How, and why do we count visitors to our museums and other attractions? And, Happy New Year!

A new year and a new beginning – let’s hope! I’m very excited for 2022 with a raft of new clients including the Newcastle Museum, Museums and Galleries of the Northern Territory, Northern Midlands Council (Tasmania), the Museum Shops Association of Australia and New Zealand, as well as returning clients, the Australia Council as a Digital Strategist-in-Residence and Women in Gaming & Hospitality Australasia.

One of my tasks was to undertake a quick review into visitor counting systems. Came up with some useful information that I thought I’d share.

Visitor counts are used to calculate:

  • how many visitors to an attraction for reporting and management purposes
  • how many convert into an activity
  • how many make it into a space such as a café or shop
  • data that provides a foundation to predict and analyse visitor behaviour, including more advanced purposes such as queue and capacity management

General findings:

  • Use a variety of systems / methodologies to map against each other and make educated estimates of numbers
  • Numbers will always be estimates so there is a need to document how the figures were calculated
  • Wi-Fi tracking has positive and negative aspects, but is pretty cost-effective
  • Manual counting is usually pretty consistent, but resource-intensive
  • No method is perfect, however automated sensors usually provide around a 20% improvement in count accuracy from manual clicking
  • What is important for footfall counters is for onsite hardware devices to transmit data in near real time

Dexibit have an awesome online report into counting visitors, with the summary reproduced here:

  1. Select a counting solution that can provide a high accuracy footfall count – we recommend camera counting technology to future proof your venue.
  2. Pick hardware accessories that work with your spatial environment – ensuring that devices can work effectively, be installed easily and blend into your venue’s aesthetic.
  3. Ensure your technology solution can transmit data in near real time (via Ethernet, Wi-Fi or cellular), allowing you to analyse data quickly and efficiently through a big data solution.
  4. Install devices at every entrance, areas of significance, commercial zones, high profile queues and key activity conversion areas (e.g., entrances to roller coasters or exhibitions).
  5. Manage your devices by recording their location or give a group of devices an alias name for easy data analysis.
  6. Make sure your devices are working – test them for accuracy and add a scaling factor if needed.
  7. Conduct hardware inspections and accuracy tests annually to avoid misreporting over time.
  8. Footfall is just one of the important metrics you can capture and analyse at your attraction. You might be surprised at what types of data your attraction is already collecting – if you think your organisation isn’t collecting much, look again.

In Conclusion:

Overall, choose a solution that suits the aims of counting, the institutional environment (including considering indoor and/or outdoor settings), is easy to collect and report on data and is cost-effective within budget and staffing resources.

Acknowledgements

Shout out to the team at Dexibit (their website is a very useful resource for all things big data) and to my Canberra colleagues at the Australian War Memorial and National Museum of Australia who generously shared their insights and experiences.

Happy 2022 all, let’s hope it’s better than previous…

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