The governmental decision to sanction a reopening of the culture sector is a huge, potentially vital boost for many sites which have been fearing for their futures. This decision will “not only pave the way for beloved institutions to welcome back visitors but also support important preservation to protect our historic buildings and ancient artefacts”, according to culture secretary Oliver Dowden.
While the announcement led many outside the sector to assume museums would magically open their doors and resume service as usual on the 4th, the reality is very different.
It is important to remember that “the timing of re-opening will depend on local context, conversations with partners and a careful assessment of each museum’s ability to open its doors in a safe and financially sustainable manner”, states Sir Ian Blatchford, chair of the National Museum Directors Council.
For the moment, only museums in England have the go ahead to reopen from a given date. New guidelines are nevertheless helpful for venues in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales to begin formulating what measures will need to be implemented prior to a successful relaunch.
Guidelines have been published by DCMS to help venues understand how they can best protect visitors and staff. The key points of this state:
- Timed tickets may need to be pre-booked to reduce the number of people entering an exhibition or site at one time
- Clearly communicated one-way routes and spaced queuing systems may be introduced to manage the flow of visitors
- Regular cleaning regimes should be intensified during the day and beyond opening hours
- Access to audio guides may need to be reviewed, with museums considering new formats for the content such as apps that can be accessed on personal devices or quarantine periods for public handsets
- Specialist training may need to be provided for roles impacted by the new guidance, for example Front of House staff managing new operating conditions or for roles where social distancing is difficult to maintain
- Shops and cafes will need to reopen in line with guidance for food businesses and retail spaces and should encourage visitors to pay via contactless methods where possible
- One-way systems, clear floor markings and a queue management system should be in place where needed to maintain social distancing measures at all attractions and help to limit contact between both staff and visitors
- Organisations will also encourage contactless payments throughout
- Booking procedures should be reviewed and pre-booking could be introduced at heritage attractions to reduce the number of visitors in locations at the same time
The National Museum Directors’ Council has also published a hugely helpful timeline which details some of the anticipated phases of the reopening process. While this is in no way a one-size-fits-all guide, it provides a perfect visualisation against which museums and heritage sites can compare their plans.
The organisation’s Planning and Remobilisation Group collaborated with the DCMS Cultural Renewal Taskforce Subgroup on Museums and Galleries and other museum sector colleagues to develop this resource. As restrictions are altered so too will be the timeline.
Another useful educational tool is the exploration of what counterparts in other nations are doing to facilitate reopening. One of the first major sites to reopen in Europe, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, for instance, implemented a raft of safety measures and incentives to ensure the public felt confident to return.
Communicating Covid compliance
Visitor confidence is perhaps the most important thing to recapture for museums and heritage attractions busily plotting a reopening strategy.
To this end, a new Covid-19 compliance industry standard has been created by VisitEngland, Tourism Northern Ireland, VisitScotland and Visit Wales – informed by input from more than 40 UK industry bodies.
The introduction of ‘We’re Good To Go’ will serve as a consumer signpost to specifically convey the message that a business is complying with the Government’s Covid-19 reopening guidance, has understood Public Health England regulations, and has a Covid-19 Risk Assessment in place.
Applications for the Good To Go moniker are now open and can be processed upon completion of a VisitBritain online self-assessment. Certification will then be issued ready for display at the participating premises and on its online – with separate applications needing to be made for all sites.
To support visitor awareness around this initiative, VisitEngland is also launching a ‘Know Before You Go’ public information campaign to aid B2C communication in the tourism sector.
“With millions of jobs and local economies across the country reliant on tourism it is essential that businesses can get up and running as soon as the respective Government advice allows to capture the peak British summer season,” notes VisitEngland director Patricia Yates.
“We want visitors to be able to enjoy their holidays and to support businesses to be confident they have the correct procedures in place. Our priority is to make sure tourism rebounds to once again become one of the most successful sectors of the UK economy and this ‘ring of confidence’ is a crucial step on the industry’s road to rebuilding.”
A plethora of organisations are presently compiling new sets of guidelines and resources in order to help as many types of cultural attractions reopen successfully. As many as we can share over the coming weeks we will.
In the meantime, keep us updated on anything your institution is doing in this unprecedented time. We cannot wait to begin seeing you all again in the coming weeks and months.