We talk a lot about the first five minutes in our visitor
experience training. Our arrival in Stockholm yesterday reminded me of just how important it is. Travelling is fun but it is tricky too.
There’s a lot of stuff that has to put in place. There’s the timetable to be be developed and adhered to, an inventory of
required resources has to be compiled, the resource than have to be located or procured, packed, prioritised to meet capacity/weight limits, reprioritised, renegotiated, repacked. The route has to be planned and then navigated. Core relationships have to be nurtured and communication channels kept open throughout. Disputes may have to be resolved.
It sounds like a pretty heavy day at the office. It is like that whether you are taking your family to the zoo or flying off to Sweden for an Interpret Europe conference.
It is not surprising that our visitors need a bit of support when they arrive and need to be reassured that all that effort will turn out to be worthwhile.
Stockholm airport began the reassurance immediately. Stockholm is clearly home to interesting, talented, creative,
influential and happy people who are proud of their city. Good. We’d like a piece of that.
The express train link to the city centre was stylish comfortable, efficient and fast. Better than at home, we said. We want our visits to give us what we can’t find at home in some way, whether that’s space, new experiences, closeness to nature, mixing with people who share our interests, beauty, stimulation or whatever.
The train announcement as we arrived in Stockholm, welcoming natives home and wishing visitors a happy time in the city was delightful. We liked that. We felt welcome.
But how do we find that happy time here? We realise are in
the middle of a strange city, tired, suddenly very hungry and, more seriously, dehydrated, with no idea where to go and without a word of Swedish. We are thrashing about in the lower (physiological, safety and social) levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. We talk a lot about Maslow and his work in our training, with good reason. My already wobbly relationship with my new wheelie case begins to deteriorate rapidly.
We sort out the most pressing physiological needs. I curse my luggage – which doesn’t help our relationship but makes the man behind me laugh and I remember that Swedes mostly speak English. This is going to be okay.
But we still have a confusion of urgent questions: How do we find ..? Where is ..? When can we …? What do need for …? What is the best way too …? How do we … ? Is it okay to. …? We need help.
Fortunately the central Stockholm Tourist information Office is one of the best I have ever visited (except maybe Boston Mass. – but that’s another story). We manage to list our questions. I note that is a surprisingly difficult task and blame my bag. (It has the soul of a three year old child; it is refusing to stand up so I have to keep hold of it and it runs over my foot.)
We get excellent, clear answers, timetables, maps and a Stockholm card. We lock the luggage in a locker (ha ha! take that, you baggage!).
We eat. We make plans. We have physical orientation sorted out. We have moved up the Maslow Hierarchy (updated version, for those of you into this sort of thing) to cognitive ( we want to find out stuff) and aesthetic (we want to see lovely stuff). We are ready to explore, to find out what Stockholm is about and has to say for itself. We are ready for interpretation.
By the end of the day ( only about 5 hours later) Stockholm was a strong contender for the top place in my list of favourite European cities. The good start to our visit made a strong contribution to that.
All cultural visits need to start with welcome, reassurance, introduction and orientation. Then visitors can start the real business of the visit and explore by themselves.
Tomorrow I will tell you five things I want to remember about
interpretation that I found, or will find, here in Stockholm.