One of London’s most famous institutions, the Natural History Museum, has been reaching new audiences in the Far East with local live streaming services in its pursuit of virtual visitors in China. The museum went into a partnership with Alibaba.
According to the Natural History Museum, it opted for a subsidiary online travel platform known as Fliggy to stream directly to thousands of Chinese people in January. Previously marketed as Alitrip, Fliggy is an online travel brand which has hundreds of millions of users. Fliggy generates millions of dollars worth of revenue for Alibaba with its online travel and hospitality services. Given that it has such a large number of active subscribers who have already downloaded its app, partnering with the brand seemed the obvious choice for the Natural History Museum as it sought to make itself better known in the country.
Although gaining a presence in China is nothing new to western institutions of all kinds, the drop in global travel has presented some problems for museums and galleries who want more visitors from overseas coming through their doors. Live streaming from within a museum presents an opportunity to showcase what is in offer and to build brand awareness globally. In this regard, it seems that the Fliggy experiment has been a huge success. According to the museum, its first live stream using the platform reached well over 100,000 Chinese viewers, most of whom were watching the tour of the museum from the minute it started.
Audience retention figures were also promising with most viewers continuing to watch the stream for the full two hours of its duration. The Natural History Museum is already well-known in China which may account for some of this online success. In a usual year, the museum would expect to see many thousands of Chinese visitors. After all, over 800,000 Chinese tourists spent time in London on an average year prior to the pandemic.
An In-Depth Tour
The live stream took place on January 13th and had been promoted on Fliggy before it began. The stream consisted of a tour that was conducted by Ayesha Meredith-Lewis, the museum’s science educator. She was assisted by a raft of departmental experts as she progressed through the museum’s various galleries which were, of course, largely empty during the lockdown in the UK. With a translator who provided a running commentary, the tour included a close look at the museum’s dinosaur skeletons as well as examples of artefacts taken from the collections of Charles Darwin and James Cook. In addition, the tour included some of the many specimens from the museum’s impressive mollusc collection, often highlighting the discoveries made by the Challenger submarine’s deep sea explorations.
The Fliggy Cloud Live Tourism Campaign has operated in various locations around the globe but this virtual tour was the first time that major UK institution is known to have taken part in it. Essentially, the tours provide some escapism for Chinese people who are not allowed to travel internationally at the moment while helping to promote places of interest for when international tourism and travel becomes the norm once more.
“It has been wonderful to open our doors once more, albeit virtually,” said Brad Irwin, who is the museum’s Head of International Partnerships. Irwin reckons that the potential of Fliggy is very great indeed with the possibility of reaching millions of people across China. David Lloyd, Alibaba Group’s general manager for the UK, the Netherlands and Nordic countries agreed. He said that live streaming gives virtual tourists the chance to interact with their host and to pose questions and queries in real-time. Lloyd said that the format offers so much more compared to simply recording a video. “While Fliggy’s use as a marketing tool is relatively novel in Europe,” he said, “it has become central to marketing many things in China – from museums to beauty products.”
However, it is not all about brand recognition, according to Irwin. “In 2020, we made it our mission to create advocates for the planet,” he said. “We think that live streaming will play an ever more important part in helping us to continue with this mission on a global scale.” This sentiment was echoed by the museum’s Executive Director, Dr Tim Littlewood who concluded the live stream with some telling closing remarks. “The planet is changing very rapidly due to one species: man,” he said. “By viewing our galleries and speaking to our scientists, you have had a taste of the natural world… we hope you will choose to connect with it.”
Interested in learning more about how museums are pivoting to digital during the global pandemic? The MuseumNext Digital Summit takes place February 22 – 26 with more than 60 speakers sharing their experiences. Find out more here.
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.