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ALVA sees public caution in museums return

Robert Collins, Public ‘highly cautious’ about returning to museums, Museums Association, 11 May 2020

Confidence in whether an attraction can maintain social distancing is crucial in determining whether people will visit.

The public are “highly cautious” about returning to museums and other visitor attractions once the coronavirus lockdown eases, according to new research from the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (Alva).

A survey of people who had recently visited an attraction found that only 16% would visit museums and art galleries “as soon as the opportunity arises”.

More than half (54%) said they would wait and see what happened “for a short while”, and almost a third (29%) were “unlikely to want to visit for a long time”.

People were more likely to want to return immediately to outdoor attractions: 31% said they would go to country parks and nature reserves as soon as possible, and 29% said this about gardens.

Alva said this relates to the perception that it is easier to maintain social distancing in large open spaces. One respondent commented: “It will be difficult with hordes of foreign tourists flooding through the doors and so I’ll probably leave visiting this year”.

Other respondents cited their fear of sparking a second wave of the virus by visiting too early.

The average time before people planned to visit an attraction was about five months. Alva found there had been a “growing anticipation” of visiting attractions within the next three to six months. Only 10% of people surveyed on 23-24 March planned to do this, compared with 29% responding on 20-22 April.

Alva says this trend may be “a reaction to horizons for overseas travel becoming further away”.

Older people were more wary about returning to public spaces. 44% of people aged 55 or over said they would feel anxious about taking a guided tour indoors, compared with 24% of under-35s.

Alva says visitor attractions face two key two practical challenges ahead of reopening: how to present themselves in a way that will encourage public trust, and how to communicate in a way that builds confidence and captures the public mood.

It says venues need to prioritise limiting visitor numbers and ensure genuine social distancing, “not just lip-service”.

And it emphasises that visitor-facing staff can have a “hugely positive” impact by providing a warm welcome, visibly cleaning and responding patiently to visitor concerns.

But even these measures may not convince some: more than a fifth of people (21%) said they would not feel comfortable going on a day out to a visitor attraction until a proven hospital treatment or vaccine for the coronavirus was found.

Their survey was answered by 668 adults how had been to at least one visitor attraction in 2019. Alva plans to run the research again once conditions have changed enough to potentially impact the public mood.