5 June 2014

Inaugural attractions management conference held in Cape Town

​Online ticketing, maximising profitability and spend, developing staff, and making the most of marketing were some of the key themes at the inaugural Attractions Management in Southern Africa conference held in Cape Town this week.

Chris Webster of Wink Associates

Skills can be taught, but attitude comes from the heart. – Tony Rubin, MD of Maropeng

The conference was aimed at those in the travel and tourism industry who operate attractions – from large attractions in World Heritage Sites such as the Cradle of Humankind and Robben Island, to smaller operators of local museums, wine farms and amusement parks.

The conference was the brainchild of Sabine Lehmann, CEO of the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway and chairperson of Cape Town Tourism, who opened the event by saying that attractions management conferences are regularly held all over the world – except in Africa.

After attending large attractions conferences in the United States, she felt motivated to start one in South Africa, so that more people can benefit from sharing their knowledge about attractions management in a conference setting.

The conference’s keynote speaker was Chris Webster of Wink Associates in the United Kingdom, who is a specialist in the business behind attractions and ensuring they are as profitable and successful as possible.

Webster presented research showing several insights, including the fact that the greater a visitor’s average ‘dwell time’ (the time they spend at an attraction), the higher the market penetration of the attraction is likely to be.

For instance, if a visitor spends an hour on average at an attraction, the market penetration of that attraction is likely to be a lot lower than one where visitors spend an average of four hours. The trick for attractions managers seeking to improve profitability, then, is to increase dwell time.

Webster also spoke about the need to ‘pace’ visitors through an attraction, and pointed out that ideally attractions should start and end on a high, or ‘wow’, moment.

He shared that it is ideal to keep visitors engaged with the attraction directly for about 50% of their time overall – less time will leave them bored, more time will leave them overwhelmed. He also pointed out that understanding visitor flow is key to maximising visitor spend.

Sharing solutions

Lehmann said her highlights of the conference were ‘the opportunity to connect with other attraction managers, and the realisation that we all share similar problems and can share solutions’.

Lehmann said she thought the best talks at the conference ‘were genuine case studies where attractions managers shared their authentic stories’.

She thought one of the best presentations was by Judy Mann of uShaka Sea World in Durban, who spoke about the need for thorough visitor surveys and the importance of not asking questions that will lead to answers you would like rather than need.

Kate Turkington (left), Sabine Lehmann and Karen Hilliard of conference organisers African Agenda

For example, Mann said in her presentation, titled ‘Who are our visitors and how do we know what they want?’, ‘If you ask people if they had fun, they are going to say yes!’ It is also important, she said, to ask visitors what they didn’t like.

She also pointed out that visitor surveys need to be carefully researched, using both quantitative and qualitative methods.

Tony Rubin, managing director of Maropeng, the official visitor centre of the Cradle of Humankind, gave a presentation on the importance of hiring the right people and keeping them motivated – another recurring theme at the conference.

‘I believe attitude is a state of mind – it cannot be trained in people,’ said Rubin, who added, ‘We don’t interview staff, we audition them. Every member of staff is a cast member … They’re there because it’s a calling, it’s a lifestyle, because they want to be there … Whether a tour guide, a waiter or a cleaner, we all come to work with the same ambition: to make the visitor feel welcome.

‘Skills can be taught, but attitude comes from the heart,’ he added, warning, ‘You cannot delight your visitor unless you, as an employer, delight your employees.’

Travel journalist Kate Turkington, the MC for the conference, said, ‘A recurring theme coming out of the conference is for attractions to be visitor-centric. Think OF your visitor, LIKE your visitor, BE your visitor.’