seven in 10 do think it’s a good thing. So 70% stated that they would still go ahead and visit if they found out that the place they had wanted to visit required pre-booking. So that is a strong majority, 70%. We also asked the question in a slightly different way if post-COVID attractions went to 100% pre-booking, would you see this as a good or a bad thing? And 75% stated either a good thing, or it wouldn’t make any difference to them. So these are strong majorities who are probably in your camp, Kelly, who are sort of the planners and the organizers and they’re fine with this.

Kelly Molson: Interesting. But that’s not all of them, is it? Okay.

Jon Young: Absolutely.

Kelly Molson: Which we’ll get to in a little while. And what do they see the main benefits of pre-booking is?

Jon Young: The main benefit was to be able to plan the time with more certainty. So that was around three in five. So 57% of visitors to indoor attractions. Slightly lower for gardens, and just to make the point that we tested pre-booking at indoor attractions. So looking at museums, art galleries, historic houses, and also gardens and country parks because clearly, the weather has a big impact too.

Kelly Molson: Sure.

Jon Young: And we also tested the restaurants just to kind of get a feel for that sort of benchmark where pre-booking has been in place for quite a long time. So yeah, the main reason was just the ability to plan in advance. The second most popular reason was that there’s less queuing when we get there. So over half stated that. People were allowed to give more than one reason.

And then it drops a little bit to around three in 10 stating that places just tend to be less busy. One in four saying, “We can do some research ahead of the visit.” And I think personally, I think that’s quite an important reason even though only one in four were giving it. I think for me, one of the benefits of pre-booking to the attraction is they can have this conversation with the visitor in advance of the visit. And you can maybe raise awareness of parts of the attraction that you wouldn’t necessarily see.

Year after year in research we’ve done with attractions, we speak to big chunks of visitors who say they went for maybe an exhibition, but they had no idea that half of the other elements of a site were there. They didn’t know that there was an original version of this document on the back and would have loved to have seen it. So I think being able to have that conversation is really important. But for the visitor, that’s one in four. And then one in five stating there are fewer debates about what to do on the day. So I can imagine families, certainly, if it’s not spontaneous and it’s in the diary a week in advance, then you don’t have to have that debate and any sort of toys thrown out of premises.

Kelly Molson: Yeah. It’s decided in advance, “This is what we’re doing on Saturday, team. So let’s plan for it.” Rather than on the day, maybe have to have multiple conversations with different people in your family group about, what does everybody wants to do? The decision’s already been made, we’re doing this.

Jon Young: Absolutely. Yeah.

Kelly Molson: So what about drawbacks? Let’s dive into those because I find these really interesting. So what are the drawbacks in the eyes of the visitor?

Jon Young: Yeah. So as I mentioned earlier, three in 10 felt it was actually… They’d probably think twice and not visit and one in four saying it’s a bad thing post-COVID. And the number one reason that people don’t like to book ahead was that they just don’t like to commit to things too early. They prefer to be spontaneous. And that was 67% of those who thought it was a bad thing to go to 100% pre-booking. So that’s quite a big chunk of people who are quite spontaneous in their behavior. And we had some really… I thought, some quite interesting quotes alongside that. So we asked people just to write out, “Why do you think is a bad thing?” I’ll just read a few of those out. “I like to be able to make spontaneous decisions in my life. I don’t like to be tied to a time. Because I often visit places when I’m passing by.”

And we’ve noticed in our research that if it’s a city center attraction, particularly if it’s free, you will often have up to one in five of your visitors actually deciding to visit when passing. And I do this quite often myself. Our office is in Holborn in Central London. So you’ll often go for a walk maybe at lunchtime or after work. And I might sometimes walk past the British Museum. And I think, “Actually, I might just pop in,” or any number of others in the area. And when I was working in Birmingham, there’s Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, similar sort of thing. You can easily just pop in. And there’s a lot of people for whom attractions are just nice places to be. And it’s just that they might choose it over a café or over a park just because it’s a nice place to spend some time. So that was quite interesting.

The next couple I thought were also quite an interesting. So one person said, “If you plan on visiting several places in a day, that means a lot of booking and you have to be hyper-organized.”

Kelly Molson: Which again, with a family, that’s difficult, right? It’s hard enough to get people out of the house on time to get to the first attraction at the time that you’ve booked. But then you’re constantly clock-watching because you think, “Well, we’ve got to get to here at this point as well.” And things might happen that way-lead you.

Jon Young: Paul had actually said he had his own personal experience of going to London during half term and with his son and then maybe they had a few museums planned and it’s actually quite hard sticking to time. Yeah. So I think that’s actually one that I hadn’t thought of beforehand because you kind of think in the silo, don’t you? I’m pre-booking one place. But the reality is people try to squeeze loads in, especially if they’re visiting Central London or a big city.

Kelly Molson: Yeah, completely. And from my personal view, I had kind of not considered how close people might be to attractions and how easy it is just to nip in. You described where your office is in Holborn. We’re outside of London. So for me, I’m always kind of making a trip somewhere to go to something. So I’ve got to get into London first. So for me, I’m kind of always doing that plan ahead. There isn’t really those opportunities to be spontaneous where I live. So I don’t think about being in that zone.

Jon Young: Absolutely. I mean, I know London. I’m from South Wales, but I probably know London in that sense better than anywhere in the UK. But maybe Edinburgh from when I’ve been there is quite similar. But if you imagine, I’ve been to South Kensington umpteen times and often take family there. And I’m thinking to the last time my sister came up, we went to the Natural History Museum as you do. And then we finished and we had a bit more time. So then, “Actually, should we just pop in the Science Museum?” So we went there and I think we even went to the V&A afterwards just because we were enjoying ourselves so much, but we hadn’t planned the other two. It was just Natural History Museum. So I think certainly when they’re quite close to each other, that’s quite something to bear in mind too.

What else was there? Another quite interesting quote, a couple of quotes around the spontaneity point. Someone said, “When it’s about entertainment, it’s just stupid to plan your mood.” I quite liked that.

Kelly Molson: I like that.

Jon Young: And about three months ago, I spoke to somebody. I was doing some work for a museum in Central London, and I was trying to understand the sort of habits before lockdown, before COVID, and after lockdown. And the lady I spoke to was an artist. And we did the Zoom chats and you could see in the background, there was wonderful pieces of art. And she’s clearly an incredibly creative person. And she said that before COVID, she was going to attractions maybe two, three times a week if not more. And she just liked being in the National Gallery or the National Portrait Gallery or all these other places. But after lockdown restrictions were lifted, she said she’d been maybe twice in a month if that. And she had a few reasons, but the main one for her was pre-booking. And she said, “I’m such a spontaneous person. I really hate planning.” And she even said that when you’ve got something planned say at two o’clock, then you spend most of the morning kind of thinking about that.

Kelly Molson: Right.

Jon Young: You know what I mean? I could actually imagine myself, there’s a little anxiety. Am I doing everything for time? So there’s definitely that type of person and they definitely exist and they are a minority, but they’re a fairly chunky minority. And then there’s the not organized people. Someone’s said, “It would put me off because I hate organizing. I like to float around and browse. The commitment can be a serious burden and other events may occur.” Maybe a bit extreme, but I think these people clearly exist and I think they’re quite valid reasons.

Kelly Molson: Yeah, completely valid. And this is really difficult, isn’t it? Because as an attraction, you need to cater for all of these different types of people and how everybody needs and wants the flexibility to be able to book or not book. Gosh, it’s really difficult task that people-

Jon Young: It really is. And I think a couple of people gave the weather as well, which is obviously more applicable for some than others. I think one thing that maybe is missed in the debates, and maybe I’ve just not heard enough debates in it, but is that a lot of visits to attractions aren’t necessarily those tick box, memorable moment, life-changing experiences. And if you’re going to Warner Brothers or maybe a Merlin Attraction or Natural History Museum for the first time, then obviously, these are moments you’ll never forget. But a lot of attraction visits are actually really casual visits. We call them the social mindset segments and they tend to make up around one in five people who visited typically visit attractions. And these are people who just go there to be in a nice environment and to maybe chat with a friend or to have a coffee or just to be around like-minded people. And I guess that can sometimes get missed off. It’s not necessarily that big standout tick box experience every time.

Kelly Molson: Yeah. Like the example that you gave of the artist, I’m sure she finds those environments quite inspiring for her work and for what she does and who she is as a person. To have to plan that is almost like planning your inspiration. It’s not quite right, is it? You take yourself off for a walk somewhere random to be inspired. And I think having to kind of go, “Okay, well, at two o’clock, I’m going to go to the Tate for my inspiration for the day,” it doesn’t quite sit well with that, does it?

Jon Young: Yeah. Absolutely, yeah. It is a minority, but yeah, it feels quite valid.

Kelly Molson: Are there any differences by visitor party types? So families, retirees, et cetera.

Jon Young: Yeah. So it was quite interesting when we asked this question and when we looked at the life stage. So we looked at pre-nesters, those under 35s without children in household, older independents, so 35 and over without children in the household, then families, and then retirees. So we look at those four different life stages as opposed to age group. And families were a little bit higher in terms of being resistant. I think it is worth noting that they were a little bit higher. It’s about seven percentage points. It’s not a huge amount, but the vast majority were still happy with that. And I think my take, having thought about this quite a bit now, is that the differences aren’t really based on life stage or party size per se. There are some, and I can understand why families would be resistant.

There are more moving parts with a family literally and more things that can go wrong in the day. Whereas if myself and my partner, we’ve just got ourselves to worry about. So I can see why that would be a barrier. But for me, the biggest distinction is in attitudes. And as I mentioned earlier, we do quite a lot of audience segmentation. So we don’t tend to do them on demographics anymore. So we don’t do it on gender or age or any other demographic. We do it on people’s attitudes and base their attitudes to life. Or it could be to how they do their leisure behavior or anything else. And that’s what’s come across here, I think, is that the key distinctions are attitudes to pre-booking and how organized you are and how spontaneous you are and how much you like planning and how much you don’t.

And that does transcend all life stages. Certainly, there’s an indication that families are a bit more resistant, but it’s not as big as the sort of differences in terms of attitudes. One other thing we noticed though is that even though families were a bit more resistant, they were actually more likely to go ahead. So it’s almost as if they were gritting their teeth and visiting. And again, that did make sense because I guess when you’re a family, you really need to fill your spare time and to get out and do things. So whereas maybe an individual on their own or a couple, there’s less pressure to do that.

Kelly Molson: Yeah. You’ve got the challenge again of keeping children and younger members of your family occupied.

Jon Young: Absolutely.

Kelly Molson: So that’s that. We’ve got to do something. Whether we like this or not, we’ve got to get them out of the house. They’re a bit stuck in these four walls. Everyone’s going crazy. We’ve got to go out and do something kind of attitude.

Jon Young: Yeah. So my sort of take from this whole section is that not to get too caught up on the party type and just to think about these different attitudes because that feels to be the big dividing point.

Kelly Molson: Okay. And audiences that are not picked up by the research. Again, I think this is really interesting to me because I hadn’t thought about some of these things as actually being a challenge for people, which is it’s not on them to be honest. I should have been more aware of them, but tell us about the audiences that have not been picked up by the research and how it would affect them.

Jon Young: Yeah. So I think the international audiences. This was amongst a UK sample. So I can visualize here my wife’s parents who are Polish and they don’t speak any English. And coming over here as they have done a few times and just setting them free into London and see what they get up to. And they often do visit attractions, but they’ll walk up and they’ll have that conversation. And there’s less room for error, but to ask them to go on a website, they don’t book their National Express from Stansted. They get my wife to do that because they know that they can do something wrong. They’re a great example in my mind that there’s likely to be a barrier for international visitors, particularly those who don’t speak English. And there’s lots of those who come to London and the rest of the UK.

So that’s definitely a barrier thing. And unless you can cover all the bases with language, then I think that will be. I know that Google have an inbuilt translation function, but again, you have to be quite IT savvy to know that. So I think that’s definitely one audience. The older retirees, so we conduct our surveys on a panel. So these are people who’ve signed up to do the surveys online. So we’re naturally missing out that small proportion of older citizens who aren’t that IT savvy. So I guess my Nan would have fallen into that category. She always liked to phone ahead, for example. So there is a danger that they lose out a little bit. And I think, obviously, there’s always the option to phone and they do that. But perhaps that is just one extra barrier then, one extra step when maybe a year before, they would have just turned up.

So that audience, I think, is quite an important one still, although they are becoming more IT savvy. I think a lot of data shows that. I see people’s grands on Facebook now just to make that point. That’s a different place to 10 years ago for sure. And I think the third big audience is the low-income audiences. So we’ve been doing some work for a network of libraries in the UK. And I think it was about two months ago that we had a big meeting with representatives of these different libraries around the UK. And we decided to switch our research to online, again, because of COVID. We used to have paper-based surveys that we’ve handed out in each library. And we felt, “This is a great idea,” maybe for the same reasons as the pre-booking. It’s much more efficient. You get much better data, more reliable, blah, blah, blah.

And about halfway through, someone from a Glasgow Museum put their hand up and said, “This is great, but can we have paper surveys as well?” He said that it was around about 30% of his catchment area didn’t have access to the internet. And I was really surprised by that.

Kelly Molson: Right. It’s a huge amount.

Jon Young: It is. You don’t expect numbers like that. But I know there is quite high deprivation traditionally in that area where the library is. So he said, “It’s absolutely essential that we have paper surveys.” And there was another way of doing this as well. And obviously, that made me think about pre-booking online too. And it’s been a challenge for certainly the museum sector and cultural attractions to reach out to all of their audiences. And actually, in Glasgow, they’ve done a really amazing job. The likes of Kelvingrove, for example, but this audience is quite large. And I guess it needs to be thought-about too. So yeah, that’s quite a big barrier as well, I think.

Kelly Molson: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s a focus for cultural organizations to raise their awareness in audiences that are not necessarily their natural audiences or people that are less aware of them. Those people would fit into that category. So it’s understanding all the different ways that you need to be able to help people visit, help them understand what you do and be able to book.

Jon Young: Absolutely. I think certain funding like HLF funding is dependent on attractions actually doing that as well. So they kind of need to be seen to return in all these different ways.

Kelly Molson: Gosh. So what are the conclusions from this? Because there’s not a one answer fits all, is there? This is going to be some kind of hybrid model.

Jon Young: There really isn’t. I think one thing I didn’t mention is the no shows as well. I don’t know if you wanted to mention that.

Kelly Molson: Yes.

Jon Young: But I think there’s a big worry as well. In our survey, around 10% of people… Actually, it’s 15%, sorry, said that they booked and hadn’t shown up. And so there’s another, I guess, barrier as well. Although we also found that a similar proportion had shown up because they booked. So I think that maybe balances out. So I think in terms of our conclusions, that was quite an important point for me because there was a lot of people not showing up just because they were never committed in the first place. So I think about seven in 10 of those people said actually it was always 50/50, “I’ve just booked it.” So I think there was a need to maybe make that more taboo.

Kelly Molson: There’s a challenge there around annual passes as well, isn’t there?

Jon Young: Absolutely.

Kelly Molson: So if you have an annual pass for an attraction, and you have to pre-book as well to use that annual pass, you book it but you might not go. But that can’t then be resold. So the attraction in a way kind of loses out because there’s no one else that they can put through the door.

Jon Young: Yeah, it is a real challenge. And I think I was really struck by the fact that the majority of people who don’t turn up just said they had more than one option that day, and they didn’t really get the gravity of it. And I mentioned that we tested restaurants as well. And what was really striking was that the proportion of no shows is a lot lower. And people who don’t turn up to restaurants were more likely to give understandable reasons like they were ill on the day or so. And I think not turning up to a restaurant is a little bit more taboo. You can kind of visualize in your head that empty table that you’re leaving there.

So I think the more the attractions can create that sense of taboo without sort of shaming anyone, the better. And maybe that will happen less and less. And I think they are doing that. But you said the annual pass point is quite important. So I think when people have parted with a lot of money for their pre-booking, they’re less likely to do it. So yeah, I think one of the conclusions is if we can reduce that a little bit as well, that will help.

But in terms of overall conclusions, I mean, I’m like yourself. I’m massively in favor of pre-booking. I think it’s brilliant at so many different levels. And I think you listed those right at the start. It’s great for the attraction. And it can really improve the visitor experience. It can see improve rates. And also, you can gain loyalty in the long-term and have that conversation on either side. So I’m really behind it. I think it really does suggest, though, that there’s a need for some sort of hybrid where there is a walkup option possible because as we’ve discussed at length, this one in five of your visitors, they may be spontaneous visitors, depending on where you’re situated.

Obviously, it does matter where you are and how much you charge. If you are the British Library, then there’s loads of people coming out of King’s Cross and just popping in. But if you’re in the middle of nowhere, then you’re less likely to have that. So there’s obvious differences. And I guess people need to sort of work those through as well. But I certainly think some sort of hybrid. And I’m glad I don’t have to sort of deciding on how that works. And I just got to give the data because it’s clearly very challenging. But there’s a lot of operational brains out there, I think, that can really can work that through.

And maybe there’s a bit of trial and error as well. But I think the point I made earlier about just understanding it’s more of an attitude, no barrier, I think, than anything else. And not to get too bogged down in the demographics of it all. And just to understand that some people hate planning. Yeah. I’m not so good at it myself. So I can kind of empathize. Yeah. And I guess just to be aware that there are other audiences out there who might really struggle. I saw some figures today from Visit Britain and their projections on inbound tourism and it’s so low.

Kelly Molson: Yeah. 16.9 million, wasn’t it? For next year.

Jon Young: Well done. I can’t remember.

Kelly Molson: I think that’s what I read this morning. I’ve been looking at it myself. But it’s so vastly down. It’s really scary.

Jon Young: It really is. And markets like the states will take longer to catch up just because there’s a big lag from bookings to visiting. So we need to do all we can to get as many of our British-based visitors in as possible. So I guess we just need to have all the options we can. So yeah, that’s the key conclusion, I think, really. And yeah, like I said, I’ll leave it to the boffins’ fractions to work out how to do it because I guess you don’t want to have a situation where if you can turn up walkup anyway, why would you pre-book?

Kelly Molson: It’s difficult, isn’t it? Yeah.

Jon Young: So, balance.

Kelly Molson: It is about balance, I think. I mean, a lot of attractions are just going to say, “No, that’s it. We’re going to keep the pre-booking. That’s it.” It’s almost tough, but I think it depends on… It’s very location-driven like you were saying. It’s interesting. We’ve actually got Geoff Spooner coming on the podcast in the New Year from the Warner Brothers Studio Tour, The Making of Harry Potter, which obviously launched with pre-booking from opening day. So it’ll be really interesting for people to tune in and hear all of the positives from that. But Geoff is very pragmatic when he speaks about it because he does say a lot of those decisions are driven by location actually in terms of kind of parking and congestion in the area where they’re located as well. It made sense to do that. And so there’s so many factors you have to think about, and it is going to be down to the individual attractions to work out what’s going to work best for them.

Jon Young: It really is, and I think the likes of Warner Brothers, as I said earlier, when you visit Warner Brothers, it is-

Kelly Molson: It’s magic.

Jon Young: … amazing. I went a few years ago with my niece, and we actually booked four months in advance. And it was amazing. And everyone’s had the same experience, I think. So it is maybe different to the [inaudible 00:41:38] in Central London where you can visit more regularly perhaps. But I think actually one thing that Simon at Roman Baths mentioned was that their booking system is really flexible. So they’ve had a really low proportion of no-shows. So you can cancel, I think, up to the minute pretty much. And so I think the more flexibility, the better, and maybe that will help as well. So yeah, lots out there. And I’m sure there’ll be some great best practice.

Kelly Molson: Well, lots to think about for 2021. Hopefully, this podcast has given you a little insight into what visitors are thinking about pre-booking. Jon, I mean, I’ve been lucky enough to have my copy in advance. Where will people be able to find this research so that they can have a read of it themselves?

Jon Young: So hopefully, by the time this is published, we’ll have put it into a blog and maybe in a Q&A format. We’ll see how it goes. Might put a few graphs in there. We love a graph.

Kelly Molson: Love a graph.

Jon Young: Feel a bit naked without a graph actually just talking about this. So yeah, we’ll put it on our website. Follow me on LinkedIn or whatever, and I’ll be promoting it on there as well.

Kelly Molson: Right. Well, for our listeners, we will link to all of these things in the show notes. So we will link to Jon’s LinkedIn profile. We’ll link to the BVA BDRC website and their Twitter profile. So go ahead and follow them. And then you will have access to this brilliant research. Jon, I always end the podcast by asking our guests to recommend a book. Something that they love or something that’s helped shape their career in some way. So have you got something to share with us today?

Jon Young: I do. I’ve got this book called How Emotions Are Made.

Kelly Molson: Great.

Jon Young: So I wrote this on jury service.

Kelly Molson: Okay. Interesting jury service then?

Jon Young: Yeah. Well, when I got to the jury service, I noticed that there were loads and loads of thousand-piece jigsaws which gave me an idea that we wouldn’t be doing a lot with our time. I think I spent 90% of it just hanging around. So luckily, I had this book, which is written by a neurologist called Lisa Feldman Barrett. And it’s the science of how emotions are sort of created. It’s a hard read. And I don’t think I’d have read it if I didn’t have so much time on my hands. But it’s really, really fascinating and it kind of changed how I thought about the visitor experience.

In a nutshell, it sort of talks about how you can only really feel emotions if you recognize the stimulus you’re given and if you’re not distracted in lots of ways. So when we test the visitor experience now, certainly in exhibitions, we will just make sure we sort of test how relatable exhibits and descriptions are and whether there are any distractions in the exhibition room, and lots of other things around that. So I do recommend it. It really changed how we thought about the visitor experience. I’m just looking at the footnotes, were about a hundred pages. So I’m not sure if anyone wants to win this, but it’s really interesting.

Kelly Molson: Jon, you’re not really selling it for our listeners. I’m not going to lie. Listen, if you’ve listened to all of that, and you’d still like to win that book, then if you head over to our Twitter account, and as ever, retweet this episode announcement with the words, “I want Jon’s books.” Then you will be in with a chance of winning a copy of it. Jon, thank you so much for coming on the podcast today. It’s been an absolute pleasure. And I would like to just thank you again for all of the work that you’ve been doing throughout lockdown because it has been invaluable for us. And I know that it’s been invaluable for many, many attractions up and down the UK. So thank you.

Jon Young: Thank you.

Kelly Molson: This is the last episode of 2020, which is crazy. I have had an absolute blast this year talking to the most interesting people. And I’m so grateful that all of you, listeners, have been tuning in week after week after week. So thank you. We are going to be back on the sixth of January with a very exciting episode. In fact, we’ve got loads of exciting episodes lined up for the start of the New Year.

As you heard earlier, we’ve got Geoff Spooner coming on from The Making of Harry Potter, which I’m really excited about. I definitely fangirled a little bit on that podcast. We have Holkham Estates coming on to talk about their sustainability plans. And we have the brilliant National Football Museum who are coming on to talk about why your attraction should have a podcast. So stay tuned. We’ll see you in the New Year. But in the meantime, have an absolutely wonderful Christmas and festive break.


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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