The operational aspects of the visitor centers at parks and historic sites are easy to take for granted. But first impressions are as important for places as they are for people, and the welcome provided by a well-run visitor center can set the tone for people’s enjoyment of a site and its attractions.
People counting technology can be a valuable tool for improving those operations, providing insights into how best to schedule and allocate staff as well as which exhibits are drawing interest and attention. Perhaps most important, people counters provide the hard data required to justify funding requests, whether for ongoing expenses or in support of a facility renovation or expansion. Even centers operated as part of 501(c)(3) or non-profit organizations need the solid information that any for-profit retail or hospitality business routinely uses.
At a minimum, visitor centers should place people counting sensors at entrances and exits. The time-stamped data produced by these systems is more accurate (and less labor-intensive to obtain) than using staff to conduct manual counts. In addition, visitor centers get valuable information about what times of day, days of the week, and seasons of the year attract the most people.
This data can help determine if it makes sense to expand (or contract) the center’s operating hours, and can also help to optimize labor, ensuring the center is fully staffed at its busiest times but not overstaffed at quieter times.
Investing in people counting technology placed in key locations throughout a visitor center provides even richer insights. Measuring foot traffic can determine which exhibits are successful at drawing people to them. Operators can figure out what works and what doesn’t, try new approaches, and then test the success of their efforts.
By determining traffic flows throughout a center, people counters also reveal how the center’s physical layout affects usage. Does the design pull visitors through the entire center, or are only a few areas popular? Under-used space is not only a waste in itself, but it can also negatively affect future funding requests.
Once people counters determine how people actually use the center, operators can figure out ways to maximize their assets. Are features that are attractive to children easily identified in brochures, maps, and signage? Is information available in the major languages spoken by visitors? Are staff trained to communicate all the features of the center? Addressing these issues will help solve the challenge, but operators won’t even be aware of the scope of the problem until they have hard data in hand.
The analytic insights provided by people counters has become essential to the detailed reporting that now needs to accompany funding requests. When solid information about overall visitor totals can be supplemented with breakdowns by day, week, month, and season, those making financial decisions will be impressed with the level of detail that’s provided.
In addition, data from traffic patterns within a visitor center, such as that showing the impact of redesigned exhibits or clearer signage, demonstrate that operators are responsive to the needs of their guests and understand the center’s mission. Using quantifiable information as the basis for a success story is a powerful proof of the impact of money well spent.