Riding the roller coaster: How UK visitor attractions are evolving to meet today’s operational challenges

Operational challenges can take many twists and turns

After the UK experienced another summer of record temperatures and unseasonably cool periods, adapting to extreme weather is becoming part of the operating norm for most industries. For the tourism sector however, the weather is only one of several interconnected factors that can affect visitor numbers and the success of any given season.

As the tourism industry emerges back into something akin to a post-Covid rhythm, many visitor attractions have been reassessing some of the structural issues that shape their operational strategy. And, like the weather, many of these factors can appear unpredictable and difficult to control.

Strength in numbers

In terms of pure visitor numbers, however, the picture is increasingly positive. According to Visit Britain’s Trends report for last year, visits to the UK headed towards pre-pandemic levels in each quarter.  And for Q1 2023 the inbound data is even more encouraging: 55m nights were spent in the UK by inbound visitors and they spent a record £5.6bn, 17% higher than Q1 2019 and only down by 2% in real terms.

The return of overseas visitors boosted the overall admissions volumes of UK attractions by 42% from 2021 to 2022. London led the way with visitor volume increasing by 144% but other regions saw marked growth in footfall too.

Merlin Entertainments, the owner of Legoland, reported continued growth in the first half of 2023 and announced in March plans to open a new, carbon neutral Lego holiday village in Windsor. The National Trust has reported stable membership levels of around 5.7 million this past year and likewise the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums saw visitor numbers rally in 2022 with education visits trebling compared with 2021.

However, when looking at industry-wide figures it can be easy to forget the individual circumstances that each operator is facing. Getting people through the door today is clearly vital, but maintaining and growing visitor numbers whilst building resilience in the organisation toward new operating challenges is vital.

Fit for purpose

If more customers are on site, a key consideration is ensuring colleagues are equipped with what they need to cope with the increased footfall. Staff will expect to be efficiently protected and sufficiently comfortable in high quality PPE and workwear, especially with weather conditions proving to be increasingly erratic.

A responsible and proactive approach to safety clothing and equipment will result in greater staff retainment, maintaining continuity and morale in the workforce whilst reducing recruitment costs – more than compensating for the initial financial investment.

Squeeze on margins

The cost-of-living crisis has clearly had a substantial impact on the sector. Not only do visitor attractions have to fight harder than ever to earn our custom, but the same pressures consumers are facing also impact tourism operators.

High levels of inflation mean that costs are rising rapidly. From wages and energy prices through to supplier charges, businesses are either having to absorb these additional costs or pass them on to the consumer – with larger attractions generally the hardest hit.

Visit Britain reports that it’s uncommon for attractions to reduce their services to cut costs, but annual admission fares in line with inflation can be expected.

Evolving attractions

Aside from the volatility of the economic climate there remains a variety of pressures on visitor attraction operations. A demonstrable commitment to accessibility is fundamental for enhancing the visitor experience for all. Budgets need to be allocated across the board – from staff training and communications through to landscape and built environment improvements.

Customers, suppliers and stakeholders also expect a robust and authentic sustainability strategy. Partnering and knowledge-sharing with organisations that align to your values in terms of environmental, social and governance standards is an efficient way to help meet your goals whilst also making a difference to your long-term viability.

And there’s no such thing as business as usual in the digital landscape. From efficient online booking platforms through to through to digitally-enabled enhanced tourism experiences through augmented and virtual reality, targeted and strategic investment in this space is an integral part of future-proofing your visitor attraction.

At Contego we understand no two visitor attractions are the same and that buying decisions are more critical than ever. Our experience in supplying to some of the UK’s biggest tourist attractions mean that we have the confidence and attentiveness to create bespoke solutions when quality, dependability and trust cannot be compromised.

Published on 16 October 2023

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