Multi-function ticketing for a world-class venue

Paul Roberts, Ticketing and Information Manager at The British Museum, explores the challenges and opportunities of modern ticketing systems for the Museum’s varied visitor offerings.

The opening of the World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre (WCEC) at the British Museum in 2014 adds an impressive new space, offering excellent facilities for visitors, researchers and museum staff alike. The new purpose-built Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery, a major part of the new Centre, opened with the BP exhibition ‘Vikings: life and legend’ on 6th March, and also provides an exciting challenge and opportunity for ticketing.

Sales Desks

One of the key decisions to be made within museums and cultural organisations is the placement of ticket, membership and information desks in relation to ticket collection and entry points. At the British Museum, as for many major venues, there are a number of potential exhibition galleries, in a variety of sizes, spread over different floors and often at opposite ends of the building; some of which may be used simultaneously for concurrent exhibitions. We are lucky at the British Museum to have the natural central point of the Great Court, where most ticket sales capability can easily be based to maximise both queue control and merchandise upsell opportunities. To save someone going straight to the exhibition entrance and having no means of buying a ticket though, the question of whether or not to ticket at or close to entry points is always something that needs to be considered.

At the British Museum, most ticket sales capability is based in the Great Court to maximise both queue control and merchandise sales opportunities
At the British Museum, most ticket sales capability is based in the Great Court to maximise both queue control and merchandise sales opportunities

Although they are often an extremely helpful secondary sales point, the danger in providing outposts by gallery entrances is that a smaller desk with potentially more limited capabilities risks becoming the main focus as people unused to the building either spot it first or simply join any queue they see. Signage, not just at the desks but from entry door onwards, is essential in directing traffic flow for busy exhibitions to make sure that any queues even out and people are given a clear choice. The other issue which arises is the management of competing queues for entry and sales in the same space and the need to make sure that these are clearly defined and cause no confusion for visitors. Planning where queues will form and what formation they should take, as well as allocating resources (both physical queue management tools and staff) to help maintain this when it doesn’t always naturally occur, is a crucial part of the Front of House working day for any ticketing team.

Stopping Touts

There are a number of security-related issues to take into account as well which have a knock-on effect upon ticketing and ticket holders. Ticket security itself, especially for ‘blockbuster’ exhibitions where the potential for fraud is both more appealing and more lucrative, is an important area to consider.

There is a wide variety of exhibition entry methods available – from mobile barcode scanners or membership card readers to standard, on-the-day, till-printed thermal tickets – all of which need to be factored into the layout of a new entry point. Especially with thermal tickets, protecting and auditing onsite ticket stock and adding security features like unique holograms, foils, heat-sensitive paper or even just sequential numbering can be helpful in adding an extra layer of security and just keeping peace of mind – though factoring in the potential cost of adding these features against the actual risk of fraud is also important. Finding adequate and accessible storage for these tickets in a new space can often also be overlooked.

With barcode and membership card reading, having proper tracking – and a system which can log and flag errors to ensure no duplication or multiple entries – protects not just valuable revenue but also the visitor experience, as it prevents any chance of overcrowding. The challenge often comes from trying to verify details from parallel client databases (such as ticketing and membership) at the same entry point and ensuring both feed securely into reports relating to the overall capacity for the new space.

Having more up-to-date technology, lighting and generally built-in room adaptability not only improve the display – they can often also increase and improve what the ticketing team can actually offer. If, with limited re-working, a new exhibition space can be safely used for events like private views, public talks, concerts or even live filming – as ‘event cinema’ looks to become increasingly popular and take ticketing to people who don’t even need to be onsite to enjoy the show – then the range of sales opportunities is massively expanded. So long as the logistics of space management is strictly controlled so that daily ticketing for onsite visitors is neither impeded by nor itself impedes the reach, ambition and enjoyment of events, this can become a real draw card for corporate clients, cinema partners and even one off event or conference organisers.

Added Value

Premium ticketing – pairing the sale of exhibition tickets with added benefits such as tours, curator’s introductions and products such as multi-media guides or restaurant packages – can also become a very attractive proposition in a new space with expanded facilities. Within the museum context, balancing and distinguishing any premium ticketing offer from any specifically ‘membership’ offer is worth thinking about though. An expanding membership can bring a valuable and committed group of supporters whose needs and aspirations, both for open access and exclusivity need to be factored in to the potential space usage as well. Improving the member experience, while still catering to the needs of on-the-day tourist visitors and other diverse groups, is something which many organisations continue to have to balance, even within the largest and most flexible exhibition rooms.

Evacuation strategies, fire plans, alarms, protection for cash handling routes, positioning of phones and network points, CCTV, protocols for security assistance, access requirements, even just the positioning of the furniture itself – there is so much that goes into the planning for a new space, as well as giving ticketing teams a safe working environment, that it’s almost unbelievable to think that it eventually all comes together. Once it’s done though, the challenge that remains is finding a way to make the most of all those opportunities.


Leading supplier Tor Systems have worked with the British Museum for over 14 years, read their case study and discover the many solutions they have supplied to the museum.