Museum Operations in the age of Covid19

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Wayne Atherholt is a thirty-year museum veteran and former art museum director who is director of cultural affairs for the City of St. Petersburg.  Photo: Courtesy Helen Tilston

Forethought

Each state in the United States will have a different plan.  In Florida, museums may open at 25% capacity starting Monday, 4th May 2020, as long as it isn’t interactive exhibits such as children’s science centers.  But prior to opening, there is an awful lot to consider when operating in a safe environment and there is no rule book on how to do this and very little information online.  We provide this information as a courtesy for our St Petersburg museums and for the entire museum community understanding that each museum is different and will be able to re-open on their own schedule depending on availability of sanitizer, masks, new operations manuals and a capable staff.

 

Start Your Museum or Attraction Plan for Re-opening

While museums have been closed for over a month in most cases, the time is coming to start thinking about what does your museum look like in operation during the threat of Covid19. And just because you will be allowed to re-open, doesn’t mean you will return to operational activities from two months ago. There is a lot to consider.

While this isn’t an exhaustive list, and recommendations will likely change and change again, this will help you and your staff to start planning for the day that eventually will arrive when you will be able to open your doors again. And while re-opening at some point is going to happen, it certainly can’t happen any time soon without serious planning, purchasing, retraining and communicating to the general public.

Guest Experience Questions

Let’s first take a look at the guest experience. Assuming you’ve communicated that you’re open and what the expectations and new reality is, have a look at what your guest will experience right the way through the museum experience.When they arrive will they need to touch doors? And if they do, will there be contactless hand sanitizer nearby? Who fills it? Can you even get it from a supplier?

On to the admissions desk or box office. Is there a protective shield for staff working with the public? Is the floor marked for physical distancing for the general public while they wait in a queue? Will staff be wearing gloves? Will they be trained in the new reality of handling money and by whom? What will the procedures be for cleaning this area and how often? And who does it?

This is just the start of a visit. If you go through an entire visitor experience, you’ll discover there are areas where you will need to make major changes. Perhaps your museum lends itself to a linear experience where flow is controlled and there is a clear route to take.

You’ve probably seen the one way markings in supermarkets!  As you can see there are a lot of questions and the answers are in many cases not that easy.

Learning from our Asian colleagues

As American and European museums look to what their new normal will look like, we can learn an awful lot from Asian attractions and museums. Many, especially indoor attractions (i.e. museums), reopened and had to close again. This is particularly true in China, Hong Kong and Japan.

Here are some of the new procedures that have been and are being used by Asian counterparts that likely will create a framework for other museums and attractions:

  1. Limiting visitor numbers – Some theme parks have cut their visitor caps by 50% which will allow visitors to feel much more safe. With indoor attractions it is even more critical to limit the number of visitors. There are ticketing systems that can handle this online and in advance as well.  In Florida, museums have been allowed to open at 25% of capacity.
  2. Taking temperatures – This has become fairly standard at Asian attractions and likely would be part of any re-opening for American, British and European museums.
  3. Cashless payments only – While much of America still hasn’t gone to contactless payments, there is still that option with the contactless credit cards and Apple/Google pay. Otherwise, the old school pin pad can be used but that in itself creates a disinfecting issue after it is used.
  4. Health certificates/QR codes – In some countries citizens are given certificates or QR codes and only those that meet certain requirements are allowed in. I don’t see that happening in America which makes some of these other options all the more critical.  Consider testing for all staff and letting the public know this is your standard operating procedure.
  5. Masks – These are worn by guests and in some cases required. Same would go for staff. Would you feel safe going to an indoor space that doesn’t require masks? And do you have a supplier for these yet?
  6. Extra cleaning – It goes without saying that museums and attractions will need to revisit their cleaning schedules and most likely invest in additional labor to keep their attractions clean. It will also require materials and cleansers.
  7. Hand sanitizer – This would need to be at any point of contacts such as doors, toilets, box office, etc.  It should be contactless as well.
  8. Guides – Tour guides will be a thing of the past for now. Consider disposable guides that can be recycled (but not used over and over without sanitizing and then who is going to trust that).
  9. Controlling traffic patterns – Supermarkets learned this early on. They are now a series of one way aisles. Many audio guided blockbuster exhibitions ran this way for years. Think about your museum as a linear story – tell it – and make your guests feel safer.
  10. Those who operate retail and food/beverage facilities will need to work on additional measures for those industries as well.
  11. Experiential exhibits – For those museums that have some experiential exhibits, especially children’s museums, there is an entire layer of Covid19 issues surrounding the safe operations of a facility like that. This is primarily aimed at guiding art museums or museums with limited touch exhibits to a plan. A hands-on museum will require a considerable shift in how it operates.  In Florida, this type of museum has not been allowed to re-open while others have.

Rethink the Communications Plan

You’ll need to work in tandem with local officials as well as state officials and your local DMO (Destination Management Organisation) on communicating the measures you’re taking to make the traveling public safe while visiting your attraction.

This isn’t intended to provide tips on communication but once your attraction opens it will need to be communicated in a much more personal way than whatever you were doing before.  Likely you will be working with more locals and drive market visitors initially as the public gets used to traveling under new conditions. But like so much, what is communicated is likely to change considerably.

Be prepared. Be cautious. And be what museums are: trustworthy.

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Tourism &Attractions Marketing: Visitors Guides and In-Room Publications

After the Brochure and Visitors Map

We’ve looked so far the effectiveness of a brochure and a good ad on a well-used map or guide to your destination.  Now, let’s explore a bit deeper into visitors guides and in-room publications.  There are a lot of them in some of the larger, more developed, tourist destinations.

There is plenty of variety to tourist publications and they are called various things but the bottom line is that you are looking for a publication to advertise and promote your business to increase visitation by tourists.  This should be one part of a much larger marketing and brand management plan.

Visitor’s Guides

Advertising in a destination visitor’s guide is essential to the destination and may be less essential to the actual attraction.  After all, most of these generally are distributed outside the area and many are often distributed electronically now as well.  We all in the tourism industry has some responsibility to promote the destination and to do what we can to support that effort.  This has been one of my ethical codes in this business since starting many years ago.  The biggest bang for the buck for an attraction, however, is generally not in a destination’s visitor’s guide.

Visitor's Guides are often distributed in destination at a variety of locations that tourists visit.

Visitor’s Guides are often distributed in destination at a variety of locations that tourists visit.

Tourist Guides Distributed In-Market

These are publications that you often see near brochure racks, sometimes in them, often at hotel front desks and, along with everything else, certainly you’ll find them in visitors centers.  They generally are everywhere tourists are and are important to your marketing mix as an attraction.  Some of them may be franchised or corporate owned and others may be unique to a specific market.  Regardless, they usually have great distribution and are well known by the hospitality industry workers within the tourist market they serve.  These are great for scavenger attractions to advertise in as it is people who have not yet decided what to do are picking them up right in your market.

Some visitior's guides are like magazines and are structured like that when displayed at hotels and attractions.

Some visitior’s guides are like magazines and are structured like that when displayed at hotels and attractions.

Destination Magazines

These often fall under the heading City Magazines though some of them also serve as destination magazines.  They sometimes are free and sometimes they are a cost.  If they are free they generally aren’t as widely distributed unless the paper quality and overall quality of the publication becomes more newspaper-like than magazine-like.  Regardless of the definition there are publications that may have a specific niche in a destination such as an art niche or a sports one or even an outdoor niche.  These could be important to your marketing mix depending on your product.  As with everything else, run some numbers on how many potential people you are going to reach and check to see if your potential visitors are using the publication to make decisions to visit.

These destination-focused magazines may or may not be distributed primarily in  hotels because of their wider appeal by locals who often will save them for friends and family who visit and use them themselves.

These destination-focused magazines may or may not be distributed primarily in hotels because of their wider appeal by locals who often will save them for friends and family who visit and use them themselves.

In-Room Publications

Higher end hotels usually have their own in-room publication and it is often branded with the resort’s name.  There are also franchises and chain publications that appear in-room.  Travel Host is one that has been around for a long time.  Guest Informant was well known and has become part of the Morris Publications and has been rebranded as the Where GuestBook.  There are others and ownership is not that important.  The significant factor is these are distributed in-room and you have a captive hotel-staying guest browsing through them.  The number printed isn’t as significant in this case as the same magazine can be read well over a hundred times by a different tourist.

The attention you must pay here is to the rooms that the publication is in.  Are visitors staying long enough to be lured to your attraction if your ad or message is convincing enough?  If looking at one single property you can get those figures pretty easily.  If it is multiple properties you sometimes have to make an educated guess like so often is the case.

Hardbound books in hotel rooms are nothing new.  Guest Informant was doing it for years and is now renamed and part of Where.

Hardbound books in hotel rooms are nothing new. Guest Informant was doing it for years and is now renamed and part of Where.

Next Steps

So you now know you need a brochure and an ad in the primary tourist map for an area and now something in some of the destination publications whether they are distributed in hotel rooms or in other locations.  This is starting to get expensive!  Yes, it can be but overall marketing costs shouldn’t be more than about 7 or 8 percent of your gross sales so you should be happy to spend marketing dollars – generally it means sales will go up!

Of course at some point not everyone will be able to do everything.  If your budget is relatively small it may take more than just reading one or two of my blog entries to come up with a careful strategy to increase tourist visitation.  I’ll have plenty of helpful hints on what to do for free or cheap to promote tourism at some point.  But i wanted to cover the very basics first and if you can’t do the basics then we’ll start at free in a future story.

For information on how St. Petersburg became a cultural tourist destination incorporating many free or inexpensive tourism marketing tips included in this series, you can view that series here.

 

Tourism & Attractions Marketing: Maps and Directories

How to Effectively Use Maps & Directories to Increase Tourism Visitation

Maps & Directories

There’s so many publications out there even in this web world!  Yeah, I still hear that as often as I heard it twenty five years ago.  Seems like there are publications everywhere that you should be advertising in.  The publisher always thinks you must be in their publication.  But of course you probably can’t be in all of them.  So I’ll take a look at some publications by type to try to give you a better idea how to wade through the many publications that are out there.  If you’re not in a highly developed tourism market, you might be lucky and only have one or two.  For this post, we’ll look just at maps and directories.  We’ll look at in-room publications and destination guides another time.

Maps and directories have been published for years in Florida.  These two vintage maps are for particular roads, the Orange Blossom Trail and the Florida Turnpike.

Maps and directories have been published for years in Florida. These two vintage maps are for particular roads, the Orange Blossom Trail and the Florida Turnpike.

Distribution

When an advertising sales person says things like “we’re in every hotel and welcome center” you might want to be cautious.  Every is a strong word.  I base an advertising decision on the facts when buying tourist advertising.  Find out where is the list of hotels or tourist locations the product is in and then spot-check some of those locations.  Ask the front desk what publication they refer visitors to.  Check to see what map the bellmen use to direct guests.  If the hotel still has a concierge, ask them.

In the end, you want a map or guide/directory to an area that is actively used by visitors.  If it is only available at a few locations, then it isn’t worth as much to you.  You want your message to get to people at a nearby airport as they arrive at your destination?  Then go check out what you see and encounter as you actually arrive at the airport.  One airport in Florida actually had its information center on the departures level and was therefore not much use to attractions, however, there were maps and guidebooks distributed at arrivals areas.  Always do your own checking and always do it from the visitor’s perspective.

Charlotte Harbor in Florida has a guide and map that is distributed just about everywhere in that area.

Charlotte Harbor in Florida has a guide and map that is distributed just about everywhere in that area.

Numbers

It really does come down to numbers in the tourism advertising arena.  How many maps are being produced and distributed to your potential customers?  It takes as much money and effort to place an ad in a map (or any tourist publication for that matter) that reaches two people as it does to reach two hundred thousand people.  At some point, you need to draw the line what you won’t do because the numbers are too small.  Only you or your consultant or advertising agency will know that.  If it is a monthly map, how many are produced and distributed and how many are tossed at the end of the month.  Get to know your real numbers.

Effectiveness

This is always a challenge for anyone in marketing, however, this isn’t that challenging in tourism marketing.  Just go to an area of your town or city where there are a lot of tourists looking for things and see what they are using.  What map or guide do they have?  In some destinations you see the tourist after tourist with the same maps or guides physically out looking for something to do.  It is more challenging now with smart phones because everyone has their own map with them but they still pick up and use the old style maps and guides.

When you have your graphics person create the ad, you may want a coupon, but you definitely want the look to be like your brochure.  Don’t change fonts.  Be consistent.  Look to see what your ad would look like on the map.  Does it stand out?  Does it drive someone to want to visit?  Does it help the visitor come to you?

Within The Destination 

The destination is where the visitor to going to spend their vacation.  This might be something as broad as New York or as narrow as Jekyll Island.  Each day, while in destination, the visitor decides what to do and where to go.  They may have seen something online before arriving in destination and decide that is what they want to do.  Or they may have no idea and try to figure it out by looking at maps, asking the front desk or waiter, picking up a visitors guide of sorts or any number of things.

If you do most of your marketing to visitors once they are already in destination then you are in the scavenger business.  Most attractions are that way.  You’re now competing with your colleagues for things to do.  This could include shopping, a beach or mountain day depending on weather, a museum or a free art gallery.  You work together to get the visitor to come to your town, but you compete once they’re there.

So these scavenger attractions probably aren’t reaching a visitor before they are in destination.  But they should be cooperating with each other to get them there.  Once in destination, this is where the attractions try to to lure in the visitor.  And maps and guides are what we are looking at today.  These can be effective in reaching tourists if their distribution is right for your attraction.

The map for the Florida Attractions Association has been produced for many years and was distributed at each member attraction in addition to welcome centers and brochure racks.

The map for the Florida Attractions Association has been produced for many years and was distributed at each member attraction in addition to welcome centers and brochure racks.

Distribution

Years ago, there was a brochure distributor that just serviced campgrounds in the region of Florida I was working in at the time.  This was before anyone ever heard of a luxury RV resort too!  I was responsible for marketing at a museum and it just didn’t fit our demographic though I was, and am, a huge believer in brochure distribution.  So you might have to do some research on who your best customers are and go after similar ones in destination.  If most of your visitors are staying in four and five star resorts, that tells you that probably you should not bother focusing on interstate exit locations for motels.

So far we’ve covered having a brochure (we’ll cover distributing it soon enough) and now maps and guides.  Just remember to really do your homework on distribution.  There are plenty of guides and maps out there.  Pick the one that has the best distribution and usage with regard to your visitors.

You should now have a better idea on how to start a tourism marketing campaign for your non-profit attraction, museum or destination.  The brochure followed by some key print ads.  We will look at plenty of other things you should be doing but we’re still working on basic foundation stuff for now.

 

 

 

 

Tourism & Attractions Marketing: The Rack Brochure

The Rack Brochure for Tourist Attractions

Having professionally been in the tourism industry for over 25 years in Florida, I sometimes get asked if there is one thing you would never ever cut from a marketing budget, what would it be?  And in the 25 years the answer has been the same: the brochure.  If you had to have one printed thing, that would be it.  Today, I’d probably opt for keeping a web presence but in the right conditions with the right talent on staff or contract that shouldn’t cost you much so it wouldn’t necessarily have to appear as a large expense once developed.

From the brochure generally flows every message about your attraction (which can be a town, a district, a historic house, a museum, an amusement park or just about anything that attracts people).  The brochure is your primary public image and should condense everything you are about into one flat sheet of paper that gets folded in a variety of ways to make the brochure or it could just be a simple 4 x 9 (inches) rack card.

Brochures have been used for many years to attract visitors to attractions such as this vintage Florida Attractions Association map from the mid 20th century.

Brochures have been used for many years to attract visitors to attractions such as this vintage Florida Attractions Association map from the mid 20th century.

Get Your Brochure Noticed in the Rack

You’ve seen them.  You know what they are.  They come in a wide variety of styles.  The point is that yours should stand out on the rack and tell prospective visitors what your attraction is about which in turn should entice them to visit.  So you have two primary roles for a brochure:

  • Have it stand out and get picked up in the rack
  • Entice the visitor through photographs or copy to visit

So, take stock in the visitor experience for your attraction or destination.  What is it?  What are your prospective visitors looking to experience?  Figure that out and put it in the brochure.  Of course, it is much more complex than just that but in its simplest form, that is really it.

This is a mini-brochure rack.  These brochures are small and fit in your wallet and provide just enough information and often a coupon for admission or a discount on a meal.

This is a mini-brochure rack. These brochures are small and fit in your wallet and provide just enough information and often a coupon for admission or a discount on a meal.

You will want to invest in some photography.  This is critical to any brochure.  I once knew a museum that had photographs of all the galleries done for a brochure and they even printed it.  When i was asked what could be done about bringing visitors in to it, I started with the brochure.  I showed them a very nice brochure promoting the museum.  I said that there was one major flaw in it.  What is missing in the brochure?  Everyone looked and thought perhaps a website, hours, prices, that sort of thing.  The answer was people.  There were no people in the brochure.  Who wants to go to a museum that has no one visiting it?

Then there are those that think a brochure through to the point that it has so much crap in it that it doesn’t do its job.  You know the people I’m talking about.  You hear them in meetings.  They’re the ones who will say “we have to have our prices in there, people want to know.”   This person is an operations person and while their advice is nice, prices don’t need to be in a brochure.  The job of the brochure is to entice someone to visit.  And unless admission is free, it probably isn’t worth mentioning price.  And yes, of course, they may call and ask or look on the web.  That doesn’t mean you need to promote it in a brochure.

If you can only afford a rack card, by all means it is better than nothing and some people can be enticed to visit with just the information (meaning photographs and copy) in a card.  Others may need more images, especially if there is an admission charge.  This way they will say “oh, there’s a lot there to do, it must be worth the admission.”

Cover Design is Key for a Brochure to be Picked Up

Another important factor in the rack brochure is the cover.  This is how it gets picked up.  People see a sea of brochures in a rack and they pick up the ones they’re most interested in.  But they really only see the top one third of the cover in a rack.  So be sure when designing the brochure that it looks good in a rack and is enticing enough to pick up by your target audience.

Pay careful attention to color in the brochure.  If you’re targeting females, remember that over a third of them place orange in their least liked color.  And earth tones tend to get lost in a rack.  Remember also that you will want to carry out a similar look and feel to any online or printed materials you are doing for the same attraction.

Times have certainly changed when museums printed brochures like this.   This is from the T. T. Wentworth Museum in Pensacola from the mid 20th century.

Times have certainly changed when museums printed brochures like this. This is from the T. T. Wentworth Museum in Pensacola from the mid 20th century.  Still, the basics of design show the top portion is what is actually seen in a rack.

A simple map that shows how to get to the attraction for key areas that are easy to identify is helpful.  Sometimes the most simple thing like “where is it?” comes out of a prospective visitor’s mouth when looking at your brochure.  If they can’t figure it out, they won’t be visiting.

So, if you’re working on a marketing plan or a business plan for your non-profit attraction you will want to include a brochure.  If you can afford to do an overall branding discovery for your attraction, then some of what you learn there will help you in the brochure design.  If not, then this is your key piece so it will become part of your overall branding.

This is part of a series: The Basics of Tourism Marketing for Cultural Attractions

 

Learning Lessons in Tourism Marketing from a Road Trip

Lessons in Tourism Marketing from a Road Trip

I have just returned from a road trip in our motor home in which we really had no agenda or itinerary for two weeks other than to travel and enjoy our journey.  Well, perhaps we had one other requirement: to feel cool weather.  This was the ultimate luxury for Floridians toward the end of July.

There’s a travel blog that details the traveler’s perspective on these trips called How Do I Travel which i write.  However, professionally, I’ve taught tourism courses and been in the tourism industry for many years in Florida so it is impossible to totally shut that down when travelling.  So many small towns I go through I want to desperately help.  To help them to develop their tourism business but it is not possible to do with such limited time.  And some do not want help.  Others are just nowhere near having the infrastructure.  I always order print publications from destinations we are possibly going to visit and this these publications give us ideas on directions to head.  And I always learn about our wonderful tourism industry when I travel and bring back ideas and trends to share.

Printed visitors guides still come in handy and we explore each and every one of them for current places to consider while on a road trip as well as future places to visit.  I just can't help using them as teaching tools to help other attractions learn more about destination and tourism marketing though.

Printed visitors guides still come in handy and we explore each and every one of them for current places to consider while on a road trip as well as future places to visit. I just can’t help using them as teaching tools to help other attractions learn more about destination and tourism marketing though.

The advertising and the editorial content of visitors guides, whether online or in print, is fascinating to me and you can learn so much from it.  And being a tourist as well as a destination marketer I hope to bring some type of interesting angle when looking at these guides and ads.  I learn a lot when doing it and I hope to pass on some of that knowledge through this blog.

As I write the travel blog portion of this trip on another blog, I will be looking for interesting examples of destination marketing, real-life visits and how those might have been improved or just simply surprising tourist destinations that are completely off the radar.  When taking a road trip (at least me anyway) you really don’t know where you’ll end up or what you’ll find.  It is all spontaneous but based on awareness of the product around you.

RVs were heavy on the I-95 between the Northeast and Florida.   My preference is to avoid the interstate system as much as possible while exploring the great backroads and destinations of the country.

RVs were heavy on the I-95 between the Northeast and Florida. My preference is to avoid the interstate system as much as possible while exploring the great backroads and destinations of the country.

One of the joys of travel is finding that interesting destination that really was unexpected and finding a destination that simply isn’t a destination but is enjoyable and interesting for what it actually is despite the fact that you can’t get a magnet with the town’s name on it to save your life.  I am fortunate to have grown up and gone to school in the Harrisburg – York – Lancaster – Lebanon market.  Gettysburg and Hershey were staples of local trips.  I never realized then just how significant this area is in the tourism industry and how well the region’s product is developed.  I was re-energized reading a story about how to turn Harrisburg into a cultural tourist destination recently that has since had several stories published on the subject.  It can be done and so while the trip was enjoyable and restful, my mind was working and my thought is to share some of those thoughts here.

Camping can be just about anything from resort living such as this RV resort on Hilton Head Island to roughing in at one of the many great state parks.

Camping can be just about anything from resort living such as this RV resort on Hilton Head Island to roughing in at one of the many great state parks.

So as I manage to wade through the travel stories in the evenings and weekends and consult with the visitors guides that brought me there, I’m sure i’ll come up with some interesting tourism thoughts that might help professionally and will post those here.  In the meantime I will continue to blog about museums, finance, marketing and general management in addition to tourism – all of which are closely linked.  Thanks for following.

10 Trends in Destination & Tourism Marketing

10 Trends in Tourism Marketing for Destinations

Having been in the tourism industry for well over 25 years and having taught tourism marketing classes I find myself in a position to be able to identify and comment on trends in tourism marketing with the thought that it might help smaller attractions and in particular museum or other cultural attractions or even destinations.  Staying ahead of the trends for planning purposes is the key to long term tourism success for a destination.

This blog entry takes this background and marries it to the fact that I have been planning road trips in our recently purchased RV and studying destinations and tourism marketing materials in the process.  While there certainly are more trends than what is contained in this article, this is a start and is based on an in-depth examination of some random states’ visitors guides in the northeastern United States.

There are some common denominators in tourism marketing throughout the United States and some emerging, as well as established, trends that bear looking at.  Let’s look at what is really for sale in some of America’s top tourist’s visitors guides (in no particular order):

1. Discovery – If you read destination visitor’s guides you would soon figure out that we humans enjoy discovery.  And most people like discovering things that have been discovered before them and curated to the point that they know they, too, would enjoy discovering it despite the fact that it has been already discovered.  The word “discover” appears often in tourism marketing.  A lot of destinations promote themselves under the headline of “Discover (fill in the destination).”  Everyone wants to be a Columbus but no one wants to discover something that isn’t worth discovering so it helps when the tourism product is curated or validated by someone or a group of people.

Discover Monadnock in New Hampshire invites you, along with many destinations, to "discover" it.

Discover Monadnock in New Hampshire invites you, along with many destinations, to “discover” it.

Hardly a state exists where you can’t find an image promoting it without it being paired with the word “discover,” whether it is discovering history or the arts or the entire state.   This is probably more ubiquitous than it is a trend but it filtering down to a lot of other tourism product than just state-wide tourism promotion.

2. Experience – Everyone wants an experience.  No one just wants to go somewhere.  It isn’t enough that you have seen a destination anymore, you have to experience it (after you discover it, of course).  Many destinations use “Experience (fill in the destination)” and this has been a growing trend following the “Visit (fill in the destination)” craze.  From attractions and restaurants to hotels and entire destinations, visitors are encouraged to “experience” the tourism product.   We have long since known that the experience, the intangible product, is actually what is being sold after all.  It is only fairly recently that this is how destinations are marketing themselves.

Many destinations want you to "experience" them.  This one for New Hampshire invites you in for just such an experience.

Many destinations want you to “experience” them. This one for New Hampshire invites you in for just such an experience.

3. Fun – Who doesn’t want to have fun?  No one.  This could be also called Participate but the end result is still fun.  Some destinations package a lot of fun experiences and position on fun.  There are some destinations in New Jersey where the word is everywhere.  And rightfully so, their tourism product is fun – from watching salt water taffy being made to arcade games on a boardwalk to jumping in the waves in the Ocean.  There’s also water parks, amusement parks, gaming centers and more in these types of destinations.  It also isn’t unusual to find a Ripley’s in these types of destinations and to find the destination marketing to families and using words such as tradition in their copy.

Coastal Virginia appears to be all about "fun" in this ad inviting you to have fun in only a few footsteps.

Coastal Virginia appears to be all about “fun” in this ad inviting you to have fun in only a few footsteps.

If your attraction or destination was so inclined you could, like others, simply say “Experience the Fun at … ” or “Discover the Fun at …”  And, of course, it has been done and continues as a trend in state visitor guides.

3. Local – This speaks to the unique product that the tourist will consume – a local experience that can’t be experienced anywhere else.  Every town now has shops, restaurants and other things that are unique.  This local and authentic tourist experience is something that continues to grow in popularity.  This could be something like a chocolatier, a craft beer brewery, a candle or soap shop, a local farmers market, or a strip of independently owned shops in a town center.  While the old style urban renewal projects which were so popular years ago included things like The Gap or Ann Taylor and a national or regional restaurant anchor or two along with some shops selling kites, t-shirts and hats was once the thing visitors sought out, they have done those and are looking for a more local and authentic experience.

This editorial feature focuses on the thirty local restaurants in downtown Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

This editorial feature focuses on the thirty local restaurants in downtown Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

If you just search for images on the web under “shop local” or “buy local” you will find no shortage of graphics used in social media promoting the local movement.  It has gained the greatest ground in places like Portland, Oregon, Ashville, N.C. and St. Petersburg, Florida.  While it may have started as a movement to protect mom and pop shops, main streets, local farmers and artists, it serves as a terrific tool in promoting tourism.  Few destinations promote their chain supermarket with produce from South America after all.

In New Hampshire, eating local is one of the features of tourism promotion.

In New Hampshire, eating local is one of the features of tourism promotion.

4. Beer and Wine with Locality – There once was a time when most towns in the northeast had their own breweries.  Over time, many of them closed.  That trend has completely reversed itself.  It now seems that there isn’t a destination that doesn’t have a craft beer maker or brewery in it with larger cities having entire trails of these breweries.  Something that largely is credited to Portland, Oregon, now has become pretty mainstream and is still gaining momentum.  Many destinations continue to promote the microbrews and the brewery experience to visitors.

The cover of the New Jersey visitor's guide focuses on wine with its Grape Escape headline.

The cover of the New Jersey visitor’s guide focuses on wine with its Grape Escape headline.

Wineries have become equally popular starting in Napa Valley and now in destinations such as Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  Even Florida has wineries.  These all provide an authentic local experience and give the visitor something to buy to take back home that isn’t the tacky souvenir of days gone by.

At some point every town will have a craft beer brewery or a winery and these will diminish as a tourist draw as most tourism products have in the past but it will be some time before this happens.  As soon as the market expects a destination to have a product, it becomes no longer as important to the tourism product mix.  Most recently (in the past dozen or so years) IMAX theatres were once important to the tourism mix but are now not as significant in making a destination unique as they are in so many markets.

5. Outdoors – As people look for more experiential travel experiences, many destinations are including outdoor activities such as canoeing and kayaking as well as golf as part of their tourism mix.  There are hiking and biking opportunities in many destinations that often get overlooked as part of the tourist experience.  More and more destinations appear to be showing this as part of its nature package.  Even destinations where the natural environment isn’t the most suited to outdoor activity can find something to attract visitors interested in the outdoors.  And this is happening in even the most urbanized of destinations such as the High Line in New York City.  This plays to the general trend toward better health globally and will continue to be a trend in tourism marketing.

This ad for Clarion, Pennsylvania not only is about experiencing the destination but it is focused on the outdoors and the destination being known as "River Country."

This ad for Clarion, Pennsylvania not only is about experiencing the destination but it is focused on the outdoors and the destination being known as “River Country.”

6. Open All Year – Many destinations are known for a particular season.  Ski resorts in particular have done a good job over the years of spreading out their tourists to year-round with a variety of tourism products such as historical towns, outdoor activities and more.  Summer destinations, such as New Jersey or other states known for their beaches, promote year-round activities.  The State of New York even has covers on its visitors guide to coincide with the season offering not only a wealth of summer activities but specialty seasonal tourism offerings as well.

A very well done ad for Princeton, New Jersey makes it clear the destination is not just a single season destination.

A very well done ad for Princeton, New Jersey makes it clear the destination is not just a single season destination.

A number of states use, or have used, the Four Seasons of Fun concept including New Hampshire, Utah and Wisconsin.  There are variations on the theme, but destinations want consumers to know they are not just seasonal destinations anymore.  Attractions in Florida have long focused on increasing visitors during typical off-season times such as Fall.  This is why Epcot does the annual Food & Wine Festival and the Magic Kingdom, Universal Studios and Busch Gardens do a special Halloween event.  With more tourism product, the state then has something more to offer the consumer.

7. More than Just What We’re Famous For – Many destinations are known for one thing or another for the most part.  Take beach destinations, for example.  It isn’t uncommon to see these promoted now as “more than just a beach.”  Even Daytona Beach has a small historical downtown that is interesting and not something most people seek out.  Therefore, the visitor “discovers” the small treasure.

The Jersey Shore is naturally more than just the shore.

The Jersey Shore is naturally more than just the shore.

While being more than just a beach destination is becoming popular, so would becoming more than just a ski destination.  And this would be true of major tourist attractions as well.  No one goes to Niagara Falls and expects to do nothing but look at the falls.  But all those other things do help entice someone who might think there isn’t anything else there.

8. Itineraries – So often visitors don’t have the time to do research for a road trip and are looking for something packaged up but yet provides a free and independent travel experience.  The State of Maryland, among others, has a great booklet promoting its byways.

These are not very linear like some but it is comprehensive and gives you a good idea of what to experience along the way and based on your interests you can select your route.  Some regions and states also focus on single routes – such as Route 66, the National Road, PA Route 6 or even the less heard of Pennsylvania Route 422 through four counties which is advertised as a coop in that state’s visitor’s guide.

Maryland even publishes a separate guide for its scenic highways and byways with plenty of suggested itineraries.

Maryland even publishes a separate guide for its scenic highways and byways with plenty of suggested itineraries.

This is something that isn’t terribly new.  In Florida, many years ago, entire routes produced brochures for tourist racks on certain routes through the state and often destinations provided “one day trip” offers using the core destination as a base.   The Orange Blossom Trail through Florida to points in the mid-west was a popular marketing tool in the mid 20th century.

9. Main Street – Often you will see America’s historic town centers promoted in tourism materials.  The angles range and may include any or even all of the following: historical, cultural, food, local, shopping, ghosts or others.  The national Main Street program has been successful in helping small towns not only survive but thrive and it has been successful in larger city’s neighborhoods as well.

These Main Streets are often unique, obviously local, usually not filled with chains you can find anywhere and often contain some element of arts and culture and frequently have local shops and restaurants to attract residents.   Some states do a very good job of promoting these unique destinations.  Virginia has a section on them in its visitors guide that is very well done.

Virginia devotes editorial coverage to towns with historic main streets.

Virginia devotes editorial coverage to towns with historic main streets.

Even in places that you don’t think of for main street activities, we’ve found delightful and walkable main streets even if they aren’t as charming as most.  The point is, they are different than any other and even in some small Texas towns we’ve found fascinating main streets in towns and usually a local restaurant or shop worth visiting if just while driving through.

10. Art – Once tourism and the arts strictly translated to museums and a passive visit to one of them to look at art.    Museums became more experiential over the years and today it is rare that you enter a museum and passively observe art without some type of “experience.”  Hands-on museums have become popular and art museums have incorporated more participatory elements in their exhibits and exhibitions.

Many towns in the U.S. have museums whether they are historical museums, historic houses, art museums, children’s museums, science museums or a zoo or aquarium.  Destination marketers are now figuring out how to set their destinations apart from others.  And often the fact that there is an art museum isn’t sufficient enough.  It must be unique.

In the New Hampshire visitor's guide, there are special arts-focused events such as this one that occurs just once a year.

In the New Hampshire visitor’s guide, there are special arts-focused events such as this one that occurs just once a year.

Once again, my hometown of St. Petersburg serves as an example.  The Salvador Dali Museum opened there in 1982 and is a unique asset to the tourism product.  A collection of works by Dale Chihuly also opened in 2010 further providing a unique museum experience.  But what is beginning to happen is that visitors are seeking out more experiential arts experiences such as touring a local pottery, visiting an artists collective gallery featuring works by local artists, seeing artist studios or participating in local art or gallery walks.  They are seeking out more authentic local experiences.  This is an up and coming trend that is just beginning to gain momentum in some destinations.

This is an incredible ad for Lancaster, Pennsylvania that actually appears in a county tourism guide, not the state guide, but it clearly shows off several trends including the arts and the local concept quite well.

This is an incredible ad for Lancaster, Pennsylvania that actually appears in a county tourism guide, not the state guide, but it clearly shows off several trends including the arts and the local concept quite well.

What isn’t on this list might be a bit surprising.  Professional sports are not mentioned often at all in tourism promotion by state agencies.  You can draw your own conclusions to this observation.

What is bubbling up into the top ten?  

Music and concerts.  Some destinations have captured this market quite well – primarily in the Country and Western Belt though places like Seattle and Austin do quite well with it too.  Most destinations don’t position on music and don’t have enough focus on indoor and outdoor music festivals and concerts because generally all there is to promote is the venue.  The exceptions would be an annual festival – whether it is country, jazz, blues, or another genre that can be promoted year-round.  But a lively music scene that exists year-round would be of interest to tourists.

Another trend that will bubble up is that of gastronomy.  Though this is closely tied to the Local concept, it will become more and more important to a destination.  More and more American towns and cities have developed restaurant/cafe districts that have very good restaurants – and there is the interest to experience local things which this goes well with especially if the town’s restaurant row is on the Main Street which is historic in nature.

Downtown Carlisle, Pennsylvania plays off the local and gastronomy trends mentioned in this editorial that makes anyone who is hungry for something unique want to visit it - and who isn't looking for something like that?

Downtown Carlisle, Pennsylvania plays off the local and gastronomy trends mentioned in this editorial that makes anyone who is hungry for something unique want to visit it – and who isn’t looking for something like that?

Bike riding is another trend that will continue to rise as more bike rental opportunities or bike share programs come about.  It fits mostly in the Outdoor section but is sufficiently important enough to stand on its own.  This, combined with an increasingly friendly attitude by local governments regarding bicyclists in the form of bike lanes and trails will be another product that destinations will rely on to attract more visitors.  Maine is one state that incorporates the biking attraction into its state tourism promotion.

The Mountain Creek Bike Park in Vernon, NJ is well positioned in the New Jersey guide and rightfully so.

The Mountain Creek Bike Park in Vernon, NJ is well positioned in the New Jersey guide and rightfully so.

Unique Festivals and Events is something that people are travelling for based on their particular interests.  More and more of these are drawing greater numbers of visitors if the product is right and well-promoted.  I’m not talking about a Santa Parade, though that does draw visitors from around a town, but something unusual that a visitor would have to travel to in order to experience it.  The more unusual, the further away people would be willing to come from for it.  Some examples of unusual festivals might include Tatoofest in Tampa, the Burning Man Festival in Nevada or the Bald is Beautiful Convention in North Carolina.

This ad for the Maryland Wine Festival is another example of how events are working to draw tourists for niche interests.

This ad for the Maryland Wine Festival is another example of how events are working to draw tourists for niche interests.

You can take these ideas and trends and apply them to your own destination marketing plans.  If your “destination” is another attraction or perhaps a small historic town or even a district within a larger city, there are ideas here to help you on the branding and ultimately, the marketing, of your destination.

Before ending, there is one ad that stood out as possibly the worst ad in any of the state visitor’s guides that I reviewed.  So much is wrong with it from the graphics to the fact that it is for a one-day event and is placed (in a full page) in an annual guide.  In fact, it arrived long after the event was over.

Rutgers Day in New Jersey takes place on one day and yet occupies a full page in the annual New Jersey publication.  My guess is that government dollars funded the ad and somewhere there is an intern who designed it.

Rutgers Day in New Jersey takes place on one day and yet occupies a full page in the annual New Jersey publication. My guess is that government dollars funded the ad and somewhere there is an intern who designed it.

So there you have it.  Ten trends in tourism destination marketing from one person’s observations.  Perhaps this information can help you with your attraction or museum.  I’ve been to so many small towns in America that are just gems of destinations that I never knew about until visiting them.  Hopefully some of them can become more tourism oriented to help their local economies.  Some of these towns that I’ve traveled through, I wished that I could have stopped and talked to someone about how to make them more tourist friendly or how to package them to create a more interesting story to entice tourists to visit.  This is my way of stopping and trying to help.  Thank you for reading this far and hope it was helpful or at least somewhat interesting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Art, Artists, Tourism and Florida

A Brief History of the Selling of Art in Florida

Florida has somewhat matured over the years, especially in its attraction of artists to the state who come here for the relatively inexpensive cost of living and the sunshine.  It is also attractive because inexpensive housing and a fairly good base of art collectors come through the state.

The earliest art sold in Florida was not to Floridians.  It was to tourists. Artists such as Martin Johnson Heade or Frank Shapleigh rented studios at the Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine and these artists would paint and sell their wares to the wealthy tourists from up north.  Their cluster of studios became somewhat of a cultural attraction to the wealthy patrons staying at the hotel.  This having happened only over 120 years ago as the hotel opened in 1889.

The works were created generally as souvenirs for the wealthy and would typically be scenes that included flora and fauna typical of Florida or perhaps street scenes as was the case with St. Augustine.  Sunsets, steamers and flowering plants were common themes.  This was the start of the art industry in Florida.

Today, while we have certainly transitioned from the old itinerary using steamers and stagecoach, the fundamentals haven’t changed all that much.  Tourists still come in to Florida and still buy art and take it home with them.  While we don’t know for sure what percentage of art is bought by what are now Floridians, we do know that tourism makes up a significant, if not a majority, share of this as the two major art centers of Florida today – St. Petersburg and Miami – have become tourist destinations in the past century and continue with their international draw today.

But back to the 1880s for a moment, as St. Petersburg and Miami didn’t yet exist as incorporated towns in Florida, this was at a time when the railway ran as far south as Jacksonville and steamers plied the St. Johns River. The typical visitor’s itinerary consisted of a trip to Jacksonville, the largest city in the state, St. Augustine for its history, a steamer down the St. Johns River and another down the Ocklawaha.  There were variations on this itinerary and stage coaches were used to shuttle people from the ports where the steamers would call in to small towns such as Gainesville and Ocala.

The city of Jacksonville has changed dramatically since it was the first transportation hub of Florida tourists in the 1880s.

The city of Jacksonville has changed dramatically since it was the first transportation hub of Florida tourists in the 1880s.

Many of these early tourists were considered naturalists as they had an interest in nature.  There was, in fact, little else in Florida at the time.  While most paintings were nature scenes and landscapes, there were details of some of the flowers of Florida in some of these early paintings.

But the artist colony was focused in St. Augustine as the tourist center of the state was located there.  Tourism was in this case acting as the distribution channel for art.   It isn’t very dissimilar to some of the earliest cultural attractions in the state of Florida.  They relied on tourists to support them as the residents of the state were typically unable, for the most part, to support larger cultural attractions that primarily consisted of museums.

In the industrialized north, philanthropists funded museums and supported artists.  There was no tradition of this in the agrarian south and the model of support became something between fractured philanthropy and cultural tourism from the North.  The state’s earliest “museums” were designed to attract tourists.  These were in Jacksonville and St. Augustine.

The Vedder Museum in St. Augustine.  Photo courtesy State Archives of Florida.

The Vedder Museum in St. Augustine. Photo courtesy State Archives of Florida.

Slowly, artists began to locate in areas outside of St. Augustine.  St. Petersburg probably got the earliest start with artists, or visitors who took an interest in the arts, having had an arts club formed in 1917, ten years before the Florida Federation of Art was formed and well before the 1924 founding of the local arts club in St. Augustine.  Earliest museums in the state included the Ringling in Sarasota and the Norton in Palm Beach.  Art was starting to diversify as a commodity in Florida.   In the decades that followed the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg was soon exporting art in the form of reproduction posters throughout the world.

Today we have significant colonies of artists still in St. Augustine as well as Key West, Miami and St. Petersburg.  There are other clusters of artists throughout the state in other towns and cities of course and many towns now have an arts district.

Marketing Art and Tourism in Florida

The point of this article is to consider what is the next step in the maturation of the arts industry in Florida.  If you look at other similar destinations that have art as a common denominator, you’ll find a movement and an eager tourism industry embracing the “local” feel to the area in places such as Ashville, North Carolina, Richmond, Virginia and Provincetown, Massachusetts.   In much older destinations such as Paris or Venice, albeit far larger cities, the arts scene has flourished to include museums, cafes, galleries and artist enclaves.  In St. Petersburg, my hometown, a very active group called “Keep St. Pete Local” is heavily involved in maintaining the local character of the city that keeps it well positioned as distinct from destinations where a more chain style of infrastructure exists.

One of the arts districts in St. Petersburg, the Central Arts District, has links to the other districts with a trolley service.

One of the arts districts in St. Petersburg, the Central Arts District, has links to the other districts with a trolley service.

Miami and St. Petersburg are both in a unique position to be able to further develop their arts industries through tourism.  Art Basel in Miami continues to be a strong annual arts-related event that attracts tourists in great concentrated numbers.  St. Petersburg continues to draw cultural tourists year-round in what is developing as an arts fair that happens throughout the year and in multiple arts districts throughout the city.

While Miami has matured to include very high end art, St. Petersburg’s niche has been in accessible art for a much wider audience.   The “authentic” experience that a certain number of tourists are now looking for is readily accessible in St. Petersburg and in parts of Miami.  The Wynwood Arts District is rapidly maturing in Miami and several districts have emerged in St. Petersburg that allows the visitor a more authentic experience that isn’t created, such as was the artists studios at the Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine or the concentration of museums in some cities.

And while it is always up to the artist to sell his or her art, there are quickly becoming areas in the state that are more conducive to this.  And as always in Florida, it is seasonal.  It is up to the state’s tourism marketing organization and the respective county tourist development councils and convention and visitors bureaus to use the arts districts to attract more like-minded tourists and to direct those who are possibly secondarily interested in the arts to these districts.

Second Saturday Art Walks in St. Petersburg have become increasingly popular with tourists and residents.  Many other tourist destinations use this concept to promote the arts.

Second Saturday Art Walks in St. Petersburg have become increasingly popular with tourists and residents. Many other tourist destinations use this concept to promote the arts.

Where Henry Flagler knew that there was a demand and clustered artists around a number of studios in the back of the Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine, our present day promoters of tourism, myself included, must make it easy for our visitors to find the artists and their works.

Art galleries, shows, festivals, arts centers, artist cooperatives, pop up exhibitions, and artist studios have all become part of the tourist experience in some parts of Florida.  To succeed in attracting more tourists who are prone to not only visit cultural attractions, buy locally-produced art we must target those tourists and let them know what the experience of visiting may include and that is art.  There are thousands of tourists that come through Florida’s cruise ports and a percentage of them all buy prints of art on cruise ships during art auctions.  They could easily be buying original pieces from Florida artists.

Many cities and towns in Florida have arts centers including Delray Beach.

Many cities and towns in Florida have arts centers including Delray Beach.

We must target the people who are most likely to buy art and spend time in our destinations.  Today, it is even more easy to focus on this with the demographic and psychographic information available combined with the myriad of distribution channels to reach these people.  For example, a number of articles have appeared recently speaking to the growing and flourishing arts scene in St. Petersburg.  These writers likely were reached through Twitter, blogs, websites and Facebook postings in some way.  Their articles then further reach yet more people and eventually a reputation as an arts center develops amongst those who are inclined to visit arts destinations.  Advertising messages also can be directed to these audiences and those responsible for marketing to visitors have access to make this happen.

It is important to look at the history of arts and tourism marketing to be able to understand how to move forward.  The essence of tourism marketing vis-a-vis the arts is to convince people to visit and buy art.  This is done through reaching those most likely to visit with your message.  Any destination can do this and with the right resources, can do it better than it is doing presently.

How Museums Survived the Financial Crisis

The Financial Side of Non-profit Cultural Institutions

I recently gave a talk to a group of accounting educators about “the financial side of non-profit museums” while they toured our facilities at the Morean Arts Center in St. Petersburg. It was very interesting to them and it occurred to me that this might be an interesting blog post for some others. I will specifically be addressing and referencing (without naming any) Florida institutions since that’s where I’ve spent my 25+ year museum career.

The museum sector experienced the same economic issues as other sectors starting in about 2006-2007 and even a Wikipedia entry was created to reference the period specifically for museums.  Museums are often not as nimble as their profit-focused counterparts and the staff at museums often not as entrepreneurial as their for profit colleagues.  Their mission of caring in perpetuity for artifacts that have been donated combined with their mission of education whether it is history, science, art or something else is sometimes without regard to real cost.  Why then did some manage to survive and others not? Why did some organizations go away while others become absorbed in a government college or university?  And what of the ones who actually did survive and actually thrive?

Culture of Cultural Institutions

Financial constraint isn’t something that a lot of museum professionals understand.  Even in its simplest terms of money out cannot exceed money coming in is not easily understood.  At one institution I recall a number of meetings to come up with new net income ideas.  After a while, it does have an effect and staff begin to understand the true costs.  Costs they don’t see on a daily basis such as insurances, utilities, payroll taxes, the actual cost of those benefits they receive and so on.  It takes time to build a culture of understanding true net income in a museum or arts institution.

When raises weren’t given or benefits cut there were staff who couldn’t comprehend it at the time.  “But I’ve been here for 12 years,” rationalized one staff person to me one day as if that explained why they were due a raise.  “But of course the artifact MUST fly first class with a courier,” underscored another staff person as if completely oblivious to economic reality.  “But so and so NEEDS more hours, you CAN’T cut them,” argued a supervisor.

Budgets were given and freely spent.  “It is in my budget,” was a common museum staff persons cry.  Historically, museum professionals were given a budget and they would spend it for little regard as to where the income came from to actually pay for it.  The transition from one-sided thinking has been a slow one but one that many museums now have completed.  Aligning expenses with off-setting revenue has been one approach taken by many museums.  The more entrepreneurial of employees thrived in this type of environment while the budget spenders didn’t fare so well.

Government Funding

The first things that went in the financial crisis for museums were endowment fund income and balances, followed rather quickly by government support.  Some intuitions would receive federal, state, county and city funding.  An organization too reliant on government support quickly found itself in trouble if it didn’t have a good earned income model.  State of Florida funding was zero for several of these lean years.  During that time, some institutions were absorbed into government schools which somehow still were funded and often received additional operating dollars based on expanding their physical space.

It has a cascading effect.  State money went to nothing or next-to-nothing in the State of Florida.  County government funding could include a county school district or the county government itself supporting an institution.  In some cases institutions found themselves faced with multiple cuts from their county organizations which also included tourist development councils that saw declining revenues from bed tax dollars and also made cuts.  City governments faced declining tax collections and also cut funding to cultural institutions.  Usually the government support eroded within a year or two of each funding source going away causing great strain on the cultural institutions.

Endowments

We all know that the value of endowment funds dropped significantly.  Across the State of Florida auditors were making sure that the principle balance didn’t go below what a donor had given.  Museums were not receiving as much income from their endowments.  And matching endowment programs at the state level completely stopped.  Those institutions who didn’t have endowment funds were obviously less affected by this situation, however, they were not able to start endowment funds during this time period.

Furthermore, there was, and in some cases still exists, a negative feeling by trustees about endowment funds.  Some institutions just didn’t have the financial constraint to not tap endowment funds and spent principal balances.  Obviously, not a practice I condone.

Donations and Foundations

Foundations for the clear reason above found their principals being eroded and cut back on giving significantly.  This had an effect on larger as well as smaller institutions.  Donors, whose portfolios declined dramatically, cut back considerably in their giving.  They simply didn’t have it or believed that they were in a financial crisis themselves despite being worth millions in some cases.

A colleague who ran a museum on Long Island told me that the Bernie Madoff scandal was catastrophic for some institutions there and I’m sure that had an effect on other locations such as Palm Beach County.  It became more important than ever to thank existing donors with fewer (if any) development staff in place which further did nothing to help the situation.

Earned Income

Those organizations that could quickly react to the rapidly growing financial crisis, whose news seemed to grow darker by the month for some institutions, were the ones to survive.  Those who continued to do the same gala events and rely on the same government dollars and the same foundations quickly found themselves in trouble.  Earned income was the way so many institutions survived.  I recall one institution balking at serving popcorn (a highly profitable product) in its theater because someone would have to be hired to clean it and it would ruin the floors.  They sought help from a governmental body eventually for more support.

I’ve written about various forms of earned income elsewhere in this blog.  But let me repeat that small things can make a huge difference and getting staff to understand this is very important because it is they who have to implement any changes and embrace them.  Vending machines, as one example, are often placed in out-of-the-way places or behind walls with no signage so as not to interfere with the art experience by museums, can have a positive effect on cash flow as well as net income.  I know of one institution that regularly received over $20,000 in vending income alone.

Ticket sales, memberships, retail sales, exhibit and artifact loan fees, licensing, food and beverage income, alcohol sales, real estate (by which I mean unused office space or a store-front or any tangible property that could be positioned as income earning) and more are all ways some museums are closing the gap between expenses and income.  Much is written about Unrelated Business Income Tax and there are times when museums are subject to UBIT should their earned income go too far away from their mission.  For example, an art museum would be exempt from selling reproductions of its collection but might be subject to income tax on coffee mugs that just have the name of the city in which the museum was located on them.  So, be careful with venturing too far into earned income without understanding any tax implications.

Expenses

While labor is usually the number one cost for a museum, some institutions waited too long to cut too few.  Some institutions simply could not see some expenses as “unnecessary” and continued to spend.  Some institutions continued to do larger exhibitions without regard for recouping expenses.  The cost of travelling exhibitions for institutions is significant.  In fact one museum director, when asked by yours truly when I sat on a grants panel, couldn’t explain what accounts payable was to me properly.  He reiterated to me that it was expensive to do large exhibitions (which I have done and know quite well) and that is the reason for his accounts payable which I noted had increased from over $100,000 in one audit to over $300,000 the following year to his most recent year which was approaching $600,000 in accounts payable.  It wasn’t long before the museum was absorbed into a government supported school.

It is a careful balance that must achieved in the great financial web that museums find themselves in and a qualified director is probably the best resource an institution has.  It is easy for finance committees to discuss line items and details and even make changes to museum budgets without understanding the ramifications.  In other cases, it is necessary for boards to intervene when directors cannot themselves understand the complicated financial model of running an institution that needs a diversified revenue stream and a positive cash flow.

After prolonged cutting there comes a time when it really is impossible to cut more without having serious ramifications on the mission of an organization.  But this usually isn’t the first or even second round of cuts for most organizations.  Some institutions cut dozens of jobs and the average person wouldn’t even notice it if they were a visitor.  The marketing gets cut and visitors decline which is all about revenue.  If a curator is cut, there usually isn’t an off-setting revenue line that is affected which was an area that was a target by some museum directors during this time.

It is this challenging balance game of mission and net income that museums now must face though since the economic recovery began it has become a bit less stressful for cultural institutions and they are much stronger and more nimble and entrepreneurial than they were just a decade ago.

Summary

So the strongest museums were able to survive during this crisis and make cultural changes within their organizations that hopefully will allow them to thrive into the next economic cycle.  They were nimble, entrepreneurial, financially restrained, innovative, and exceptional.  Any museum professional who sat around a management table and focused on what had always worked probably found themselves without a job or, worse, without a museum.

I haven’t tried to point any fingers in this but to summarize a talk to accounting educators that found the real life applications of accounting interesting in a museum environment.  One instructor came up to me afterwards and we chatted about it more.  I’m now fairly convinced that a good understanding of accounting and finance is critical to an institution’s success.  And that doesn’t mean just having a well-qualified CFO – which helps – but a staff that understands accounting and finance at some level.

For more information on museums and professional operations I strongly encourage anyone to really go through the American Alliance of Museum’s web site as the organization is an invaluable resource to museums and has been incredibly helpful and advanced as an organization in helping institutions make it through the financial crisis not only by surviving but of course by thriving.  It just takes the right mix of staff and entrepreneurial spirit and having some fun along the way.

 

Earned Income for Non Profit Arts Centers and Museums

Earned Income for Arts Organizations

This series of blog posts will relate to increasing earned income at non-profit cultural attractions.  This has become a necessity for a variety of reasons and hopefully this will help guide some through the change.

Background

Earned income has been a challenge for non-profit organizations for many years.  It has been particularly a challenge in the state of Florida where state funding, and, indeed, in many cases, municipal funding has been something that governments have either reduced significantly or eliminated altogether.  This in a state that hasn’t had a great history of support for the arts to begin with.

This will be a series of examinations of how our cultural non-profit organizations can expand their revenue streams and search for new earned NET income.  But first a little background so you understand where I am coming at this from.

Many years ago, as Director of Marketing for the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, we had a problem in that no governmental agencies believed they should support such an institution.  In those days (the early 90s), grants panels were made up of purists who, for whatever reason, didn’t believe in the support of that particular institution. and therefore that institution wouldn’t receive government funding.

It probably was a blessing in disguise as the Dali Museum became self-sufficient and extended into programs that didn’t generate net income only as it could afford to have the operation subsidize them.  It was very judicious at making sure the operation was sustainable.  In fact, during the eight years I was there we were able to buy three significant pieces of artwork and spend nearly $2 million to do so.

I spent some years also at another museum whose revenue model was almost all earned income – MOSI – the Museum of Science & Industry in Tampa.  Prior to that I produced blockbuster exhibitions for the Florida International Museum whose operational budget was solely based on earned income while some capital improvements were funded by the state (no longer an option in Florida).

That said, it takes time to build a culture of discipline, especially in an arts organization. This is especially true when an organization has been habitually subsidized and has not had time to learn how to live within its means or earn its own NET income.  Each museum I’ve been with has has its share of successes and failures in the earned income foray.

Take stock of your intellectual capital

Who do you have on your team?  What are their strengths?  Without doing a full SWOT analysis complete with flip charts, really look at who you have and run a filter on who the most entrepreneurial ones are.  This really doesn’t require a lot of over-analysis.  Do they understand the basic concept of revenue less expenses equals NET?  Do they comprehend that part of the expenses are insurance, mortgages, accounting fees, advertising and other overhead expenses?

Not every employee will need to “get it” but most do.  In very rare situations of heavy government subsidies or endowments are curators allowed to control exhibition and conservation programs without much check.  There usually needs to be offsetting revenue to cover these types of expenses and museum and arts administrators have really started to take notice of this business model that for many of them is fairly new.

I will remind everyone that with no money, there is generally no mission.  It is fine to have people strictly mission-based, but there needs to be a balance and more often than not in the past decade we have seen a co-mingling of staff focused on mission as well as NET.

You will hear some in the rank and file who perhaps don’t understand this new model state things like “our only mission is to make money” or “it is all about chasing the almighty dollar.”  Certainly I’ve heard it in the past and I doubt I it is the last.

Sales and marketing oriented individuals will be where you will want your staff to gravitate.  You will recognize employees who can only grasp the concept of being given a budget to spend.  This, unfortunately, is a good portion of the work force.  This is in no way to say there is no room for those individuals in an organization.  They may have invaluable talents that many others do not possess.

Earned Income

What exactly is earned income?  Well, it isn’t local, state or federal grants.  It is income that you, the non-profit actually earns.  You make something and sell it for a profit (hopefully) is an industrial example.  Or you provide a service, for example, your facility for an evening with a tour to a group, and you charge a fee for it.

This series will examine earned income possibilities for non-profits and specifically cultural attractions and museums.  While not every example is going to be applicable it helps to pull yourself away from your organization so that you don’t immediately say things like “that will never work here” or “we don’t allow that.”

Earned income can include the following:

– Food and Beverage

– Facility Rentals for Events

– In-house Events

– Landlord/Tenant relationships

– Retail Items

– Wholesale Items

– Licensing

– Location fees

– Membership

– Sponsorships

– Artifact or Exhibit Rental fees

– Endowment Income

Keep an open mind and we’ll help you look at ways to improve your non-profit.  It all takes buy in from your board and staff though and a shift in culture.  We’ll look at some ways to accomplish this without considerable capital expense.  These will be actual cases of increased income.  There is no shortage of ideas out there.  But fundamental changes to the way you do business that will increase your earned income has been much harder to find.

How St. Petersburg became the cultural center of the west coast of Florida – Part 4

The Product and Who Was Promoting It

As previously mentioned, the product has been a mix of cultural facilities: visual and performing, antiques shops and malls, bookstores, unique neighborhoods, city parks along the waterfront and the events that took place there, along with art galleries and restaurants.

The opening of the then Stouffer Vinoy Resort in 1992, refurbished by Fred Guest for just over $90 million, contributed significantly to the city’s image. Finally, the city had a resort that complemented its museums. This was at a time that the failed retail and entertainment concept known as Bay Plaza was becoming apparent.
It was also in 1992 that a group of people formed a group called Common Ground that promoted downtown St. Petersburg and held monthly street parties along Central Avenue. This group of marketing-oriented professionals also spent social time together and the friendships formed helped speed along the work to get behind marketing downtown St. Petersburg as a cultural destination.  I had mentioned this in more detail in Part 2.

With improving neighborhoods, real estate agents became involved in the process as they marketed homes in the downtown neighborhoods, all within close proximity of the cultural facilities mentioned before.

In 1996 a small group of people, coordinated by the Downtown Partnership with Marty Normile and Eric Carlson, formed to discuss downtown transportation. After many meetings, the City of St. Petersburg, after great involvement by Anita Treiser, agreed to donate to a new non-profit group one of the former trolleys that ran in operation at The Pier. The group included the museums, two hotels, the downtown merchants association and the Pier.  Here is the first brochure and timetable for the Looper – downtown St. Petersburg’s trolley.

FAM 017

A route was developed and each of the stakeholders made a contribution to the trolley. Plans were made to sell advertising. Professionals who had jobs to promote their own facilities did all this. I remember one hot day climbing over seats at Carlisle Ford with David Blackman and Mary Lee Hanley measuring spaces that could be used to sell advertising to help support the trolley, which we named The Looper.

wayne terri david

Wayne Atherholt of the Dali Museum, Terri Garnhart of the Museum of History and David Blackman of Great Explorations all cooperated regularly in jointly promoting the museums. This picture is circa 1993.

We managed to contract with a gambling ship which operated shuttle buses to handle the daily driving and maintenance. Unfortunately on the first day of operation the Looper had major engine problems because the oil was low. Our first major setback had just occurred. Undaunted we continued with the assistance of the city and the stakeholders and today the Looper is still in operation connecting the major cultural facilities, lodging establishments, entertainment complexes, antiques malls and all the downtown galleries, restaurants and retail shops. Of course, office workers and tourists became the target audience for using the system.

An early article on the Looper trolley appeared in the St. Petersburg Times.

An early article on the Looper trolley appeared in the St. Petersburg Times.

At about this time the Welcome Guide Map and its owners, Jim Wray and Chuck Wray, got involved as a commercial operation to promote St. Petersburg with a map specifically aimed at the downtown to help position the area as a cultural destination. Florida Suncoast Tourism Promotions, under the leadership of Drake Decker, also helped in many ways by distributing cooperative materials for the cultural attractions such as Museum Month.  I also recall Darlene Kole putting together a coop ad for us in SEE Magazine.

A VIP card included admission to four downtown museums and was sold through the Vinoy and AAA.  An ad that appeared in SEE Magazine promoting the museums.  An insert into key zip codes through Val-Pak promoted four downtown museums.  And finally, a colorful poster was produced and made available to area hotels and businesses to promote the museums of St. Petersburg.

A VIP card included admission to four downtown museums and was sold through the Vinoy and AAA. An ad that appeared in SEE Magazine promoting the museums. An insert into key zip codes through Val-Pak promoted four downtown museums. And finally, a colorful poster was produced and made available to area hotels and businesses to promote the museums of St. Petersburg.

Cooperative Marketing of the Product

Much of the cooperative marketing has been mentioned in the prior pages; however, it cannot go unsaid that these efforts included many low-cost techniques: maps, press releases, joint efforts, group efforts, events, neighborhood parties, happy hours, brochures, posters, and a great spirit among those involved helped make the hard work a lot of pleasure.

Mayor David Fischer held visioning sessions in the mid 1990s that further solidified what the marketing people already knew; downtown St. Petersburg indeed was the center for the arts in the Tampa Bay area. It wasn’t until the travel editor Gerry Volgenau from The Detroit Free Press visited that we finally got someone who could see our vision and write about it.

The fact was, our common vision had become a reality. At the time the article was published, it featured the headline “Florida’s Culture Coast” (reprinted on page 29) with a dateline of St. Petersburg. It was finally recognized that St. Petersburg had become the arts center of the West Coast of Florida. This was the first time, in 1996, that we finally got some major coverage of what we had been working so hard to achieve — recognition that the arts and culture were transforming the city, contributing to its economic success, and making downtown St. Petersburg a lively and exciting place.

The story that finally broke for downtown St. Petersburg being recognized as the cultural center of the west coast of Florida.

The story that finally broke for downtown St. Petersburg being recognized as the cultural center of the west coast of Florida.

Museum Month continued despite storms and even an oil spill that sent visitors packing away. The First Night organization helped start the event in St. Petersburg under the leadership of Pat Mason and Jim Durning.  This was another event that took many of the arts organizations under an umbrella and packaged them to show a critical mass of arts and culture.  It most recently celebrated its 20th anniversary in St. Petersburg.

Another major turning point for the city took place during the run of the Titanic exhibition, which drew over 830,000 visitors to downtown St. Petersburg.  The brochure promoting the exhibition also included wording on the other cultural attractions of downtown and briefly went under the branding of the QuARTer.   A group of developers were visiting the city to consider a large entertainment complex near the museum on vacant land used to park school and tour buses. A line extended outside the museum building as people waited to buy tickets for the first available tour – and it was at night.

The Florida International Museum received coverage all over the world for its record-breaking Titanic exhibition that spanned 27,000 square feet and 830,000 visitors in six months.  All group tour operators, wholesalers and travel media received this piece on the destination that focused on downtown St. Petersburg's arts and cultural appeal.

The Florida International Museum received coverage all over the world for its record-breaking Titanic exhibition that spanned 27,000 square feet and 830,000 visitors in six months. All group tour operators, wholesalers and travel media received this piece on the destination that focused on downtown St. Petersburg’s arts and cultural appeal.

The hardest selling point for the developers was whether anyone was going to go downtown St. Petersburg to a movie or restaurant at night. They took one look at the line around the Florida International Museum and the rest is now history. Baywalk, an entertainment complex featuring multi-screen cinemas, retails shops, restaurants and nightclubs continues to be successful — and a cultural institution was primarily responsible for convincing them to give St. Petersburg a try.

Conclusion

Each city and town in Florida, or across the world for that matter, can benefit from some of the lessons that St. Petersburg learned. Many of the people involved in the early days of transforming this city are now scattered around the country.  Each of them were creative and passionate people who were enjoyable to be around and had positive attitudes.  It wasn’t something borne of money or power, changing St. Petersburg was borne from the spirit of so many dedicated individuals whose passion was not profit but challenge.

The critical key, in my opinion, to creating a common goal was to create an atmosphere that was conducive to these creative people to gather, have fun, work hard and work together. Downtown St. Petersburg became such a place with its many features described in this brief overview of how the city became a cultural destination.

A creative culture was born that exists today making St. Petersburg the cultural center of the west coast of Florida now with multiple unique arts districts, including Beach Drive with its concentration of museums, the Central Arts District with its galleries, arts retail, arts education and artist studios, the Grand Central District with multiple arts facilities including commercial arts education facilities and the Warehouse Arts District south of Grand Central that features the largest working pottery in the southeast in an old freight railway station plus single artists studios in old warehouse space.

Today St. Petersburg is without a doubt the cultural center of the west coast of Florida and could very easily be argued to be the cultural center of the state.