Autumn 2014

IMG_5980New technologies explored at the Houses of Parliament…

Our autumn London seminar, on 13th November at the Houses of Parliament, looked at the latest technological innovations affecting tourism, exploring the ways developments can support groups through customer service, booking and ticketing processes, and how technology is being used to ensure lively and engaging group visitor experiences.

Ian Lacey, Marketing and Travel Trade Manager, Visitor Services, Houses of Parliament, explained why an audio tour has been introduced at the Palace of Westminster, despite there already being an established, excellent team of Blue Badge guides who lead 75-minute tours around the Houses of Commons and Lords. ‘The audio tour has added flexibility to our offer,’ said Ian. ‘It has been translated into a selection of foreign languages, visitors can go at their own pace and there are options for additional information at various points, as well as interesting archive clips and a child-friendly version.’ The audio tour had also allowed more visitors to access the attraction with consistent information. It had the benefit of reducing the level of noise, giving an improved experience if a visitor just wanted to sit to reflect or to absorb the unique atmosphere of the historic buildings.

IMG_5972Visitor ticketing has also been improved at Parliament, with a box office newly opened and all online ticket sales now being managed in-house. These arrangements are intended to lead to a better customer interface and are more responsive to changes in Parliament’s opening hours, as well as allowing more advance ticket sales. More tour dates are now available – with February and May half terms now included, as well as Parliamentary recesses – and special packages are offered (for example, a tour and a guide book, or a tour and afternoon tea). Reflecting a continuing use of the traditional, as well as the latest, technologies, bookings can also be made by phone to the booking team, who welcome the chance of developing a personal relationship with GTOs.

Specialist visitor systems supplier Antenna International worked with Ian in designing and implementing the audio tour. John Harte and Chase Dolomont from the company reviewed the wider choices available to attractions that are interested in using technology to improve their visitor experience. One option is the Group Tours System, which connects a guide’s microphones with lightweight stereo headphones for each member of a group. This allows the distinctive personality of each guide to still be reflected in a tour, but ensures everyone within the group has a good experience as they can easily hear what is being said. It can be used indoors or out, in all weathers. John revealed that the system is already very common in Europe and the United States, and so overseas groups visiting the UK often now expect it. As pre-recorded translations can be played over the system, it’s very appropriate for groups who don’t speak English. It is also useful for school groups, as it is an effective way of keeping groups together in popular, crowded places like the Vatican. With 40 different channel frequencies, many groups can go out at once. There are lease or purchase options for the system to attractions, and different models have disposable headphones or can be used with visitors’ personal headphones.

IMG_5964Karen Roebuck, tourism consultant and GTBF project co-ordinator, outlined how new Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems were changing the way group buyers and suppliers could do business, based on their specific interests and needs. There were interesting challenges and opportunities in bringing in these new systems

Lucy Beck from i-Dynamics explored in more detail how using a CRM system could help to grow group business. Lucy stressed that one of the most important principles in communication and marketing was ‘getting the right message to the right people at the right time’ and a CRM system would support this objective. ‘Inevitably’, Lucy said, ‘given its market, and the service offered, each business needs a different solution.’ Performance data would become available from a CRM system to highlight the most valuable parts of a business’ customer base. This in turn could then guide and help future marketing campaigns.

Val Baynton, Contributing Editor