Visitor Management at the National Gallery – Trafalgar Square, London
1. A Comprehensive Strategy for Visitor Management
Many visitor attractions see visitor experience as a secondary concern in managing these attractions in favour of the standard of the exhibit. In order to meet both expectations, it is necessary to define the organizational task in order to meet certain service standards (Shackley, 1999).
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To a large extent, attractions such as the National Gallery rely heavily on public support as their primary means of fundraising and ensuring that this support is continued ensures repeated visits in off-peak seasons and potential for larger donations as a source of funding. It is necessary therefore to determine a comprehensive strategy for visitor management that ensures effective service delivery, creates a higher quality of visitor experience, builds customer satisfaction and encourages repeated business (Schmenner, 1995). This is an important consideration for the National Gallery as an attraction which does not charge a standard entry fee and therefore donations received to this end are largely reliant on customer satisfaction and expectation.
2.Controlling Visitor Demand
Controlling visitor demand is considered one of the more traditional functions of visitor management and essentially is reflected by the need to control visitor demand and relate it to the attractions fixed visitor capacity. It does so in various ways aimed at manipulating demand from peak to off-peak periods by pricing structure or ancillary services or attractions (Shackley, 1999). The National Gallery does this in a number of different ways, primarily through the use of ancillary services. Although the gallery does not make use of a pricing structure, it does make good use of a variety of different tours, which are reasonably priced and aimed at large groups and families therefore redirecting large volumes of persons at a time. Not only does this have the effect of controlling the times at which the gallery is experiencing larger amounts of guests, this also has the effect of redirecting large groups of people into certain areas at specific times which effectively ensures that other areas are not as populated. By effectively managing visitors in this way, issues of overcrowding at certain exhibits are effectively managed to ensure a higher level of visitor satisfaction –the purpose of visitor management techniques. Furthermore, these techniques ensure that visitors frequent the gallery in off-peak times. Examples of these programs include school group tours, educational sessions in the gallery and workshops aimed at art education (NG Website, 2012).
3. Standards of Customer Care
An essential element of the visitor management strategy for any British organization is agreeing to undertake certain standards of customer care through the advent of the National Code of Practice for Visitor Attractions where managers of these facilities agree to undertake certain standards with regards to high standards of customer case, courtesy, appropriate maintenance to ensure visitor safety, adequate visitor facilities, prompt enquiry response time and access for disabled persons or those with special needs (such as the visually or hearing impaired). Not only does this include customer care at the facility itself, but also in being able to access the facility through the use of adequate signage, welcome and access facilities. Therefore customer care is both a logistical and judgmental concern (Shackley, 1999).
In addition to standard customer care which include adequate gallery staff members, availability of information and courtesy, the National Gallery places this access as a foremost concern of a visitors experience in the gallery and undertakes these standards of customer care in a number of different ways. In terms of external logistics, there is adequate signage from all the surrounding transport facilities, as well as the nearby attractions leading to easy directions from those attractions to the National Gallery. Arguably however, this is less of a concern since the gallery is itself in Trafalgar Square. The gallery offers special facilities for blind and partially sighted visitors through providing Braille information, descriptive folders, events particularly for these visitors and in the exhibitions themselves. The gallery further makes provisions for assistance dogs. For visitors with mobility disabilities, there is adequate access through the entire gallery, as well as nearby off-street parking and seating available throughout the entire gallery. For deaf and hearing impaired visitors there are British Sign Language interpretive discussions on the paintings, audio guides and in the case of exhibition videos and films, subtitles on all materials (NG Website, 2012). In this way therefore, the National Gallery ensures that these levels of customer care are adhered to.
4. Ensuring Visitor Satisfaction
Ensuring visitor satisfaction is obviously the primary goal of a visitor management strategy and ensuring this is based on a complex set of factors for consideration of the management. Value for money and customer experience is essential to this, therefore ensuring that visitors feel that they are getting the most from the cost of their experience is essential. The National Gallery does not ask a standard entrance fee from visitors, however does ask a nominal amount for a comprehensive floor plan of the gallery, as well as for the special exhibits. This ensures that general visitors to the gallery have access to a sufficient proportion of the gallery and are experiencing high levels of visitor satisfaction without being excluded from the main attractions in the gallery. There are optional visitor guides, audio guides and descriptive folders available for further information, however the base information provided free of charge is sufficient to ensure visitor satisfaction.
Avoiding bottlenecks and queues in the National Gallery is a particular point of concern and to the extent that the gallery has been able to avoid these, it has taken certain measures such as positioning the popular exhibits in larger rooms where there is more space for visitors to access the paintings, as well as placement within the rooms themselves. The gallery has ensured that these paintings are placed in a certain way so as to ensure more people can access them. These paintings are also not placed close together, to avoid crowding around one particular piece. In conjunction with this, high volumes of people present a security concern for visitors which is an important aspect of visitor management (Shackler, 1999) and to this extent the gallery has a state of the art security system with video surveillance of the whole gallery, as well as adequate security staff throughout and a staff member in every room of the gallery (NG Website, 2012).
National Gallery Website (2012) [online] Available on: www.nationalgallery.org.uk [Accessed 28 November 2012]
Schmenner, R. (1995) Service Operations Management. Prentice Hall: NJ
Shackley, M. (1999) Visitor Management in Leask, A. & Yeoman, I. (eds) ‘Heritage Visitor Attractions: An Operations Management Perspective’ London: Thomson Learning