Museums welcoming back visitors find the balance between new safety protocols, like limiting visitors, and maintaining visitor experience.
We’re excited for museums across the United States to open their doors again. In the midst of a changing world, visiting a museum offers more than entertainment, but a place to reflect, to learn how historical events both good and bad shaped where we are today, to explore artist interpretations of complex scenarios, and expand our minds.
In museums and all public spaces, adaptations are necessary to maintain staff and visitor health and safety due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the coming weeks we’ll see the new norm solidify as museums go from planning phases to implementation, then evaluation cycles and changes as visitor experience dictates which protocols are working and which need adjustments.
Thankfully the museum community is a tight-knit group and is guided by organizations like American Alliance of Museums to collect and share resources to set new standards for the industry. AAM’s “Considerations for Museum Reopenings” suggests to develop a phased timeline; prioritize health and safety; establish clear cleaning protocols; restrict contact, capacity, and access; and provide training for staff.
It will take time for these new standards to take shape because of the staggered opening dates of museums across the country. Even when state governments give the go-ahead to reopen, many museums are opting to wait to further develop new protocols, to survey the confidence of visitors, or wait for local coronavirus cases to decline. Texas governor Greg Abbott permitted museums to reopen May 1st, but most chose to stay closed until at least June.
How Museums are Limiting Visitors
In researching museums across the world that have reopened to the public, the two most common solutions for limiting visitors is to use a digital ticketing system or to use an automated occupancy counting solution.
The digital ticketing system allows a museum to set a threshold for how many tickets can be sold for a given time period. Upon registering, guests can be emailed information on new safety protocols. It also allows for no-contact entry into the museum, as most ticketing platforms provide guests with a QR code to be scanned as opposed to handling payments and paper tickets.
An automated occupancy counting solution uses people counting sensors to count those entering and exiting to determine current occupancy status. Museum administrators set the threshold for max permitted occupancy, then the current / max is displayed on a monitor for guests to know if they can enter. One benefit of museums limiting visitors with this option is that guests do not have to schedule their visit in advance. This is especially important for museums in high foot traffic areas where visitors typically visit spontaneously and also for museums with short average visit duration. A second benefit is that an automated occupancy counting solution is a purely unbiased way to limit visitors. A problem with enforcing digital ticketing is that certain groups may be excluded because they find the process too difficult such as those without access to or inability to use the internet.
Either way it’s enforced, limiting museum visitors isn’t an unfortuante new reality – visitors may actually gain a more fulfilling experience. Emily Rales, director at Glenstone, shares her perspective in an opinion article on artnet news. This unique museum in Maryland has always encouraged “social distancing” with contemporary art exhibits intentionally spread apart with neutral backdrops in between to cleanse the pallet and allow the visitor to really focus on the exhibit. Emily Rales explains, “As museums begin to tentatively unlock their doors to limit the number of visitors who venture out, they will naturally become places of respite from the chaos and uncertainty so prevalent in these troubled times. And in doing so, they will satisfy an essential need that is far more profound than entertainment.”
Quickly Launching Plans into Reality
We’ve all experienced how quickly life changes in the midst of a pandemic and the same is true as we emerge. Even the most well-thought-out plans for reopening must be layered with the expectation of making changes on the fly. Museums won’t know which protocols truly work until visitors are permitted inside to test them. And because some states have not given museums the go-ahead to reopen, those museums can only make partial plans as that state’s regulations are unknown.
At SenSource, we understand these gray areas of planning and the rush to move forward with projects once permitted to reopen. Over the past two months we’ve seen this pattern with essential businesses like grocery stores. In response, we created a trial hand-counting app for customers to begin counting building occupancy within 24 hours of contacting us. Our fully automated SafeSpace Occupancy Monitoring System takes about a week to collect site survey details, ship and install sensors. The need to track capacity was immediate and a week felt like an eternity compared to pre-pandemic timelines. The handheld app offers a scaled-down, immediate solution for museums to count visitors until their sensors are installed. Then the system is fully automated and hands-off, allowing staff to focus on other duties like guest experience and sanitation measures.
SenSource has worked with museums for over a decade, providing people counting sensors to count visitors, gauge traffic patterns, and collect other metrics that lend to operational efficiencies.
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