Capturing the visitor experience

23 Oct 2013

Dr Jan Packer is on a mission to capture the elusive ‘visitor experience’, pioneering a new tool that will enable researchers to quantify experiences at cultural sites and events.

Widely considered as the core product of tourism and leisure, the visitor experience is the “package” of thoughts, feelings and sensations that engagement in a tourism or leisure activity elicits in participants.

“The need to understand the visitor experience is common to many different fields of interest – tourism, leisure, events, heritage interpretation, museums and zoos – all of these exist to provide visitors with experiences,” Dr Packer said.

“There is thus clearly a need to understand and have the ability to measure this elusive thing we call ‘the visitor experience’.”

The difficulty lies in the inherently subjective nature and quality of experience s, making them challenging to measure .

“Researchers have explored the visitor experience qualitatively, but this process is time-consuming for both the participants and the researchers and does not lend itself to large-scale data collection, or to comparison between sites or among different visitor groups,” Dr Packer said.

Working with Professor Roy Ballantyne and Mr Nigel Bond, Dr Packer has developed a checklist allowing participants to quickly work through a list of adjectives or nouns and tick the ones that best encapsulate their own experience.

Dr Packer said this has the advantage over an open-ended approach in that everyone is responding to the same set of items, and has the advantage over a rating scale approach in that a large number of items can be included without making the task too onerous.

A recent study of visitors to the Australian War Memorial (AWM) utilised this checklist to investigate aspects of the visitor experience that contribute to a heightened sense of national identity or attachment to Australia, as a result of a visit to the AWM .

The study found the unique experiences offered by the AWM which engender a sense of privilege and respect among visitors contributed to increasing the ‘attachment’ aspects of national identity (the extent to which the person identifies with and feels attached to Australia), and decreasing the ‘criticism’ aspects (the extent to which the person regrets or devalues being an Australian).

The checklist is also being trialed at a number of institutions in the USA, Canada and New Zealand using an online database which will enable comparisons of visitor experiences at different sites.

The participating institutions will have access to these results which may help to improve the design and marketing of the visitor experiences they offer, as well as provide a benchmarking measure.