1st June 2020

A Grand Day In? Visitor attractions in a time of lockdown

animal portraits

In March 2020, with the country on the brink of covid-19 lockdown, the UK's visitor attractions were faced with a challenge: how could they continue to engage with the public when physical visits to museums, theatres and zoos were off limits?

Together with ALVA, the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, Deeson hosted a webinar exploring the ideas, solutions and learnings of key members of the attractions industry as they came to grips with these unprecedented circumstances.

We saw how visitor attractions have not only been able to successfully reach out to existing clients during this time, but in many instances have actually managed to grow their user base online. This demonstrates the importance of digital channels to the industry throughout the pandemic, and will be instrumental in the direction many organisations take in the future. (The role of the digital experience in this sector is something we're passionate about - take a look at this blog post).

As the webinar participants made clear, there are lots of different ways for visitor attractions to engage their audiences digitally, with this work broadly focused in four key areas: discover, study, create, and buy.

Chester Zoo Virtual Tour


Chester Zoo

Unsurprisingly for a large wildlife park, 97 per cent of Chester Zoo's income comes from visitors. With fixed monthly costs of almost half a million pounds just to look after the animals and plants, closing the park has a huge impact to the organisation's funds.

Director of Marketing Caroline Sanger-Davies explained how her marketing team decided to focus on keeping brand awareness high during lockdown, prioritising communication with visitors and the 130,000 paid members the Zoo depends on for support. One successful online enterprise took the form of virtual zoo days – filmed tours of the animal habitats with keepers on hand to provide information on the animals and demonstrate how they are cared for.

This approach was not particularly high tech (merely requiring an iPhone on the end of a pole), but led to a 48 per cent increase in Facebook followers over the first 24 hours, generated over 12 million video streams in the course of a few days, and saw Chester Zoo trending across social media.

The huge success of this simple digital undertaking shows the value of digital engagement in the attractions sector. It is important to Chester Zoo now – by raising the profile of the brand and its fundraising campaigns – and will also help to attract new visitors when the zoo is able to open again.

Share Your Shakespeare

Royal Collection Trust

In the mainstream press a lot of attention has recently been given to virtual museums. Navigating them is often a painful, slow process, but in case of the Royal Palaces that host the Royal Collection Trust (RCT), viewing these richly decorated places does offer rewards.

Andrew Davis, Collection Online Content Manager at RCT, spoke about how they had to locate all their files and resources to create virtual tours of visitor sites such as Buckingham Palace.

Sourcing new content for the tours was not an option, but the organisation managed to piece together virtual visits from a combination of 360° images, photographs and video.


The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) works with thousands of young people each year as part of its education programme. With schools and theatres closed, the organisation refocused its efforts on its online learning resources, consisting of a range of digital content on the RSC website and a dedicated Shakespeare Learning Zone. Together, this educational content saw increased traffic of 22 per cent on the status quo during the early stages of lockdown.

In order to understand how learning was changing, what was happening in schools and how the organisation could best support them, RSC Education spoke to its network of over 500 primary and secondary schools. Education Resources Manager Rae Seymour shared how the picture was very mixed, with different schools using different online platforms to teach remotely, varying home learning environments amongst young people, an abundance of resources that left teachers feeling overwhelmed, and growing concern around a widening attainment gap between higher and lower achieving students.

In order to help quickly and effectively, the RSC rebundled all of its online content into one place for easy access, generated new content - specifically designed for home-schooling - that teachers would be able to upload to their school's digital education platform, and encouraged students to join a wider community with the #ShareYourShakespeare project.

Isloation Creations


The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology faced lockdown with three questions, as Emily Jarrett, Digital Communications and Marketing Officer explained:

  1. what will our audience (as well as new audiences) want to see during this time?
  2. how will engagement change?
  3. how can we create content to cater to these changes?

They launched a digital engagement initiative – Isolation Creations – inviting the public to respond to items from the museum's collection with their own creative efforts. These #IsolationCreations have inspired drawings, poetry, and even baking from thousands of people, with the campaign reaching 2.2 million users on Facebook and Twitter, and 3.9 million people in the mainstream press.

As part of the wider #MuseumFromHome concept, the Ashmolean team keenly felt the importance of collaborating with other institutions, and responding flexibly to the situation as it developed.

London Transport Museum Shop


For the London Transport Museum, one of the only remaining revenue streams when the site is closed is their online shop. It's also an important way of continuing to engage with their audience, with lockdown sales up 57 per cent compared to the same period last year.

Laura Mullins, Head of Trading, spoke about how the majority of these purchases centred around home improvement, games and toys, homeware, and gifts, demonstrating the importance of adapting the retail calendar to lockdown trends.

According to the London Transport Museum team, the strong performance of gift items shows the public appetite to reach out to others during difficult times. The retail team also witnessed first-hand the crucial role of stock control, managing customer expectations around issues such as extended delivery times, and saying thank you to customers – which they did in the form of postcards sent out with each purchase.

The online shop also benefited from product placement in the museum's Hidden London Hangouts YouTube series, which explores the secrets of the Underground and gains thousands of views per episode.

Building for the future

As these examples show, there is a clear demand for visitor attractions to have a wide-reaching and engaging online presence. This will not only continue the conversation with customers during lockdown, it will also translate into real world visits when the world opens up again.

Moving forward, the webinar participants identified key considerations for the future. From taking risks whilst staying true to brand values, using such unprecedented times to experiment and grow customer databases, and the prospect of engaging audiences when attractions open again – but with capped visitor numbers – there are still a lot of decisions to be made.

As Martijn van der Heijden, Head Strategist at Deeson, said:

“The presentations underlined how essential digital is for cultural attractions. Not just as a marketing tool to preview and book a visit, but also as a fully-fledged channel to engage audiences with the animals, art or whatever got an attraction started in the first place. I am pleased to see how quickly we move beyond the digital copy, as the virtual 3D version of an attraction is generally a disappointing experience, and explore better ways to interact and discover.

You see how it pays off when organisations have a clear digital strategy, understand their audiences’ needs, have set up their digital operations, and built a solid yet flexible platform. But just as important is creating a culture of experimentation, giving digital teams the room to respond quickly, try out what works and then either discard or improve it. At Deeson we’re excited to be part of this."