The way people use technology is changing, and so are consumer expectations. With some 85% of the people in the UK personally owning a smartphone, as reported by Mintel in January 2019, consumers experience new things on their smartphones that are faster, more fun, and more personalised.

So, due to the increasing number of users and greater incursion into people’s lives, smartphones have the potential to significantly influence the touristic experience across all visitor attractions. In fact, with so many museums already introducing innovative exhibits that utilise new technologies to great effect, you're missing a trick if you don't cater to what visitors are already carrying in their hands.

In this article, we would like to discuss the importance of technology use in the visitor attractions sector, and the latest smartphone immersive technologies that cultural attractions are utilising.

Enticing younger demographics with Augmented Reality technology

It is common knowledge that many art galleries and museums are finding it difficult to market to younger, digitally-oriented generations. Recent research findings about museums’ audiences reveal that Gen Z-ers (16 -24 years olds) make up only 10% of all museum visitors in the UK. The same research also reports that this demographic of museum visitors prefer using mobile phones when planning their trips, are looking for exclusive and novel ways to view historical attractions, and are motivated by the social aspect of visiting a museum. As a result, many of them post images and status updates to show that they are having a good time, and want these validated through likes, comments and shares.

Fuelled by social media sharing, experiences have now become the ‘currency’ which many young people are using to distinguish themselves from their peers and to achieve higher social status. And, smartphones are making all it possible being the drivers of this new activity-based socialising.

Consequently, immersive smartphone technologies such as Augmented Reality have begun to take influence across a number of different industries. Recently there have been a lot of AR applications on the market offered by companies and organisations, which have sought to gamify their digital content in a bid to engage younger audiences and create more immersive and involved experiences via AR.

AR showcased on a smartphone

A number of visitor attractions, for instance, have created augmented trails and games to enhance the visitor experience, allowing visitors to “find” hidden exhibits and complete puzzles as they go through the attraction.

As examples of this, Edinburgh Zoo and the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum have launched an interactive initiative using AR technology, called Mighty Mission trails, aimed to engage younger audiences. In the trails, participants can immerse themselves in the attractions, solving clues and completing various activities around both sites.

AR technology on a smartphone at Edinburgh Zoo

In another example, Tate Britain partnered with Facebook in its Virtual Wing exhibit in August 2019, where visitors could view artworks in greater depth, using a smartphone and Instagram’s camera to scan and activate the Spark AR-powered experience. After scanning Tate’s Instagram name tag with their camera, visitors were presented with a map guiding them through each of the eight AR-enhanced paintings.

Tate Britain have teamed up with Facebook for an AR smartphone expereince

In both of these examples, utilising smartphone technology has helped visitor attractions deliver meaningful social, educational, entertaining, and gaming AR experiences to their visitors.

Attractions using interactive apps and mobile learning

Some attractions have also found it important to deploy advanced technology on–site in a bid to modernise communication between visitor and attraction.

For example, Cardigan Castle, located in Wales, launched a mobile phone app that allows mobile users to find out more about the castle’s 900-year history as they walk through interactive photos, videos, audio stories, and more. Using iBeacon technology, a Bluetooth electronic device, visitors will also receive notifications delivered to their mobile as they walk around the castle site, and are able to play interactive puzzle games.

3 ways you can show AR technology on a smartphone

Beacon technology also allows attraction operators to communicate with consumers via their smartphones when they are in close proximity to a location. Such technologies have become an important asset for cultural attractions that want to align themselves as modern visitor destinations that appeal to younger generations.

Instagram-friendly exhibitions

Embracing smartphones also means that cultural attractions will curate immersive, Instagram-friendly exhibitions. The Museum of Modern Art’s Rain Room, for example, has seen staggering success with young visitors and it has helped pave the way for more exhibitions that keep amateur photographers in mind. MoMA’s Rain Room offers an immersive environment of perpetually falling water that tricks visitors into thinking that they have the ability to control the water. This experiential exhibition hijacked social media feeds everywhere for solid 8 weeks after it was first launched back in 2015.

an example of utilising Instagram during a AR smartphone experience

Another great example of an Instagram-friendly exhibition is Renwick Gallery’s Wonder which also opened in 2015. This immersive art exhibition revolved around nine contemporary artists – one room featured a prismatic rainbow made from 60 miles of thread; another room was wallpapered with dead insects; in another, 10 towers of index cards stacked and glued together loomed over visitors like volcanic rock formations. Wonder was Instagram gold, bringing more visitors during the show’s six-week run than the museum had seen in an entire year.

What does the future hold for museums & exhibitions?

Technology, especially smartphone technology, is transforming how younger audiences engage with culture and are driving new forms of participation and practice; where audiences are no longer just passive receivers of content. This change calls for a more comprehensive understanding of smartphone users’ consumer behaviour and habits. The good news is that there has already been some promising progress in this field of research.

In order to better understand the trends driving consumer behaviour in the younger demographic of smartphone users, Stanford professor, Byron Reeves, came up with the Human Screenome Project. This project aims to map out individuals’ digital DNA into something called ‘screenomes’. To do this, researchers use a background software that screenshots a volunteer’s phone every five seconds while it’s activated.

Based on what we know so far, the screenome research will offer the possibility to gather a detailed record of how smartphone users are responding to all instances of a stimulus categories in the real world. This, as a result, will inform advertisers and marketers of not only how individuals define and organise media content, but also of the exact stimulus which may cause any specific effect of interest in any age group of users. In the context of the visitor attractions industry, the Human Screenome Project can open up the possibility for attractions to gather insight into their visitors and push engagement strategies, such as tailored offers and personalised AR experiences specific to their behavioural indicators or ‘screenomes’; driving a valued, repeatable experience.
But before then, here’s how arts & culture organisations are successfully improving their visitor experience through smartphone technology in the present day:

If you are someone who works in the visitor attractions sector, and are looking for some inspiration on how you can incorporate digital & social media into your visitors’ experience, do not hesitate to get in touch!

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