Cesare Fialà, Co-Founder and CEO of Culture Hint, explains how his optimisation platform worked with the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage in Malta and Culture Venture to drive visitor growth at Spazju Kreattiv by an incredible 11% with the help of AI-powered tools and statistically significant insights.
Collecting visitor data has long been important to cultural institutions. But as Cesare Fialà explains, the fast-developing fields of AI and machine learning are making it possible to dramatically improve the way that people flow is monitored and forecasted.
“Using the data gathered from a certain location or area, our AI engine is able to forecast people flow for the upcoming periods by pulling together data from all sorts of sources. Factors such as weather conditions and flights into the city can all be built in to help provide accurate forecasts.
“This data is then fed into our optimisation engine which generates resource recommendations for our clients – those being human resources, material resources and financial resources.”
Having co-founded Culture Hint in 2019, Cesare and his team have worked with a number of different cultural organisations and local councils to deliver meaningful data insights in countries including Singapore, Italy and the UK.
Over the last 12 months Culture Hint has also been working in partnership with a creative enterprise, Culture Venture, and Malta’s Superintendence of Cultural Heritage on a project to improve the cultural tourism experience at Spazju Kreattiv. At the heart of this initiative has been the desire to better understand visitor behaviour in and around the institution’s home at St James’ Cavalier in Valetta.
Cesare explains, “One of the most interesting things about Spazju Kreattiv is that it is essentially housed inside a fortress – a style of building traditionally designed to keep people out. That makes the challenge of getting people into a building all the more interesting and important.”
The project at Spazju Kreattiv was funded by the Malta Digital Innovation Authority, and saw Culture Hint combine its three-step approach to people flow optimisation with Culture Venture’s audience development techniques.
“The ultimate goal was to increase visitor numbers by optimising operations. To achieve this, we implemented our three-step approach, which involves monitoring visitor flow, forecasting visitor flow and optimising operations.
“The first step of that process involved using our sensors to track movement and behaviours at and around Spazju Kreattiv. Next, we moved onto the second step which involved using our unique machine-learning algorithms to predict visitor numbers based on the data we had acquired.
The Project Team (from left to right) : Daniel Azzopardi (Spazju Kreattiv), Toni Attard (Culture Venture), Valerie Visanich (Culture Venture), Jonathan Borg (Superintendence of Cultural Heritage), Cesare Fialà (Culture Hint).
“With that information gathered, we were able to look at ways to adapt and optimise operations based on visitor flow – ensuring that the right resources were in place to meet predicted demand, improve the visitor journey and signpost exhibitions and activities more accurately using the audience data we had acquired.
A combination of digital and analogue approaches
What was particularly unique about the initiative undertaken at Spazju Kreattiv was the innovative combination of AI-driven monitoring and targeted audience development techniques. While traditional audience development work typically involves visitor surveys inside and outside a venue – canvassing a statistically significant number of visitors manually can be a challenge. Cesare explains,
“At a large London museum you could speak to thousands of people and still find yourself accounting for less than 1% of visitors. In terms of informing museum strategy, this percentage isn’t useful at all. And the cost of reaching a statistically significant threshold could be extremely high because it requires substantial human resource.
“Where our AI-powered monitoring and forecasting really excels is the way it gives organisations the ability to gather large volumes of accurate data over a much longer period of time – the sensors can run continuously for as long as we want.
Cesare suggests that questionnaires are also known to come with their own imperfections and biases. From survey language barriers to negative interactions, data privacy issues to simple human error, taking a snapshot of visitor habits and behaviours in this way presents a number of drawbacks.
“Of course, speaking with visitors is still important, which is why Culture Venture layered surveys on top of our work. But the collaboration provided us with a more rounded and comprehensive picture of audience behaviour and helped the team to develop more targeted audience development techniques.
The results from this project have been quite remarkable. To date, the latest statistics suggest that visitor numbers have increased by an impressive 11% as a result of the resource changes implemented based on the combination of people flow data and audience insights gathered.
The non-visitor conundrum
A particularly unique aspect of the work carried out at Spazju Kreattiv was the analysis that Culture Hint were able to perform outside of the premises, as well as that recorded inside. While most museums and galleries are familiar with on-site surveys, few have the ability to appraise the bigger picture and understand the behaviours of non-visitors in the local area.
“To my knowledge, this is the first study where non-visitors were studied with audience development techniques coupled with AI-driven monitoring, to gain deep insights into tourist behaviours across a broad group. By monitoring passers-by, we can understand how much potential there is for converting non-visitors into visitors with the right audience development techniques.
“To put that into context: think how valuable it would be to understand how many people pass through Trafalgar Square and how many of those people convert into visitors to the National Gallery or National Portrait Gallery. That data enables you to understand what changes to advertising activity or exhibition promotion might do to elevate that conversion rate – again, using statistically significant data.
“We can even discount those passing through swiftly on their way to work, ensuring that the data is more meaningful.”
Importantly, the platform’s AI engine completely anonymises data captured, ensuring that the process is compliant with modern data privacy regulations. In this way, Cesare says that digital tools like Culture Hint’s offer a blueprint for improving data gathering across the cultural sector going forward:
“Our work at Spazju Kreattiv was a resounding success and I believe it serves as a case study for the power of combining audience development methodologies with AI in the cultural sector and beyond.”
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