After lockdown: engaging visitors at a distance

June 1, 2020

In this series of ‘Reach Out & Share’ updates we’re sharing and exploring with you how digital media experiences and practices may help museums in the future, once lockdown is over. In this post we’re covering 6 ways to help visitors feel closer, whilst keeping their distance.

In our last post ‘Future Visitor Behaviours: AV Ideas & Support,  we explored some of the changes the attractions’ sector may see once they reopen, including three key human responses to be proactively considered:

1. Wanting to feel closer whilst maintaining distance

2. Awareness of hygiene and a wariness of touch

3. Greater acceptance of the positivity of digital technology


In today’s update we’re covering the first behaviour: wanting to feel closer whilst maintaining distance.


We mentioned in our previous post that we at AY-PE are all about the end goal – what visitors will take away from their experience. Our team has created AV software for over 100 attractions and we’ve always done this by focusing on inducing psychological inspiration and emotions in a visitor – connecting to and embedding a message within them. So we’re all too aware of the possible psychological sensitivities that will need to be considered once lockdown is over.


“66 days to forge a new habit”


It takes two months or 66 days to forge a new habit or routine – changing the way we think or do things (University College London research). In the UK we’re now into the second month of lock-down with no end announced and with many of us knowing that we will be in for a recommended three months. So we’re likely to pass the 66 day mark for forging new habits.


One of the first and primary things we were all told when the pandemic hit home was and still is – to socially distance – keeping at least 2 metres apart. From hearing how countries around the world have relaxed lockdown measures or their plans for when they do so – we know that social distance will endure for some time to come.


But, we are all human and value human to human connection. Communities coming together to clap on a Thursday night, children teaching their grandparents to Skype, thousands of people taking part in group fundraisers, dances, and uniquely moving or hysterical online community music performances – Owain’s Big house Band (image below) for one.


Engaging with people, emotions and stories are at the core of us and the urge to connect and immerse with others may be even stronger now distance has kept us apart and collective creativity has brought us closer together.

“We’re listening”


We’ve listened to our attractions community – from museum focused networks like #MusuemHour to webinars with the wider attractions industry asking are “Are Experiences F*cked?” (hosted by Swamp Motel). Concerns on managing flow of traffic, two metre distancing and hygiene whilst protecting and encouraging the visitor experience are actively being discussed in the communities.


So in addition to new way finding routes, flow management, extra hygiene precautions and many other changes which attractions anticipate, what else might be done? Below we share thoughts from our expert corner of the museums, attractions and heritage world.


How might digital media help museums and attractions to work with these two contrasting positions: feeling closer but at a distance?


1. Remove the boundaries

2. Open up another world

3. Tell the story with space

4. Use space to engage body and mind

5. Shared VR experiences

6. Shake what you’ve got!



1. Remove the boundaries

The right digital media storyline and content can connect to a visitor emotionally, spiritually and with a sense of background/ belonging – that’s the beauty of AV in immersing the senses in sight and sound and evoking emotion. But what of the physicality of it? How to draw in visitors without physically drawing them together around a screen? How’s about a really simple approach – remove the boundary. Remove the border. Work with digital media which seems edgeless and psychologically remove some of the desire to stand so close to the edge of a box. Blend or set dress it even? Opening out the experience in this way could allow for greater engagement – learning by social interaction at a ‘safe’ distance.



2. Open up another world

The transparency, reflective abilities and flexibility of projection film and gauze has improved vastly over the last few years, providing an alternative to the weighty Pepper’s Ghost glass of the past and delivering the astounding stage performances which Twitter goes into meltdown over because Lady GaGa or Coldplay have appeared as ‘holograms’. However you choose to create a hologram you’re creating an experience where, with the right film and sound, the visitor can feeling part of the exhibit’s world, but at a safe, open distance.



3. Tell the story with space

Build on the social media ‘trending’ phenomena of largescale, 3D-projection-mapped, animations or films being played across buildings – and open up your venue’s space with floor to ceiling immersion of the stories and sounds you want to tell. The large scale, no frame nature of projection surfaces such as the WW1 Naval Battle film shown on the actual hull of HMS Caroline (image below) – provides authenticity in a historic setting, immersion through epic, contextualising sound and a memorable visual display enjoyed by many, whilst allowing for a safe distance.


Perhaps there may be as much value in using a space to tell a multi-layered story in one immersive yet open way, as there is to exhibiting numbers of artefacts with shorter, more isolated stories and a need to filter/ manage visitors pathways through them?

4. Use space to engage body and mind

For extra integration – largescale, projection mapped interactives could incorporate combinations of body mapping, voice recognition, gesture tech and AI, meaning the visit is engaging, open, shareable yet tailored to the individual in a safe socially distanced environment.



5. Shared VR experiences

Another option would be to look at ‘virtual reality’ type domes that in a socially distanced context could accommodate anything from two visitors – sharing a unique 360degrees experience – to dozens of people in a large-scale dome. Avoiding the need for a VR headset these experiences are immersive, made to enjoy and share with others and also hygienically safe. More on this in our next update


This option may also be helpful to museums with confined or restricted spaces eg a Tower attraction – where an almost ‘1 in 1 out’ policy might have to rule to protect social distancing. An offer to immerse in a pseudo-VR/ 360degrees experience, combined with other learning activities set up outside the museum, could be an addition to access – benefiting both additional income streams and entertaining in the waiting times.



6. Shake what you’ve got

Taking the ideas down a few notches (and pennies) one of the simplest ways to tap into the desire to feel closer to others whilst maintaining distance AND the upsurge in community-friendly social media usage – is setting aside part of the museum area for an Insta-Museum experience. Although debatable in terms of message value and learning – if branded/ themed/ set correctly, the area could be another layer to the stories told elsewhere in the museum.


Add in an option for visitors to immerse and share moments of themselves within cleverly designed AV software (designed with attraction theme and narrative in mind) and you’ll be promoting and strengthening your message to the world. All this whilst providing a safely distanced experience that’s highly sharable amongst the TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat social media communities which are more connected to positive messaging than ever before. More on this in our last update



How the 6 points may help in other ways

The last point combined with clear messaging that you’re thinking about visitor safety, will help in encouraging visitors back to a museum. Some of the other options above may seem an investment when museum budgets may well be tight – but the great thing about AV is its versatility. Developing the right digital media software design and programming means the ability to use some of the above experiences in different ways: for private paying functions, higher priced VIP experiences and more that could boost income.


These are just a few ideas where new or integrated/ adapted AV can help address a visitor’s desire to feel closer to others whilst maintaining distance – but there’s plenty more – what are your ideas?


Next up:

Awareness of hygiene and a wariness of touch


Coming soon:

Greater acceptance of the positivity of digital technology


See you later everyone – keep sharing, chatting and keep safe!