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Can Audio Tours survive social distancing?

As museums slowly start to reopen following their closure because of the Covid-19 pandemic, some things look very different.

Face masks, plexiglass screens, timed entry and fewer visitors are all part of the new reality for those venturing into museums in the age of social distancing.

These changes are about providing a safe environment for visitors, but they are also about making them feel comfortable about being in a museum at this time.

Research shows that this comfort level isn’t the same for all institutions, for example low touch museums such as art galleries look likely to have an easier time attracting visitors than high touch institutions like science museums.

But what about the Museum Audio Tour? In a socially distanced world will the public be comfortable picking up a device that has potentially been used by hundreds of visitors?

Audio Tours offer the public the opportunity to have a deeper experience when visiting a museum. They tell us the stories behind the collection, offer expert interpretation and (especially important at this time) offer a defined route around the galleries.

Audio Tours are also a source of revenue for museums. And with the financial impact of being shut for an extended period and limited visitor numbers for the foreseeable future, any further loss of income is unwelcome.

Reinventing the Audio Guide

Like museums themselves, the companies who provide Audio Tours are adapting to change. This week Madrid based MuseumMate, a leading Audio Tour provider released a new version of Easy Guide to help museums to adapt to the post lockdown world quickly, easily and without huge cost.

Easy Guide allows visitors to download tours to their phones, and in doing so, removes the need for them to handle any hardware provided by the museum.

This BYOD (bring your own device) approach to delivering audio content is likely to be a popular option for museums as they emerge from closure. This will allow visitors to experience the rich multimedia content usually only available on hired hardware on their own devices.

This solves the significant challenge of delivering an Audio Tour experience without the perceived risk of putting on a headset used by others.

Easy Guide offers a low-cost solution to help museums to overcome the loss of revenue with the option to charge visitors to access tours on their own devices. A visitor can choose to purchase the tour when buying a ticket to the museum, and they then receive a QR code to access the content.

With social distancing set to be in place for some time in much of the world, it seems likely that a bring your own device approach is part of the new reality for museums.

And, this could change the way that our audiences expect to access Audio Tours for the foreseeable future.

By finding a way to deliver content to our visitor’s phones and charging for this, museums are not only making these tours available for visitors today. They are ensuring that it is possible to deliver these and charge for the service after the pandemic.

A new version of Easy Guide was launched for smartphones this week by Museum Mate, find out more about the service here. The company continues to offer it’s other Smart Guide options. In its portfolio you will find different models designed and manufactered by MM: Smartguide Plus, SmartGuide NEO and SmartGuide KEY.

About the author – Manuel Charr

Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.

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