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Free flow or controlled management - about crowd planning in visitor centers

One of the unpleasant experiences I had at a visitor's center happened in 2006, when I visited Orlando in the Bible Park. A thoroughly Christian experience, which ended with a meeting with Christian clergy who try to convince the visitors to join their world.

But - the main problem wasn't exactly the mission people who chase you 'pleasantly' at the end of the visit - but the claustrophobic feeling that gripped the visitors during the tour, and was caused by the planning of the hallucinatory/violent crowd flow.

A brief description of the event: Before entering the center there is a line of visitors, and after forming a group of about 30 random visitors, we were admitted to the first exhibition space - without an accompanying guide. The door was closed after us and then a vision of a video (at a professional level Afas..) began accompanied by a missionary narration. So far so good - this is a Christian center and they have the right to spread the story of their faith, but after about 7 minutes, a door at the end of the room opened and we all moved together to the next exhibition space, as the door behind us closes and there is no other way to withdraw from the event.

From then on - we were a 'captive audience' deep in exhibition space after exhibition space - another 7 minutes, another 6 minutes, another 7 - like this for almost an hour, without the ability to escape the event, and without the possibility of using the toilets. A captive audience in every sense of the word.

Crowd flow determines the character of a center

When planning a visitor center, and even before going into the details of planning exhibition spaces and before deciding what content will be displayed in each space, the right thing is to plan the flow of visitors in the center.

Assuming that the entrepreneurs are already closed on a central direction: there are clear goals, the target audience has been defined, and there is already a place and a planned structure - this is the stage where the visitor experience is planned - which, as mentioned, begins with the definition of the flow of visitors in the center.

Proper planning of visitor flow should match and serve the content and character of the center, and be the basis for the detailed planning of the content positions in the various exhibition spaces.

In this post I will bring two main approaches to managing crowd flow, while demonstrating the approaches in existing centers, advantages and disadvantages.

Access A - full free flow. Approach B - controlled management of scheduled groups according to the possible content of the performances in the experience spaces.

The first approach - free flow, is mainly suitable for large places such as national museums, and visitor centers that have to respond to thousands of visitors every day.

A visitor center built in free flow allows visitors to enter without having to wait for a specified number of a minimum group, and creates great flexibility in crowd management and the entry of a large number of visitors in accordance with the maximum capacity of the place as defined in the center's safety instructions.

Examples of free flow sites: 'Ano' - Beit Hatfusot, the Israel Museum, the Bible Museum, the Rabin Center, MadaTech, and more, as well as many visitor centers at Expo Dubai 2022 - the USA Pavilion, Saudi Arabia, China, Kazakhstan and many more.

Examples of controlled and scheduled management sites: the KKL-Junk Forest Visitor Center, Lagaat Bantzah Hebron, the Palmach Museum, the Castle, and more, as well as visitor centers at Expo Dubai 2022 - the Japan Pavilion, Germany, New Zealand, India, the United Arab Emirates, and more.

Free flow:

The advantage: you can admit a lot of visitors at the same time without the need to wait in line, and without the need to reserve places in advance.

The disadvantage: it is not possible to create controlled experiences in isolated exhibition halls, where there is control over the process of the visitor's experience from beginning to end - for example, entering an auditorium and playing a performance or a film that has a beginning, middle and end, in a way that allows us to convey the story and create an exciting experience from beginning to end. You should always take into account that the visitor enters the exhibition space at any stage, and leaves the space when he feels that he has exhausted the story.

Controlled management:

The advantages: at each stage of the visit there is control over the way and timings in which the visitor moves between the various exhibits. At every stage when the visitor enters any hall - he is a 'captive audience' in the hands of the creators of the center, and he is ready to receive the content and the experience exactly the way we designed it for him.

The disadvantages: much fewer visitors can be admitted at a given time, and it is necessary to manage and schedule booking places and groups in advance. At the entrance to the Japanese Pavilion at the Expo, which was an excellent example of a center with controlled management, there was a huge line of people at the entrance who waited patiently between one and three hours! Even at the entrance to Germany's pavilion, which took the controlled management approach, there was a long line that sometimes reached about 250 people who waited and waited for their turn.

By the way - in these two cases of Japan and Germany - the wait was completely worth it!

Small and medium-sized visitor centers in Israel that operate according to the controlled management approach, are obliged to have a professional reservation management system that will schedule the groups in advance and allow as many visits as possible within the time frame and occupancy of the place.

A good friend once taught me that if I arrive somewhere I don't know abroad, and there is a long line at the entrance - you should stand in line because I'm sure these people know something I don't. In all the cases I listened to it - it worked great :)

The United Arab Emirates - on the one hand, a long wait in line, but on the other hand, the content of hundreds of visitors at the same time. Inside the building is a combination of the two approaches.

Singapore. Visitors are admitted in groups, but after you enter - go at your own pace and take your time.

Italy - an example of controlled management of an audience without providing adequate compensation to the visitor.

Russia - free flow between a series of invested and impressive performances.

Saudi Arabia in free flow. At any given moment, 100-300 visitors participate in the central experience, and there is room for everyone.

Japan - the best example of accurate audience management like Japanese clockwork - with excellent value and full justification that exhausts the method.

United Emirates - the airline of the United Emirates - crowd management and scheduling of groups that requires advance booking and coordination. Lots of technology less emotion.


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