Technology / 11.09.20
9 Tips for Reopening Your Venue
Reopening looks different for every cultural organization. But some things should stay the same.
Planning for reopening is full of logistical considerations, from new ticketing and entry procedures to maintaining vigilant sanitation. Arts and cultural organizations have a lot to think about before reopening to the public. Technology solutions like digital ticketing, timed entry and contactless scanning can all help you meet the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. And no matter how you manage your venue, make sure you’re capturing the data you need to strengthen relationships with your audiences during this daunting time.
Here’s Tessitura’s list of nine things you should consider before reopening.
1. Implement timed admission
Before COVID, many folks in the ticketing industry thought of timed admission as something used for a special exhibit at a museum or attraction. Now, it’s proving to be an invaluable way to manage capacity and traffic flow for every kind of ticketed experience.
The ZACH Theater in Austin, Texas, is holding an outdoor concert series in which audiences are seated in “pods” positioned at least 6 feet away from one another. Each ticket has a designated entry time to help audiences maintain safe distances while moving through the space. At the end of each concert, patrons are released section by section, based on their assigned arrival times. These staggered entry and exit procedures help ensure physical distancing at the times of highest traffic flow.
For larger facilities, consider printing the door or gate on the ticket as well as the entry time. That can help streamline the paths people take through your venue, which contributes to overall safety.
The Des Moines Art Center is using timed admission — not just for admissions, but also to manage the volume of customers in its on-site shop. With only four customers allowed in the shop at a time, advance reservations allow people to plan ahead and skip the line for a smoother experience.
2. Make everyone feel safe
“Safety and comfort are the blockbuster exhibitions of the season,” wrote Scott Stulen, CEO and President of Tulsa’s Philbrook Museum of Art, on Twitter. That holds true for any genre. Safety will likely be a bigger consideration than the performer or exhibit that you are offering.
And keep in mind that it’s not just your audiences who need to feel safe — it’s your front-line staff and volunteers, as well. At the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri, the volunteer tour guides initially expressed concerns about their safety as the museum reopened. In response, they constructed vertical rolling shields that the volunteers can take with them as they guide visitors through the museum.
3. Go contactless wherever you can
The more you can offer contactless options, the safer both guests and staff will feel. Make sure your online sales pathway is easy to navigate to minimize on-site ticket sales. Offer mobile and/or print-at-home tickets to complete the contactless experience.
On site, touchless payment devices, no-cash policies and contactless scanning can also help you increase safety for everyone. Historic Hudson Valley is using Tessitura’s self-service scanning for its popular annual event, The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze. Guests must purchase their tickets in advance and can scan their mobile or print-at-home tickets at the gate.
If you do opt to sell tickets at the door, see if your provider offers an auto-attend feature, which automatically marks tickets as attended the moment they’re sold. That means you don’t have to scan those visitors in when you know they’re already there and ready to walk in.
4. Test out your ideas on a smaller pool of guests
At the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, “We love member preview days,” says Megan Martin, Director of Advancement Operations. The museum opened in phases: first, says Deputy Director Jill Wagar, “We did a donor preview where we only allowed one family unit in every 30 minutes. They were spaced out enough that they didn’t see anybody else when they were in the galleries.”
“And then we went into a member preview” at 15% of the museum’s capacity, half of the 30% that they are currently operating at. “It was a good practice for us,” Jill says. “We changed a couple of lines or added lines in a couple of places. But as far as our process goes, we didn’t have to change anything” before reopening to the public. The reassurance from the preview days helped them reopen with confidence.
5. Strengthen loyalty
Many cultural organizations have traditionally relied on tourism for a large part of their visitor base. But with travel limited for an uncertain period of time, the people who come when you reopen are likely to be overwhelmingly those who live in your area. These local members and audiences will be critical to rebuilding your growth.
“80% of the total tickets right now are coming from our member base,” says Mark Peterson of Thanksgiving Point, a five-museum campus in Lehi, Utah. Reflecting on why, Mark’s colleague Kendall Wimmer says: “I feel like those members know what we do and are comfortable coming out in the midst of all of this.” Furthermore, engaging those members can be vital from a financial perspective. “In a time like this pandemic,” Kendall says, “a large member base is really helping fund the Institute because there’s not a lot of cash-paying visitors.”
Make operational choices that support your loyalty efforts. For example, requiring guests to purchase tickets in advance allows you to capture contact details that aren’t collected in a typical on-site transaction. Thanksgiving Point is using that data to encourage visitors to convert a ticket purchase into a membership. Before COVID-19, they used to make that offer in person, valid that day only. Now, they have set up triggered emails to make that offer in a socially distant way, with a weeklong window for redemption. “That’s something we wouldn’t be able to do if we weren’t collecting that information from the original online sale,” Mark says.
6. Create new benchmarks
We don’t know what the trajectory of reopening will be: how many customers will continue to feel close to your organization, how many will be willing to come back to your venue. How do you forecast when you don’t have a starting point?
“There are no benchmarks yet for reopening,” says Ed Gargiulo, Director of Enterprise Consulting for Tessitura. That means that if you want to understand purchasing patterns, price sensitivity and other vitally important audience behavior, you need to make a plan to capture the relevant data points. If you start collecting information from the moment you reopen, you can establish a baseline from which to track your growth throughout the recovery process.
Once you’re open, be sure to monitor trends and adjust your operations as needed. "Now more than ever, you’ll need to be deliberate in determining what you’re going to analyze,” Ed says. “Monitor it on a daily basis and be nimble to respond to what’s happening and make changes.”
7. Communicate more than ever
Balancing safety, customer experience and other concerns can be a challenge. How do you reassure guests of the safety measures that you’re taking and make sure they understand the practices that they must follow?
There are more points of communication than you may be thinking of. At Thanksgiving Point, a single website button was able to make a difference. The multi-genre organization has set aside the first hour of each day for high-risk visitors; yet even with highly visible website messaging, too many visitors were still purchasing those designated tickets.
So, they relabeled the time slot from “9:00 AM” to “9:00 AM High Risk Guests.” Now, a website visitor can’t miss that 9:00 AM is for high-risk individuals. “It's been really effective,” Mark says. “It immediately changed the guests’ behavior.”
Another tactic that many organizations are using is a checkbox in the purchase path for acknowledging safety guidelines or other COVID-19-related policies. Early communication like this is key, and requiring customers’ acceptance of these policies as part of their ticket purchase can lead to a smoother on-site experience.
8. Look for revenue opportunities
While it’s easy to focus on the limitations of reopening during a pandemic, it’s important to look for the new opportunities. Crystal Bridges, for example, began selling picnic baskets as a socially distanced dining option. When a customer selects tickets online, a message in the purchase path suggests a picnic basket add-on. The customer can choose from different types of snacks or lunches and even select their sandwich preferences. An automated report keeps the culinary team informed of all orders.
The picnic baskets offer a way to boost dining revenue while their on-site restaurant is operating at low capacity. “We’re trying to provide that customer service, but then also get the culinary sales, knowing that we just can't accommodate everybody in the restaurant,” says Megan Martin.
9. Remember your mission
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the mission of every arts and cultural organization into sharp relief. When working through the logistical challenges to reopen, you might start to wonder: Why are you going through all this operational trouble to reopen at a drastically reduced capacity?
“One of the reasons why we opened is because we thought people needed art,” says Jill of Crystal Bridges. In other words, people needed exactly what the museum exists to provide. “We knew that coming back to the museum during this time was going to be poignant and important for a lot of people.”
The Met captured that feeling in a series of social media posts showing people’s joy and emotion at coming back to the museum. The posts built on the excitement at the museum’s reopening, creating their own reminder of the institution’s place in a culture-rich city.
You may find a renewed sense of meaning in being able to open your spaces once again.
This article was sponsored by Tessitura Network.
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