PEOPLE, PLANET, PROFIT: CREATING A NEW REALITY FOR TOURISM
The University of Exeter (UoE), Cornwall Campus, has organised a series of webinars on the triple bottom line performance that a company seeks to achieve: People, Planet, Profit (PPP). On 10 December 2020, Dr Laura Phillips (Lecturer at the UoE Business School and member of the VISTA AR Project) was invited as a keynote speaker to present the webinar “Creating a New Reality for Tourism”, in which 39 representatives of Cornish organisations participated. The webinar focused on how VR/AR technology can help tourism businesses, especially SMEs, to increase their value while reducing the impact of the pandemic.
The new trends in visitor experience, in view of the many existing tourist media’can be summed up as 3: experiential tourism, personalisation & accessibility of visitor experiences and responsible/sustainable/ ecological tourism.
– Experiential Tourism takes into account the fact that, rather than simply observing, visitors are looking for experiences and interaction that engender engagement and emotion.
– Because sometimes a standard model does not meet everyone’s needs, the concept of Personalisation and Accessibility implies offering something that goes beyond a basic standard, which is adapted to the customer’s wishes.
Responsible/Sustainable/Eco Tourism (CSR) focuses on reducing the carbon footprint or the type of energy used and how to explain it to visitor, etc. ‘Sustainability’ refers to the environmental impact of tourism, but also to the impact of tourism on the cultures, economies, people, sites and destinations that peoplevisit. The pandemic has accelerated this, leading to behavioural changes in people’s relationship to the natural and social environment, favouring outdoor, local visits and therefore developing their interest in cultural heritage.
There are many trends in terms of technology in the field of tourism, voice recognition, AI, machine learning… They include VR (such as a 360-degree in situ visit for a specific exhibition or a remote visit), which can be very useful for pre-visit decision making, and AR, which combines the real world with virtual elements and can allow objects to be seen in their probable original appearance. Last year, Mintel conducted a study of visitor attractions in the UK in 2019: they surveyed more than 1500 internet users and found that for those who had visited an attraction in the last 12 months, only 10% had taken part in any interactive technology and only 12% had made an audio visit. Although these technologies are becoming more and more widespread, their actual use is still under development. One of the reasons for this is that many organisations/sites are very sceptical about the cost of this technology, its longevity, its practicality, and whether or not it enriches an experience. AR has become more affordable financially and technically, with more and more organisations offering their members access to their content management system to create an application. However, the overall cost of these technologies is not fixed and depends, among other things, on the content resources of the site. VISTA’s objective is to see how to integrate these technologies into the fabric of a site or museum’s business model, create opportunities, increase customer numbers and bring in new sources of revenue that could support the sustainability and preservation of sites.
The “business model” is a framework that answers 3 fundamental questions: Who is the customer? What value is proposed to them and how can this value be created through the visitor experience? How does it benefit the organisation?
The Visit Britain Study (‘COVID-19 Consumer Sentiment Tracker‘) carried out in August 2020 shows that since this first period of closure of tourist sites in March 2020, the way visitors experience the sites and the challenges faced by businesses are no longer the same. The general forecast is that, from next spring/summer, visitor confidence will increase and that people will be more and more inclined to go out, visit the sites and travel, in their own country. But, despite everything, over the next 3 to 5 years there will still be a kind of wait-and-see attitude with regard to the way visitors experience the sites, which invites us to think about how to approach tourism in the long term. At the moment, some of the important factors influencing consumers’ decision making are the flexibility of booking and the ability to cancel free of charge, basic safety and hygiene measures (wearing masks, sanitation, disinfection and social distancing) but also contactless technology and contactless payment. VISTA has started working on ways to enable people to enjoy AR/VR without discouraging visitors: BYOD (bringing your own device) or access to the technology from home.
VISTA AR’s challenge is to adapt the technology to different types of sites with very different objectives and constraints. Some sites are in a closed space (such as Exeter Cathedral or the Musée sous-marin of Lorient), others are outdoor and unbounded (such as the SWCP). Several tools have been developed with the partner sites, within the framework of the project, to share with other organisations, post-project:
– The VI Dashboard (Visitor Intelligence) for which technologies have been used not only to improve the visitor experience but also to better understand visitors. The different tools used to do this are geospatial tracking and text analysis.
– The Business Model Innovation Workbook is a manual that explains to a site how to understand its current business model, how to design and develop an interpretation around the site’s assets, transform it into technology, see how this fits into the delivery of the visitor experience, and also if and how to charge for it. This encompasses the whole process of designing, implementing and innovating a new business model.
– AR/VR tools: the aim was to create various tools (apps and digital content) in order to reduce the cost of these technologies for the sites and facilitate the development of both technologies.
VISTA has been working for 3 years with the National Trust on the development and implementation of these technologies on 2 mining sites in Cornwall: Botallack Tin Mine  and East Pool Mine (Cornwall World Mining Heritage/UNESCO), whose case studies were presented by Cristina Mosconi (Post-doc at UoE). The first step was to analyse the Visitor Intelligence of these sites to find the most appropriate technology, targeting new audiences in harmony with the needs of the sites and local communities.
One of the big questions here in terms of interpretation is how different the sites are today from what they would have been in the heyday of the mining industry, two centuries ago. How to create something that is attractive to the visitor and sustainable for the local community and the site? This is where the digital transformation comes in. VISTA used a tool called the “Datasphere” to define the visitor’s journey. This is a panoptic framework, with the visitor at its centre, illustrating the data they generate in a broader approach to the sites. Indeed, the heart of interpretation design is understanding the profile of visitors (Who?), where they come from and where the attraction is located (Where?), why they visit the site (pre-visit) and what message the site wants to convey to them (Why?). This is the approach used for the NT sites.
An AR application has been created for Botallack, which offers the possibility of seeing what the mining landscape and underground looked like in the 1860s, by triggering a 3D stone reconstruction of the current landscape with a tablet. For East Pool, a VR experience was created, i.e. a virtual 3D model of the mine (a true-to-life historical reconstruction) to allow the visitor to live an immersive sensory experience, a virtual tour of the mine with VR headsets.
Technology is used here to address a number of issues: to provide an accurate reconstruction of the historic landscape, to improve accessibility to features and areas lost or difficult to access through digital exploration, and to inform visitors about key elements of local cultural identity. The 2 experiences – AR and VR – are due to be delivered in spring 2021, followed by a phase of evaluation and analysis of the user experience and ease of use, as well as the impact on revenue and visitor experience. In addition, in order to minimise the impact of the pandemic on the sites, VISTA has undertaken to ‘translate’ the AR app into an online experience (PC-readable, remote), to encourage people to visit the site when possible, but also to use it as a post-COVID communication tool. This online experience is a 360° video with 2 options: a ‘narrated fly-through’ and an ‘exploration’ version (interactive).
 For more information on Tin Mine, see article “Targeting new audiences using immersive technology“.
Dr Phillips then presented the case study of Exeter Cathedral  where the primary objective of the Cathedral was to increase the number of visitors and revenue, and improve visitor experience; the issue of accessibility and hidden spaces also needed to be considered.
4 devices have been created to respond to this second problem relating to the lack of accessibility:
– 3 interactive touch screens with digitised content of original books from ‘Library and Archives’ were therefore installed on site.
– Because a visit to the Cathedral’s rooftops is not accessible to everyone, a virtual reality representation of the roof has been created. There are two versions: one is a 360-degree view from the top of one of the towers. The other VR, called ‘the walk of faith’, is an experience where you feel as if you were walking at the top of the Cathedral from one of the towers, on a (real) plank.
– Because it is rare to be able to listen to the Cathedral Choir performances, a VR of the Choir has been created in order to allow you to enjoy 3 performances of the Choir virtually, thanks to the a VR helmet, while sitting in the stalls.
– The Minstrels’ Gallery is high up and very difficult to see. Therefore, a short AR video clip of the gallery has been made in which the statues of angels come to life and play their medieval musical instruments.
Additionally, 2 devices have been developed to increase the visitor number and revenue:
– A free AR application to download on the phone reproducing the Cathedral West Front with its original colours to encourage people sitting on the Green to enter and visit the building.
– A tablet-based audio-visual tour app allowing visitors to benefit from an interpretation and a visit organised around different experiences. Over time, the idea is to create different tours, tell different stories and try to encourage people to visit the Cathedral several times.
Technological tools have also been developed to better understand visitors, their behaviour, their interaction with the site and how this could help in designing how to integrate these AR/VR technologies. Surveys are undertaken before, during and after the visit:
– Pre-visit: thanks to surveys, it is possible to draw up a visitor demographic (socio-demographic: age, gender), their provenance (local tourists, from other regions, from overseas…) and also psychographic (people’s motivation to visit and how this can affect their behaviour when they are at the site and how they experience it).
– During the visit: there is geospatial monitoring, via an app, with positions mapped out via GPS, magnetic fields or by beacons and sensors. These different means indicate where people are going, what route they are taking and how much time they spend in the different parts of the site. Eye tracking, where visitors wear specially-designed glasses, allows you to see what people are looking at and how long they are looking at something. Another tool used is Text Analytics or natural language processing, which analyses the language used in reviews left online on dedicated sites (such as TripAdvisor).
Although this has not yet been used in the Cathedral, other forms of physiological response are being investigated such as measuring skin conductance and heart rate variation.
– Post-visit: in the traditional way, questionnaires to get direct feedback on their experience are given to visitors at the end of their visit.
By comparing the information provided in these 3 steps, it is possible to get an idea of how the design of these technological experiences affects the way people evaluate and communicate about the site afterwards, to compare their opinions before and after introduction of the technologies, to reflect on the visitor’s journey and the economic model of the site.
To illustrate this in pictures, Laura Dixon, Project Manager for VISTA AR, gave a live demonstration of the VISTA Dashboard with data from the Cathedral, giving an idea of the type of information that a site manager will be able to obtain on his/her site.
The Dashboard includes a section for analysing visitor text/comments and sentiments and a section for digital profiling, based on visitor geolocation, giving an idea of the most popular routes and points of interest.
Geospatial monitoring could become even more useful in today’s climate to manage the flow of people around the site with social distancing and to avoid crowds or queues.
If it is important to satisfy the visitor and encourage him/her to come to the site, profitability/sustainability are priorities. That is why, at the Cathedral, a brief PSM (Price Sensitivity Meter) study was carried out, offering a sample of what can be offered in terms of the AR/VR experience to around 100 visitors to find out how much they would be willing to pay for it. In the end, this will help to determine an ‘optimal’ price (the point at which the majority of people have found an acceptable price) and an ‘acceptable’ price range. Obviously, the variation in the amount depends on the public, the site and the interpretation. The finding is that with the tour application, most would suggest an additional payment for a tablet-based audio-visual tour. There are several revenue models, having free entry but paying for digital experiences, having an integrated price, etc.
The online attractions that VISTA is currently working on will also be studied in terms of the influence this may have on the willingness to pay for these experiences but also on the intention to visit the site, which is ultimately the primary objective.
 For more information, see article ‘Case Study – Exeter Cathedral‘