Learning from Similar Tourism Research (part 2): Accessibility

Image Turner Contemporary

Turner Contemporary

In our last post, we discussed how audience interest in arts & tourism cultural events exists, but there lacks a method for connecting visitors with all potential events.  In this post, we will again refer to initiatives taken by the European Commission to appeal to tourists.  One of the recurring themes in their research was the importance of accessiblity.  Accessiblity here refers to both making it easier for tourists to find relevant tours and events as well as accommodating those tourists who come from different backgrounds or have various capabilities.  Someone may be travelling with a family member or friend who might need more assistance, particularly because of a disability.  As mentioned in the EU research:

‘According to the UN, an estimated 650 million people in the world live with disabilities. Together with their families, that means approximately 2 billion people are directly affected by disability, representing almost a third of the world’s population.’

The process for travelling starts when a tourist is still at home, from packing a suitcase with all the necessary equipment, getting themselves and their baggage to the airport or stations, arriving to their destination, and getting to their accommodation.  From there, they need to think about how to get to an event or venue.  Therefore, important information should also be made available on websites concerning the venues or grounds where events are being held to assist with the travelling process.

Including information such as wheelchair accessibility, distance from car parks, food & water availability, and number of restrooms, along with event times, locations, and dates, to open source event data should be essential if we are to make events accessible in every sense of the word.  These factors can make planning a lot easier for tourists.  Many tourists are older people who have retired and have plenty of leisurely time.  This presents a large and important sector of tourists, especially as the population is aging.  They have essential, every day requirements that they must consider even when they travel.  Knowing where they can access water, especially for free,  how far the car park lot is, or if a location is wheelchair accessible, might be deciding factors in whether or not they will attend an event.

Everyone wants to feel included, and there is no reason for not ensuring that every person’s needs are being considered as important, especially since this type of information can easily be included in an open data source.  If organisations or event planners take the time to evaluate a venue or grounds for accessibility, it can translate into hundreds of potential visitors to an event – well-worth the effort!  Additionally, this work usually only has to be done once if an event takes place at the same location every year.  Since the data is open, it can also be reused by other organisations if they hold events are the same location.  These are only just a few possibilities for utilising open data related to accessibility information.  In the next post, we will be discussing how open data can be used for tourism collaboration.

Read the previous post: Learning from Similar Tourism Research (part 1): Audience Interest

Learning from Similar Tourism Research (part 1): Audience Interest

Image Visit Kent

As Culture Kent strives to provide an open method of making arts & cultural event data available online to increase Kent’s tourism profile, other European countries similarly understand the importance of tourism.  Many countries and cities, however, already have well-known reputations as a travel destination; therefore, their findings focus on how to maintain their reputations as a leader in global tourism.  Comparing whole countries and major cities to Kent, a small county in England, is widely different, as a country can use their diverse areas to attract new visitors, and touring companies include stops at major cities on many of their itineraries.  Additionally, the collaboration of several countries further helps to draw audiences who are willing to travel far to experience several cultures and countries’ histories.

The European Commission has already developed several projects to increase the EU’s cultural tourism by overlapping similar touring themes hosted by different countries.  The types of audiences who might book these tours are already familiar with what these countries have to offer and are looking for tourist attractions that fit their specific interests.  For example, tours might include wine tours that focus on visiting different vineyards or following historical trails such as the Holy Grail or Roman footsteps.  But what about those tourists who what to visit the road less travelled, so to speak?  In these cases, visitors want to experience places that are just as culturally meaningful, but maybe they don’t know where to start their search.  Travel agents usually highlight popular travel destinations and it can be tough to search online without knowing what to look for.

Additionally, it is also easy to find major cultural events, both in person and online.  Similar to how major cities having high travel destination rankings, popular artists, musicians, theatres, and shows also can have prominence as must-see events.  Yet there exists less high-profile arts & cultural events held by various organisations that can also resonate with audiences, but are more difficult to access by tourists or anyone who just is not sure where to look.

This is where  Culture Kent’s research can help.  It is clear that audience interest is not the issue, it is the dissemination and accessibility of information that needs to be improved.  The nature of the Internet means that any potential event is open to a global audience; if all event data is streamlined into one accessible website, it enables users to easily find events that match their interests.  Organisations big and small can have access to the same global audience.

Open Data Has Many Forms (part 2): Positive Effects

Image Turner Contemporary

In the last post, I discussed how making cultural event data can lead to a sense of ownership, which is similar to how making 3D models of cultural heritage artefacts available online can lead to a feeling ownership.  While cultural events and cultural heritage artefacts are completely different from one another, they both can result in experiencing enjoyment and  emotions.  These are strong responses that have been linked to return museum visits and monetary donations, and they demonstrate that  a museum’s exhibitions and collections are successful.  Similarly, organisations need to know that their open data are being used effectively.

In digital terms, positive responses can result in return website visits, positive online reviews, online sponsorships, and increased attendance to similar events via website searches.  The organisations that hold the events will similarly respond by making future events’ data available online and even offering more events.  Open cultural event data allows information to be shared on many websites, yet each website curates relevant cultural event data for their own audience, perhaps only choosing to include a few events from the listings on different websites.  As a result, the owners of a website feel a sense of ownership over their evolving list as they try to cater to their readers.  They know who their audience is and the types of cultural events they would enjoy, and audiences will respond by revisiting the same websites to hear about events.

Another effect of allowing website owners to curate their cultural event data from the vast event listings online is that the audience feels valued.  A lot of time and effort goes into making data open and designing or editing a website to include open data; without this work, the audience would have to manually search many websites to find the event information they are seeking.  Important event information can also be overlooked when one does not know where to seek pertinent information.  Knowing that organisations value their audience enough to make it easier for them to track down potential cultural events also results in the audience valuing the organisations.  Open data and their positive effects are a two-way street that everyone can benefit from.

There already have been some success stories related to open data and the arts.  Specifically, Creative Commons ‘enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools’ and has a wide range of galleries and museums that have benefited from their efforts.  However, successful use of open cultural event data is just as important and needs more attention.

Read the previous post: Open Data Has Many Forms (part 1): Ownership of Data

Art Meets the Retail World: Folkestone Creative Quarter at Bluewater

Image Folkestone Creative Quarter at Bluewater

Folkestone Creative Quarter at Bluewater

Over spring 2015 Folkestone Creative Quarter had the fantastic opportunity to organise and run a pop-up shop in Bluewater Shopping Centre. Organised in conjunction with Visit Kent and Produced in Kent, four Kent-based businesses took up a pop-up each from April 1 to May 4 in a variety of locations within Bluewater. The Folkestone Creative Quarter shop presented the work of 26 artists, makers and retailers. The other participating businesses included Macnade Fine Foods, Leeds Castle and The Wooden Spoon. With an annual footfall of 28 million and a catchment area that includes 6.5million, this was the perfect opportunity to present Kent’s thriving creative hub to a new and large scale audience. The Bluewater staff told us that we came under their radar due to the work we did for Folkestone Triennial and Cultural Destinations when they came across the kiosk during its tour of key tourist attractions in the region.

The large space provided was the ideal location to display work, with ample hanging space, large concourse-facing windows and lots of room for creative workshops. The Creative Quarter team maximised the space’s potential to create a welcoming and fully functioning shop and gallery, which was ideally located opposite Marks and Spencer’s in Bluewater’s Upper Rose Gallery.

Image Interior of Pop-Up Shop at Bluewater

Interior of Pop-Up Shop at Bluewater

Works available included original artworks, paintings, prints, fashion, handmade handbags, jewellery, art books, cards, gifts and many other items. Artists included Malcolm Allen, Jack Frame, Steve Harkin, Shane Record, Alan Smith and Kate Knight. Over the six week period the team opened daily between 10am – 6pm Mon – Fri and 11am – 5pm on Sundays. During this time the Creative Quarter pop-up attracted over 5,300 visitors and generated income of over £6,800 on behalf of the artists. The shop proved to be a hit with both Bluewater regulars and first time visitors, offering a unique range of goods, friendly conversation and a great insight into Folkestone’s regeneration. The shop introduced our artists and makers to a new audience and provided links between them. Visitors to the shop contacted artists and makers long after the end of the pop up to purchase works from them directly. We are aware of 16 such purchases that would not have happened if the pop up shop didn’t take place from customers as far away as London.

Several family-friendly workshops took place over weekends and bank holidays, encouraging families to join in with Folkestone artists including Strange Cargo, Fat Hen and Flo and Mark Sutherland. In addition participating artists also joined the team on weekends, demonstrating their skill, displaying works in progress and being on hand to chat with customers. Both workshops and visiting artists helped make the customer experience more enjoyable and highlighted the wealth of talent that Folkestone boasts.

Image Workshop with Folkestone Artists

Workshop with Folkestone Artists

By taking advantage of such a great opportunity the Creative Foundation was successful in promoting its five projects and the creative community to a broad demographic. The shop environment helped with this by allowing for one-to-one communication, ideal for passing on information and listening to feedback. Many people had heard good things about Folkestone’s rapid transformation through creative activity and it was fantastic to be able to reinforce this and encourage people to pay the Creative Quarter a visit.

Image Interior of Pop-Up Shop at Bluewater

Interior of Pop-Up Shop at Bluewater

Out of this experience the Creative Foundation learned a big deal about how the retail world operates. We communicated this effectively to all participating artists, who now have a good understanding of how shops are run in such a busy retail environment such as Bluewater and the high standards expected from all sides. One visitor after the other shared with us that our pop up shop felt like an oasis amongst all the usual suspects of the big retail brands and an unexpected encounter, where art met, harmoniously coexisted and had pride place in the a “cathedral” of shopping.

Reflections on the Folkestone Triennial 2014

Image Alex Hartley

Alex Hartley (photo: Thierry Bal & Folkestone Triennial 2014)

Last year was the third edition of the UK’s most ambitious public arts project, Folkestone Triennial 2014, and it could be argued that it was the biggest and best yet. The Triennial was curated for the first time by Lewis Biggs, under the title, Lookout, which was more fitting than Lewis or the Creative Foundation (CF) could have expected. As predicted, Alex Hartley and a number of volunteers took their position looking out over the harbour from their Grand Burstin-base camp as part of Vigil. Triennial-goers looked out over the town from the exhibition’s wind-powered lift and over the harbour from Gabriel Lester’s bamboo observation deck. Something & Son’s sustainable greenhouse looked to the future, experimenting with alternative urban food production. The more surprising events included the thousands of people that came down to Folkestone to dig up Michael Sailstorfer’s treasure buried on Folkestone Outer Harbour Beach.

Image Folkstone Outer Harbour Beach

Folkstone Outer Harbour Beach (photo: Thierry Bal & Folkestone Triennial 2014)

The appropriation of disused spaces such as Emma Hart’s installation in a domestic interior and Tim Etchells’ neon text work in Folkestone’s derelict harbour railway station offered a renewed perspective on a familiar townscape. The Creative Foundation team took this one step further by inviting muf architecture/art to completely renovate an area of the Creative Quarter known as Payers Park. Previously a sloping wasteland, it is now a permanent park specially designed for the different needs of people in the local area. In addition to Payers Park, around the third of the works from this year’s Triennial will become permanent fixtures in the town, adding to the permanent collection of Folkestone Artworks that have been created from the previous two Triennials. Folkestone has amassed one of the most unique and quirky art collections in the UK, making it quite a special place to live, work and study.

Image Earth Peace 2014 by Yoko Ono

Earth Peace 2014 by Yoko Ono (photo: Thierry Bal & Folkestone Triennial 2014)

With 135,000 visitors, more people than ever visited Folkestone for the Triennial this year, cementing it as a one of the South East’s leading cultural destinations. The Folkestone Triennial public programme was buzzing with activity for the duration of the festival. With two conferences, field trips, artist-led events, historical and community talks, guided tours, family and schools workshops on offer, there was something for everyone.

Image Folkstone

Folkstone (photo: Thierry Bal & Folkestone Triennial 2014)

The Triennial in 2014 was a development on the first two Triennials of 2008 and 2011. These excellent exhibitions made a point of bringing great art into Folkestone in the summer; the high point of any seaside town’s tourist season. The exhibitions managed to bring a great deal of attention  to Folkestone that brought a significant number of visitors, a number of whom made a commitment to the town by renting property from the Creative Foundation.

For 2014 a new strategy was adopted. The Triennial was moved to the autumn, opening at the end of August and closing in early November. This decision represents a significant change for the Triennial and a change of emphasis for its promotion and audiences. There were four key audiences for the Triennial; locals who live in the region, education including schools and higher education, arts specialists, and tourists to the region.

The new strategy was supported by the research from Visit Kent that made it clear that Kent receives few international tourists and those that come are mostly interested in heritage. If people do visit the county it is predominantly for a day and those who stay overnight mostly do so by staying with friends and family.

The Triennial plan adopted has therefore been to use the press particularly for the art world, to build an education plan that includes two conferences and a marketing plan that aims for local engagement through the local press and lastly a campaign for visitors already in the region. Much of this was done through locals by encouraging them to invite their friends and family to the Triennial. This plan excluded any campaign for the hard to reach people from outside Kent or the country who show little propensity to visit.

The Triennial partners who include the artists and arts organisations of the Open and Fringe, the local businesses, including retailers and restaurateurs, along with hotels wished to see a plan that included those outside the region. While our partners appreciated the move to autumn to extend the Folkestone season, they felt that no other event in Folkestone, part from the Triennial, has content and a reputation that will bring attention to the town from outside the region. This only happens every three years and felt this opportunity should not be missed. The value of any greater plan would be of creative benefit to some partners and business benefit to others.

Culture Kent supported Folkestone Triennial and allowed this plan to be reconsidered and extended and its funding has enabled the Triennial to:

  • Work with new partners in order to attract new visitors to Folkestone and the Triennial.
  • Engage with audiences from within and outside Kent and capture the essence of the new Folkestone.
  • Increase the number of national and international visitors to the Folkestone Triennial.
  • Increase the coverage of the Triennial in international websites.
  • Achieve 30 blog sites mentioning the Triennial.
  • Measure the number of audiences who also visit other cultural destinations in East Kent.

It also enabled the Triennial to work on an outreach project with Visit Kent and achieved:

Image Rochester Cathedral
Rochester Cathedral (photo: Thierry Bal & Folkestone Triennial 2014)
Image Port Lympne
Port Lympne (photo: Thierry Bal & Folkestone Triennial 2014)
  • Having a presence at the St. Pancras International Station over the opening weekend of the Triennial (30 & 31 August), as well as on the first weekend of October to promote the show, deliver an interactive activity and promote the town, local hotels, restaurants and the Creative Quarter.
  • Working with Southeastern Trains for an extensive poster campaign throughout Kent to promote Folkestone & the Triennial.
  • Working with Southeastern Trains to secure free train tickets for 50 national and international press journalists for the press day of the Triennial on Thursday 28 August.
  • Printing and distributing Folkestone Triennial branded Do Not Disturb cards to be used in all Folkestone Hotels.
  • In collaboration with the Turner Contemporary, Folkestone Triennial commissioned an installation by Krijn de Koning which was also replicated in Margate and cross-promoted this work through press material and e-flyers.
  • Monitoring audience attendance and demographics and undertake extensive market research.
  • Working with P&O Ferries and DFDS to distribute Triennial maps on all ferries and encourage international visitors to stop at Folkestone.

As part of all of this, the Triennial gained:

  • Extensive coverage of Folkestone Triennial and the town in the Visit Kent website, dedicated e-newsletters in English, French, Dutch and German, and across all social media platforms.
  • Extensive coverage of Folkestone Triennial and the town in Southeastern website and dedicated e-newsletters.
  • Extensive coverage of Folkestone Triennial and the town in Eurotunnel website, blogs and newsletter.
  • Extensive coverage of Folkestone Triennial and the town through Visit Britain, Visit England and the French Tourism Boards.
  • Cross fertilization of audiences between Margate and Folkestone
  • Developed relationships between the CF and local hotels.
  • Developed relationships between the CF and other tourist attractions in Kent.

This was the first time that the Creative Foundation sought to develop strategic partnerships with all these organisations, travel operators, hotels and other culture and tourist attractions. Culture Kent enabled us to do so and we are now in the process of deepening these relationships and entering into conversations for future joined working on projects about Folkestone Artworks and the Creative Quarter. The Culture Kent funding came about only months before the opening of the Triennial. As a consequence we didn’t have the time to pursue further partnership projects with organisations such as Eurotunnel, P&O and Southeastern that would have added extra value to the project and would have enabled us to reach even more people. We commissioned Visit Kent to broker these relationships for us but due to limited time some of them didn’t come to fruition.

Our relationship with the local hotels especially benefited and now we have an ongoing dialogue about how art and the hospitality sector can boost tourism in Shepway. After the end of the Triennial we donated the bamboo from Gabriel Lester’s installation The Electrified Line to Port Lympne Safari Park. They are using it to build a new structure for their wild cats. This partly came about after the Triennial Kiosk visited Port Lympne during the show and the two organisations started talking about partnership working and cross promotion. In April and May 2015 the Creative Foundation was invited to have a pop up shop at Bluewater Shopping Centre for six weeks showcasing the work of 26 artists and makers from the Folkestone Creative Quarter, attracting more than 6,000 people through the shop’s doors and promoting the town and its creative force. The Bluewater staff told us that we came under their radar due to the work we did for the Triennial and Culture Kent when they came across the kiosk during its tour.

Did you attend the Folkstone Triennial?  Please leave a comment on your experience or thoughts!

Many thanks to the Creative Foundation for partnering on this post