Travel broadens the mind a bit….

While travel broadens the mind, it also makes you appreciate what there is on your doorstep. Your blogger has just returned from magical Venice, having enjoyed the comfort and excellent organisation of Martin Randall Travel on a cultural tour. But in every other Venetian venue, whether a church or museum, I was reminded of UK museums as they were decades ago before customer services were embraced as standard. There is no doubt that Italians take their cultural heritage seriously but on the whole don’t want to share it with anyone else. Numerous notices on entrance doors remind you not to take photographs, use your mobile, eat or drink, as well as a whole host of other illustrated but indecipherable actions including two figures together crossed through with a red line. Not sure what that meant – perhaps not holding hands?

And do not try to enter anywhere without the right ticket even if the wind is howling outside and you are fumbling for your coins. Don’t ask any questions either, because a lack of English on their part (and my poor Italian) will ensure that you won’t get an answer. Fortunately, we cultural tourists were expertly guided by art historian Polly Buston and rounded up efficiently by our own tour manager even when divided into two groups by fully loaded vaporettas. So we were able to make the most of the splendour of numerous churches as well as the famous sights of San Marco. (See photo of San Giorgio Maggiore by your blogger.)

The UK revolution in customer services goes back 30 years perhaps. It was something the commercial attractions understood early on and perfected. Gradually the museum functionaries who obstructed visitor and information flow were moved to the back of the gallery and customer services training arrived just about everywhere in a big way. So this Easter as you explore our museums, galleries and heritage attractions make a special point to thank the numerous staff who are welcoming, well informed and actually want to share UK’s heritage with visitors.

Cultural tourism is flourishing

Despite a cold March, Venice was flourishing – noticeably with Chinese tour groups as well as numerous school trips – and of course the older European and American culture vulture visitors. Two recent reports explore the value and impact of cultural tourism in the UK and Europe.

The first report states that arts investment contributes up to £4 to the local UK economy for every £1 spent, according the Local Government Association (LGA). The report, entitled Driving growth through local government investment in the arts, shows that the arts sector provides nearly one million jobs and the UK’s 67,000 cultural businesses contribute £28 billion to the UK economy every year. And a good proportion of that is spent by UK and overseas visitors on day trips or holidays.

This is four times as much as the cultural sector receives through local authorities and from Government. So making further cuts in museums, galleries, theatre and arts spending generally is a short-sighted policy.

The second report explores how visitors get their information. Culture24’s report Moving Targets looks at ways that the sector can better target cultural tourists through online and digital media. According to the report in the development of services focusing on digital cultural content, as well as within cultural tourism more generally, there has been a tendency to focus on supply driven ‘build it and they will come’ approaches, usually to the detriment of the ultimate end user. The report’s recommendations suggest a niche approach to reach the many different types of cultural tourists. Think big but act small – introduce new content-rich initiatives in stages – and evaluate, not just measure, outcomes but in engagement.

This makes eminent sense – learning from others is a key – and more information is available on

I am sure we could fill a whole “cloud” with failed digital projects from early websites to exciting social media initiatives thought up in the marketing, PR department or a university department without any consideration of who it is for.

Tourism Week and Culture

We are in the middle of Tourism Week organised by VisitEngland with numerous events around the country. So it’s appropriate that VisitEngland has announced a new strategic partnership with Arts Council England to develop cultural tourism. While the most constructive developments are surely those on the ground, it is useful to have a more active relationship at the top. The immediate outcome will be access to £3m worth of lottery funding for new cultural tourism initiatives.

This year’s Tourism Week is focused strongly on customer services and skills training in the tourism sector – and that include everyone who welcomes visitors. London 2012 has shown us, as VisitEngland’s chairman Penny Cobham points out, that it is the personal welcome that makes the difference between a visit and a memorable experience. (Back to Venice!)