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Yes! Hospitality in Museums to Upgrade the Visitor Experience

Wouldn't it be nice is museums were more hospitable? Friendlier?

Museums talk a lot about the visitor experience. Why don't they raise the bar and talk about hospitality?

Scrabble tiles with the words "say thank you."
Hospitality in museums includes basic politeness and more

Museums do a lot of things well--collect, preserve, and display their artifacts. And they focus on providing learning experiences for all visitors. And they work hard to be financially viable. And they connect with their communities to be relevant. But sometimes hospitality gets short shrift.

Hospitality begins with the basics

  • Eye contact from staff, and a smile!

  • Saying please and thank you, and "good on ya" if it's an Australian museum!

  • Efficient arrival processes

  • Sufficient seating

  • Clean restrooms

  • Good wayfinding/navigation tools

Beyond the basics

"Unreasonable Hospitality: The Remarkable Power of Giving People More Than They Expect" describes the practice of excellent hospitality in the restaurant world that can be applied to museums. One impactful statement is, "Service is black and white. Hospitality is color." What if more museums applied "color" to their hospitality?

What if the culture of museums was, "We give visitors more than they expect?" What if labels used a font size that says, "We welcome you whether you have sight limitations or not." What if museum staff noticed a visitor with the body posture that indicated they had a question and staff asked if they could help? What if all museum staff were trained not just to do their job as a registrar or a museum store clerk, but also were taught the skills to provide excellent hospitality?

The difference between service and hospitality is often described as service being the tasks involved in helping a customer or visitor, whereas hospitality is the friendly, positive interaction that wraps around that task. Wouldn't it be superb is museums not only sold you a ticket, but staff showed through their body language and words and smile that they were delighted you have come to visit?

Sign with the words, "Do Something Great."
Museum hospitality improves the visitor experience

Unexpected hospitality has benefits

From a business perspective, hospitality can improve not just the visitor experience, but the bottom line. Impressive hospitality improves relationships with visitors, increases repeat visitation, improves word of mouth marketing, provides opportunities to upsell (annual membership, upcoming exhibit, shop sales, meal in the cafe).

Challenges for museums in providing hospitality

Yes, museums already have many overwhelming responsibilities. Yes, hospitality training costs money. Yes, organizational change is hard. But if hospitality will make visitors happier, will encourage them to return, and will benefit the bottom line, why isn't it more frequently seen at museums?

I wonder if great art brings visitors in the door the first time, but hospitality brings them back again? Have you been to a museum with excellent hospitality?


Books About Museums, Travel, Culture, & Wellbeing 

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