Happy visitors help make for a happy cultural organization. Here’s why.

It sounds obvious: Prioritizing onsite visitor satisfaction is important for visitor-serving organizations such as museums, zoos, aquariums, botanic gardens, and performing arts entities. It’s a metric that several organizations measure on an ongoing basis. That said, uninterpreted data is misinterpreted data and understanding why visitor satisfaction is so important may lend additional meaning to the measurement.

This Fast Fact video covers three, data-backed reasons why visitor satisfaction should be a front-and-center priority for visitor-serving organizations. If you’ve wondered why entities focus so much on this metric, why I write about it so much on Know Your Own Bone, and what it means exactly, look no further.

As usual, all three of the data sets below are from IMPACTS and the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study, which has a sample size of over 108,000 individuals.

The most effective visitor satisfaction metrics are composite metrics – a metric composed of several, related data points that inform the value. It includes items such as entertainment value, education value, employee courtesy, admission value, and cleanliness, to name a few. It often isn’t a simple summary metric that involves adding up or averaging these other findings.

In meaningful visitor satisfaction metrics, inputs are not valued equally because the market doesn’t weigh them equally. In other words, we know that how entertaining an experience is matters more to a visitors’ overall satisfaction value than what they think of the gift shop. Here’s the value that the market assigns to various elements that make up visitor satisfaction.

But fear not! Even if an organization is gathering a less data-informed measure of visitor satisfaction or measuring it alone on a single scale, there’s still an important case to be made for making sure that visitors are having a satisfied experience when they come into an organization’s doors.

Here are three, data-backed reasons to make sure that visitor satisfaction is among the most important key priorities for an organization.


1) Marketing

And not just any marketing, but valuable word-of-mouth endorsements that have the most influence on driving attendance. It may stand to reason that data suggest that the more satisfied someone is with their visit, the more likely they are to share the positive experience.

These kinds of unpaid endorsements are more valuable than an organization’s own advertising because they are shared by trusted sources – a friend, family, or a stranger whose craziness you feel that you can assess a bit based on their review on TripAdvisor or social media post. This is distinctly different that an organization promoting itself directly.

Organizations pay money to tell people that they are great – even if they aren’t. That’s marketing. An endorsement from a trusted resource can serve as a validation that an organization is great. That has even greater marketing value.

The sharing of positive, onsite experiences is a critical aspect of The Visitor Engagement Cycle (link). It plays a major role in driving visitation (link).


2) Earned revenue

Data suggest that the more satisfied someone is with their experience, the higher “value for cost” perceptions a person has. In other words, people who have a better time onsite are more likely to report that admission price was worth the cost.

Why does this matter? Because earned revenue by way of admission fees is critical for the financial health of many organizations. Not only that, the better bang for their buck that visitors report having, the easier it is for organizations to increase their admission prices so as to maximize revenues… or even adjust for inflation.

Remember: admission price is not an affordable access program and free admission is not a solution to long-term engagement issues. Successful organizations create strategies wherein most visitors pay a data-informed optimal admission price (because it’s based on what the market is willing to pay and what they believe the experience to be “worth”), and create access programs specifically targeted to reach income-qualified audiences, for instance.

Guests with higher visitor satisfaction rates report higher value for cost perceptions, believing to have received a better bang for their buck! This can feed back to support the long-term financial health of an organization.


3) Membership

It’s probably not surprising that the more satisfied someone is with their visit, the more likely they are to come back again. Cultivating repeat visitation means cultivating opportunities for membership!

Membership may be one of the engagement initiatives most ripe for a revolution within the visitor-serving industry. As organizations grow more thoughtful in their execution of membership as an engagement strategy, it may be helpful to note the importance of visitor satisfaction and repeat visitation in the mix.

While it stands to reason that those who have a great time are more likely to come back, it can be easy to overlook the role that this plays in how members are secured. Thus, visitor satisfaction doesn’t only play a role in the game of getting folks to visit once and then talk about it… It may play a notable role in strengthening an organization’s funding and support through membership… and this may lead to opportunities through philanthropic giving.


Valuing onsite satisfaction sounds like a no-brainer. That said, seeing the data as it relates specifically to visiting cultural organizations such as museums, botanic gardens, zoos, aquariums, and performing arts organizations can be eye-opening. Or at least it can help drive the point home: Visitor satisfaction is a big deal.

Visitor satisfaction is everyone’s responsibility within an organization. It touches onsite operations (of course), but it is also dependent upon educators, conservators, custodians, guards and ushers, exhibit designers, program managers, performers, marketing professionals, and philanthropic giving staff. Floor staff, volunteers, and ushers are incredibly important in creating a positive visitor experience within cultural organizations, but they aren’t solely responsible for the metric. And that’s a good thing, too, because this value has a domino effect that touches nearly every department.

Onsite visitor satisfaction plays a major role in making sure that organizations can both execute their missions and keep their doors open.

You probably suspected this.

Now you know the data.