Visitor attractions must be ‘different and brilliant’ to survive pandemic, says tourism expert

Amanda Forecast who has launched The Visitor Centre after she lost her tourism job because of the co

Amanda Forecast who has launched The Visitor Centre after she lost her tourism job because of the coronavirus crisis Picture: JULIE NIGHTINGALE - Credit: Archant

Great customer service and exceptional experience will be key to re-engaging visitors and tourists after the pandemic subsides, says a tourism professional whose own job fell victim to the crisis.

Amanda Forecast lost her post with the National Trust as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Now she has launched Bury St Edmunds consultancy The Visitor Business to help other businesses to survive it.

Ms Forecast - who has nearly 30 years’ experience in visitor operations and communications – was general manager at 400,000 visitor-a-year Anglesey Abbey, near Cambridge, for eight years before leaving in 2018. She went on to work for the National Trust supporting its properties across the UK, including in East Anglia.

MORE – Suffolk Show 2021 is cancelled because of coronavirus uncertainty“I have lost my role due to coronavirus - I’m one of the 1,200 sadly being made redundant by the National Trust,” she explained.

Tourism businesses were facing catastrophic losses, she said, with some reporting up to a 90% cut in income. They will need to “think differently” and be adaptable and flexible to survive, she said.

“Under the current government guidance, all tourism business in the East of England can technically re-open, but for many it’s just not that simple,” she said.

“Thankfully in the east we have a vibrant tourism economy driven by the outdoors, but for indoor attractions, especially the smaller independent places, it’s really challenging to reopen safely.”

The sector faced unprecedented disruption and uncertainty over reopening guidelines, a lack of funds and the possibility of local lockdowns, she said.

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“Simply doing what they’ve always done won’t be enough for places to survive,” she said.

Closed venues and those in low season needed to think about how to refresh their site, redesign their offer and doing things differently before the main visitor season starts again next year, she added.

“When you run an attraction, or any customer-facing business, you know you have to change to keep relevant. In the past that’s been through adding new features or running an event, for example, but there’s now a need to be more creative,” she said.

“Those places that are delivering successful digital and online experiences or have reopened with something different will stand out moving forward and they’ve probably also given themselves the opportunity to build a different relationship with their visitors.”

Visitor expectations were already changing before the crisis and businesses needed to be “different and brilliant”, she suggested.

“One thing no-one will forgive businesses for is poor customer service. Those places that continue to go above and beyond – turning great service into an exceptional experience – will maintain loyalty throughout the crisis and come out the other end with their customer base intact.”

There was still a desire to get out and visit places, she believed, but also a “significant increase” in those seeking experiences online which attractions would need to adapt to.