Why should we bother with benchmarking? We all know that we need to gather customer feedback from our visitors so that we can constantly improve and keep up with the latest trends in visit experience delivery. But how much value does this feedback really have in isolation? How do we know whether the feedback we get is any better or worse than similar visitor destinations or against those experiences that we aspire to emulate?

Benchmarking can help us to answer these questions by placing our own feedback within the wider context of similar feedback from other visitor experiences. In this way, we can really harness the ultimate power of benchmarking – helping us to prioritise our investments in terms of money and time. In the words of Stephen Covey, author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, “the key is not to prioritise what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities”. If used effectively, benchmarking should go way beyond simply making us either feel warm and cuddly or suitably depressed about our performance. It can actively inform the actions we need to take to deliver better experiences.

What might we know already? Lots of us already conduct visitor research, measuring the extent to which we are delivering effectively across a range of visit dimensions, whether these are operational, emotional or content-based in nature.

In the example above, on the face of it it would appear that this visitor experience is performing poorly on places to eat, retail and physical interaction. A focus for investment then presumably? Or maybe not. Benchmarking can tell us how everyone else is performing too. Perhaps retail and catering delivery receives a similarly lukewarm reception across the sector and delivery at this visitor experience is about average or maybe higher even? The addition of contextual benchmarks here could prevent a knee jerk reaction into investing in an area that frankly, is performing reasonably well.

The converse is also true. The efficiency and knowledge of staff seems well rated but what if standards are exceptional across the sector and you are actually under-performing? Perhaps this is an area you should consider investing in after all.

Comparing ourselves against others in the sector is therefore key in our investment decisions. However, the other factor which should drive our investment decisions is the importance of each visit dimension in driving overall feelings about the visitor experience. After all, it’s visitors’ feelings at this overall level which determine whether they choose to revisit or recommend to others – often our ultimate objective. Therefore, if a visit dimension doesn’t have much impact on how visitors view the experience as a whole, then we might wish to de-prioritise this dimension as an investment even if we are performing below average.

The ALVA Visitor Experience Benchmarking Survey, the UK’s most comprehensive visitor benchmarking study now consisting of over 70 attractions, demonstrates how participants can both compare themselves against their peers and identify visit dimensions of most importance, thereby informing investment decisions.

How do we compare? One of the leading benchmarks developed for this study are ALVA Motivation Segments, whereby motivations to visit are summarised into seven categories. Each attraction understands the proportions of visitors they receive in each segment and how this differs from those they consider most similar to them, the rest of their sector and beyond. They can identify the segments they are performing well on, thereby informing visit experience priorities and marketing hooks. They can also identify segments with potential to grow, along with the communications and visitor experiences required.

What are the important visit dimensions? A cornerstone of the ALVA Visitor Experience Benchmarking Survey is the Experience Intensity Score, a composite summary measure which brings together each of the three dimensions which form the overall visitor experience:

Service Delivery – dimensions such as cleanliness, catering, retail and orientation;

Site Content – including ‘added value’ experience of staff, audio guides and other forms of interpretation;

Emotional Impact – including atmosphere, social, relaxing, welcoming etc.

Using statistical modelling, a weighted level of importance is attached to each of the above experience dimensions, reflecting its relative influence in driving the overall visitor experience for a given attraction type. Further, it delivers a detailed assessment of the experience dimensions which drive the overall score at a micro level. What are the specific visitor aspects that drive the Emotional Impact dimension? By investigating at this micro-level, insights can be generated which inform and prioritise investment required on the ground to address an attraction’s visitor experience issues.

With the ALVA Visitor Experience Benchmarking Survey set to continue its growth in the coming years, the opportunities for attractions to harness the power of benchmarking to inform their future investments in money and time have never been better. To find out how to become involved, contact: Steve Mills, BDRC Continental, T: 020 7400 0381

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