'Do not do to others as you would that they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same.' George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw was not a visitor experience advisor but nonetheless, he rather pithily summed up one of the great and hardest lessons of our business.
You cannot base your predictions of what your visitors will enjoy on your own preferences and experiences.
I bang on about this a lot in my workshops. I firmly believe that it is the most important penny-dropping lesson that anyone who wants to success in the business of creating great, meaningful, memorable, life changing, lovable experiences at heritage and countryside sites needs to absorb.
I know it is a hard lesson. A lot of us come into the business of heritage interpretation because we love the subject and we want to share the love. That was absolutely the reason I came into it.
And of course we can share the love. At the end of the day that is our mission. But we cannot do it by focussing solely on our love. We have to focus on our visitors and what they love as well, if not more.
A little while ago we were back in our wonderful Kilkenny towns. Under our (mostly) gentle guidance the four town groups took part in in a ‘Showcasing our Town’ where they took turns to lead a guided tour of the best bits of their town.
They had been to Peter’s workshop and taken away much good advice and a toolkit for leading great guided walks. They had chosen a good route, identified a memorable message, and practiced skills like not talking with your back to the group and making sure no one gets run over.
The Friday before the Showcasing our Town weekend the sun shone down on Kilkenny. As it did on the Monday after. In between it rained and rained.
It is always a problem to know what to do in these variable climates when it rains on your parade. At some time it will. You have to have a Plan B. For the record we decided there are only three plan Bs –
B1 – you make it shorter so you get wet and cold, but not for very long,
B2 – you arrange an indoor alternative
B3 You call the whole thing off (a dire option but one that the highly professional team at Chatsworth (see here) made with their much-advertised Christmas Fayre because of rain and floods that very weekend. Pity them!)
One of my two groups went for B1. That was okay but we did all get wet and cold.
The next day, my other group went for B2. They decided to ditch the guided walk and take people into the pub for a slide show of the sights of their town. A kind and humane thought.
But, interestingly, the guests were disappointed. They had turned out for a walk and had prepared for a walk in the rain. That was what they had come for. That was they were braced for and that was what they wanted.
Their expectations were not met. They pointed out that even though it was a good slide show, it did not give them the sense of place they had wanted.
A good reminder about checking out what your visitors really want, not just assuming you know.