Motivations of visitors to heritage attractions

Happy visitors, preferably lots of them, are essential to success at almost all heritage attractions.

Whether your goal is to make money or to turn hearts and minds to a conservation cause, the happiness of your visitors is a vital first step.  A basic (at least) understanding of visitor motivations is essential to that.

But visitors are such a diverse bunch! Where to start?

Recognising that diversity is a great start (see here and here). All your visitors are, after all, creating their own individual visitor journeys and experiences using your site as a stimulus or maybe just a backdrop.

It can seem like chaos – a pot-pourri of individuals milling around your site in some sort of Brownian motion.  It’s not chaotic, but it is complex.  Happily, there are some strong but simple tools that help us deal with it.

In TellTale we use one that we have tried and tested over several years. It helps us and, more importantly, our clients and people who come to our training think more clearly about providing for visitors.

It involves four main visitor motivations; four types of visitors and visits. Regular readers of this blog will have met them already, if not by name. They are:

Sensualists – emotional and spiritual rewards

Taking some Sensualist time in Mt. Leseur National Park, Western Australia

For Sensualists ‘just being there‘ is enough. ‘Taking in the view‘, ‘becoming one with the past‘,’ finding peace and harmony in nature‘, ‘experiencing beauty’, ‘finding inspiration‘ are the rewards these people want from their visit.

When I visited the Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield  and the Anthony Gormley exhibition in I was behaving pretty much like a sensualist who works with words. Hannah at Chatsworth, on the other hand, was a sensualist who responds mainly visually.

Intellectuals – finding out more

Peter has a passion for plants, so Western australia was close to paradise for him. A tour of Kings Park Botanic Gardens in Perth with a knowledgeable guide who introduced the main taxa, was perfect for him.

Intellectual Visitorswant to pursue an interest. They may be novices or experts but they are interested.  They wish to learn more, increase their knowledge, improve their skills, see, hear or do things that relate to their interest and probably talk to people who share their interest and can answer their questions.

When Peter and I went to Bosworth we were being Intellectual Visitors.

Social Visitors – building relationships

Social Visitors, capturing the memory of their time together, in San Giminiano, Italy.

Social Visitors want to spend enjoyable time with family and friends in a pleasant and interesting environment. They like sharing experiences, talking to each other, finding new things to talk about, conversations with other people, and good visitor facilities.

When I went to Chatsworth I was being a Social Visitor.

Exploring families – discovering together

Exploring Family at the London Wetland Centre

Exploring Families are adults visiting with children. They too want to spend quality time together. It important that this includes shared activity and some discovery and learning.

My post about Anglesey Abbey shows a great example of focusing on this visitor segment.

Knowing your visitor  is vital.  But it is using that knowledge to make changes to the way your attraction is run that will really make the difference.

One of our most popular day workshops explains what understanding visitor motivations means for site design,media selection and delivery. We have run it in Australia, Italy, Scotland Ireland and England. Get in touch with me on, if you would like to know more.

Credit where it is due: This segmentation model draws heavily on the work of those laterally-thinking people Morris Hargreaves Mcintyre who have done so much work on audiences in the cultural sector. On several occasions over the last few years we have worked with clients where we are ‘following’ them and our role is to work out what the understanding of segmentation means in practice, on the ground.  We have learned a lot through working on this with both the National Trust and the Wildfowl and wetlands Trust and doff our caps to the many excellent people in both organisations whose willingness to experiment and innovate has helped us learn more about this. 


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