Tourist attractions need to engage visitors, consultant says

03/08/2013 4:13 PM

03/08/2013 4:15 PM

Say you visit an artist’s studio while on vacation. You could look at the artist’s work in a gallery. Or you could watch and chat with the artist at work. Or you could take a brush in hand or take a turn at a potter’s wheel.

Show and tell. Engage. Immerse.

Those are the increasing levels of engagement in a tourist attraction, according to Joe Veneto, a consultant in the tourism industry. He spoke at Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau on Friday to the representatives of local attractions about how to develop a bigger, more enthusiastic audience.

People today want something more than objects to look at or tours to take, he said. They are better traveled, more sophisticated, more time-starved and distracted by alternatives. To keep their interest, they must be emotionally engaged. They must have an “experience.”

“If the most interesting thing is happening on their phone, you’ve got a problem,” he said.

He laid out for the group a rough blueprint for developing that experience through stories, characters, behind-the-scenes looks, hands-on opportunities – what he called “engineering the experience.”

If the attraction succeeds in creating an experience, people will pay a premium, talk up the attraction to friends and come back for more.

Coffee is a perfect example, he said. When coffee is a no-name commodity, it might cost $5 a pound. But serve custom-made, premium-quality coffee in individual cups, with hip music and a comfortable chair to sit in, and people are happy to pay 10 times as much.

“If they can do that with a cup of coffee, we can certainly do it with our attractions,” he said.

Veneto, who has worked with attractions and tourism groups all over the nation, took only a short tour of Wichita attractions before the talk, but his quick opinion was that there was a lot of work to be done.

“There’s a lot of show and tell,” he said. “But at the same time, there seems to be a lot of opportunity to build engagement and immersion. There’s tons of potential.”

The reaction to the message from some of the audience members was enthusiastic but necessarily a little short on specifics on how it would change what they do.

“I’ve got lots of thoughts about it,” said Steve Onken, development director for the Sedgwick County Zoo. “When we get back, we’ll start thinking about how this fits in with what we’re doing.”

Veneto said that, in his experience, it usually takes somebody from outside writing a plan and developing the experiences for attractions to really change the way they operate.

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