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10 ways to make your museum website COVID secure

Above: Stadel Museum in Frankfurt, one of the European museums that has reopened 

A month after the rest of Europe, the first museums in the UK reopened. Others have already written about the different, sometimes clinical, but also meditative effects of a Covid-secure visit. But how to prepare the visitor for this? 10 tips on how museums and other attractions communicate this to visitors, before they book a ticket, during, and afterwards.

Communicate what’s new

The best way  to “communicate a commitment to supporting the Government Guidelines on Covid-19 in public messaging.” (guidance by UK/Irish Zoos and Aquariums) is to be specific about what has changed for people visiting a specific attraction. Start high level, then address more detailed questions people might have. Some of the issues I see mentioned frequently:

  • how visitors can keep distance, also upon entering and exiting.
  • if there is a one way system in place, and what this means. 
  • what visitors can bring and what not
  • what parts of an attraction might be closed, including shops, cafes and restaurants and toilets. 
  • why visitors need to buy a ticket in advance, and how they can.
  • what extra cleaning regime there is in place.

The Kroller Muller museum conveniently divides its guidance in ‘before your visit’ and ‘during your visit’. If you look for completeness, the Corona protocol page of the Dutch amusement park Efteling wins. It even has a separate section on the toilets!

Looking at other sectors: the reopening page of retailer John Lewis strikes a great balance. Clear, well laid out, and visuals with safe but smiling people.

Be flexible where you can

During lockdown cultural institutions and visitor attractions have gotten a lot of sympathy from the audience, it would be foolish to squander that by being stricter than necessary. 

I appreciate how the Design Museum in Den Bosch is clear about when not to visit, but is flexible about changing a pre bought ticket: “Please don’t come to the museum if you are suffering from health problems. Previously booked tickets can be rescheduled for a later date without difficulty.”

Make it visual

Guideline 39 of the safe reopening protocol of Dutch Museum Association protocol says “Use text in combination with imagery (icons) where relevant and possible”. 

Above: Royal Museums Greenwich uses icons and a very clear 3 step communication.

Although icons are most powerful if people have seen them before, especially social distancing illustrations lend themselves perfectly for on brand variations. Just compare these two examples below:

Above: Part of the social distancing poster of The Lost Gardens of Heligan, a botanical garden in Cornwall. Thanks to Bernard Donahue from ALVA for sharing.

Above: This Safe and Sound page features the sort of creative illustrations you expect from The Design Museum.

Show a preview video

“Consider ways of communicating what a visitor may expect from your zoo when you reopen using images or video. This can provide reassurance but also help them visualise what they need to do when they visit.” (British Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums in its reopening guidelines). 

It is interesting to see what museums and attractions do in videos besides just communicating how to visit safely:

Update your online ticketing system

Where previously some attractions sold tickets valid for an entire day, or (in case of zoos) whole seasons, now they need to sell tickets for specific time slots in order to manage the number of visitors. 

Due to social distancing the maximum number of visitors is also lower. For example Kew Gardens is currently admitting only a third of their normal maximum number. At ZSL’s London Zoo we realised there might thus be a bigger demand and we put in place a virtual queuing system for their online ticketing. The first four days they sold 50.000 tickets – with some people being in the queue for 3 hours.

Don’t forget members and pass holders

Many people become a member or get a year pass for an attraction to be able to just walk in whenever they want. This is not possible under most countries’ guidance. So attractions have to make sure they communicate this clearly, for example via email. 

Anthony Rawlins came with an interesting suggestion: ask members booking a ticket to already pay for next year’s membership, as a way to support an attraction in these times.

Update your terms and conditions

A boring but important detail: make sure you review your terms and conditions, update them where necessary, and make sure visitors agree to them when buying a ticket. This at least includes giving consent with the hygiene measures and health issues policies. 

I am wondering though if one should require people to sign a waiver to avoid attractions held liable for possible infections – as the organisation of a Donald Trump election rally did…

Send a pre visit reminder

People are forgetful. So reminding them of the changes close to their visit can be very useful – and it might be worth looking for different channels like SMS to make sure you really reach your visitors.

Above: Airline KLM does a good job by sending an SMS reminder 2 days before a flight. 

Inform on site

The Rijksmuseum offers 3 one way routes, and points visitors to use their multimedia tour app on them. More museums are encouraging visitors to use their phones on-site. Think about what more a visitor could do with this – maybe finding out what services are open/closed, to virtually queue for a specific exhibit, or to pre-order food?

You don’t necessarily need to have an app for this! A few (mobile optimised) pages on your website could also do the trick. If you offer free wifi at your museum, you could even set these pages as the start pages once a visitor logs in.

Show why people should visit

Above: The homepage of Blenheim Palace makes clear what visitors need to do, uses icons, addresses members, and still show the beauty of the attraction.

Finally, with all this thinking and talking about Covid-securing a visit, one may easily forget what people are coming for! The fun of an attraction, beauty of a garden, splendour of a historical venue, art and reflection at a museum. The shared experience of being away with their family. 

So in all communication, let us not forget to show what makes a place worth visiting. Mention what’s on view, show pictures with people in them, include the luscious views in a video. 

About the author – Martijn van der Heijden

Martijn van der Heijden is lead strategist at full service digital agency Deeson, working for clients like Royal Museums Greenwich, Imperial War Museums, Southbank Centre and  ZSL/London Zoo. His expertise includes digital strategy, user experience design, information architecture, branding, online collections and storytelling, and he has colleagues at Deeson who know loads about open source platforms like Drupal, and integrations with CRM, ticketing and shop systems.

Martijn spoke at conferences like MuseumNext, SXSW, and Museums and the Web. In his former role at Fabrique he led teams that won a Webby of the Design Museum’s website, bagged a European Design Award for the Tate app, and had loads of fun with the Royal Academy’s online collection. His latest discovery is how a digital user centric approach can be applied to physical exhibitions and experience design of museum visits.

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