5 things to keep in mind as you reopen your museum

5 things to keep in mind as you reopen your museum


5 great tips that will ease your path to reopening from Cuseum 

After months of closures due to coronavirus, some museums and cultural institutions are beginning to reopen. Many others are working to establish near-term and long-term reopening plans, implementing new health and safety measures, and rethinking what the museum experience will look like as they welcome visitors back.

As organisations work to ensure the safety of guests and staff, reimagine the guest experience, and strategise to facilitate a successful reopening, keeping up-to-date with the latest developments, guidelines, and best practices around reopening is more important than ever.

In the past few weeks, we’ve examined tips and strategies for planning for reopening, how to create a “contactless” museum experience, and how leveraging a mobile app can help museums engage their visitors in a safe way upon reopening. Although there still isn’t any one-size-fits-all approach, by learning from the triumphs and challenges of organisations that have already reopened, museums can equip themselves to initiate smooth reopenings.

Read on to get the latest tips on reopening:

1. Learn from those who have already reopened 


While many museums are still closed down, those that are currently planning for reopening have the benefit of turning to their colleagues and peers that have already re-opened.

Right now in the United States, many cultural organisations such as botanical gardens, nature centres, zoos, and outdoor cultural sites have already reopened at reduced capacity with new restrictions and policies in place.Museums can look to what organisations across Europe and Asia are doing, many of which have already reopened. These museums have implemented new rules, policies, and infrastructure, like timed ticketing, plexiglass shields, and mandatory mask protocols, and other elements that encourage social distancing and ensure safety.

While every organisation faces unique challenges, these “early birds,” who are testing out new modes of reopening as they go, will be essential in developing best practices for the cultural industry at large. The Cincinnati Nature Center, for example, has had enormous success reopening to members only. They are also already having good results using a timed-ticketing system and have worked their way up to establishing four unique visitation time slots each day.

Similarly, Tracy Aviary has reopened at 25% capacity, which they settled on because of local ordinances, as well as by measuring how long a general visit takes and developing a policy accordingly. Michelle Mileham, Director of Education at Tracy Aviary, noted on a recent webinar that her organisation has found success in initiating general reopening while still limiting tours and programs and keeping indoor exhibitions closed.

Now is the time to reach out and collaborate with your colleagues and the cultural community to share best practices, success stories, and missteps along the road to reopening.

2. Take measures to ensure a contactless experience 


As museums prepare to embrace the era of social distancing, institutions are rethinking various aspects of the visitor experience.

From interactions at the admissions and membership desks, exchanging physical tickets and money, using shared audio guides, to participating in immersive experiences with tactile elements and touchscreens, the pre-COVID museum experience had many physical touchpoints and opportunities for close interaction among staff and patrons.

Upon reopening, museums are thinking about shifting to a “contactless” approach, which will likely involve new technologies. On the admissions side, many organisations are considering timed ticketing, virtual queueing, and contactless payment modes. When it comes to an immersive visitor experience, shared audio guides and touch-screens are being replaced by bring-your-own-device experiences, like mobile apps.

As museums plan for reopening, it will be important to reduce physical touchpoints by making it easy for visitors to leverage their own mobile devices.

3. Stay up-to-date on what will make visitors feel safe


At this point, nearly all museums and cultural organisations are planning to implement increased safety protocols. These include requiring facemasks, supplying hand sanitiser, limiting building and gallery capacity to enforce social distancing, and engaging in more thorough and frequent cleaning procedures. Equally important, museums are communicating this information with visitors and constituents to establish trust and clear expectations.

That being said, in addition to creating materially safe conditions for visitors, it is important that museums make visitors feel safe. The latest research by Colleen Dilenschneider suggests that besides the availability of a coronavirus vaccine, the number one thing that will make visitors feel safe is “seeing others visit.” On the list of things that will allow guests to feel comfortable again, this significantly outpaces updates from the government, mandatory face masks, limiting crowds, and knowing facility cleaning procedures.

This is important to note, and it may mean you plan to devote more resources and space to creating visibility around reopening through social media postings and other communications. It may also mean it’s time to consider ramping up your guest pass program – after all, if your visitors are invited to your museum by friends and family, that will increase trust in your organisation!

Pro Tip: Check out Cuseum’s Guest Pass Referral Solution to make guest passes easier than ever to distribute. 100% instant and digital.

4. Prepare to welcome new (local) audiences 


As museums prepare to reopen and find ways to safely welcome visitors back, many are already finding that they have to rethink their marketing strategy. For many museums, large numbers of visitors typically come through their doors due to tourism, which will now be off the table for the foreseeable future. As a result, many organisations are preparing to welcome new, more local audiences who have embraced the “staycation” mentality.

Julie Knight, Director of Membership at SFMOMA, recently noted that a significant part of their reopening strategy is catering to local visitors. Before coronavirus, 50% of SFMOMA visitors came from outside the Bay Area.

“We definitely are looking at marketing more to our local audience - using a staycation, ‘re-rediscover your backyard’ type messaging.”
– Julie Knight, Director of Membership, SFMoMA

Tim O’Connell, Director of Membership and Annual Giving at the North Carolina Museum of Art, echoed similar sentiments. He noted that now is the time to shift marketing strategy to fit the circumstances:

“How quick can we pivot on a decision and take advantage of a window or momentum?  As far as marketing goes, now is the time to run more geographically-based campaigns to attract visitors and members in a certain vicinity.”
– Tim O’Connell, Director of Membership and Annual Giving @ North Carolina Museum of Art

A successful reopening means that visitors will come through your doors again – and right now, this means extending an invitation to your local community!

5. Keep up the good work in digital 


Even as museums reopen, many are continuing to scale up their digital content efforts to reach new audiences. Museums are continuing to expand their digital presence and outreach channels, due to the ongoing limits and risks of in-person events and programs.

While the San Jose Museum of Art is still closed, they consider digital content to be an essential part of a successful reopening and an engaging museum.

“One of the core objectives of our current strategic plan is to really build up our art, and tech, and digital presence.”
- Holly Shen, Deputy Director @ San Jose Museum of Art

As museums reopen, many are continuing to focus on digital engagement and virtual events; for many, live-streaming all events has become the new normal. Additionally, many membership departments are considering a “virtual level” membership that will include special access, as well as other modes of a hybrid membership, which may offer both physical and virtual benefits.

 These types of remote offerings can ensure that visitors who may not be local, or are high-risk, still have an opportunity to access your museum’s offerings for as long as travel is restricted, and even far beyond that.

 Over the past several months, the cultural industry has been thrust into an accelerated digital transformation, and digital is likely to increase in importance, even as museums reopen physically.

Reopening presents many challenges and uncertainties, but it also offers new possibilities. Right now, cultural organisations have a chance to work together to develop new best practices, as well as a unique opportunity to redesign the visitor experience, hone their focus on their local communities, and expand their digital offerings. It is an evolving and exciting time for the cultural sector and we’re so excited to be a part of it!

Resource type: Articles | Published: 2021