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Think Global with Museum Marketing Strategies

International Market in Context

Last year, the U.S. welcomed more than 79 million visitors from the international market, many of whom look to connect with global and local culture and history through museum experiences. As a result, museum visits are a top activity for international travelers to the U.S.

To understand the impact of the international market on museum attendance in the U.S., look to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 2018, this world-class art institution’s three locations welcomed a total of 7.36 million museum goers. International visitors were the museum’s largest group, accounting for 34 percent of total admissions and outpacing local visitors who accounted for 32 percent of the overall total.

These figures offer a strong example of the significant contribution that international visitors can have on a museum’s overall admissions. So, what are the best ways to attract international visitors to your museum?

Offer Language-Specific Content Online…

Simply stated, the best way to communicate with the international market is to speak their language.

That’s why mega-museums in international cities around the world have their website content in multiple languages. For instance, visitors to the UK’s Tate Museum website can easily switch the website contents from English into German, Spanish, French, and Italian. In the U.S., the National Gallery of Art’s website features a section of Collection Highlights providing information in Spanish, French, Russian, Mandarin, Japanese, and even American Sign Language.

On the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s website, visitors can explore the site in 16 languages, with several collections of recorded programs and oral histories provided and cataloged in languages such as English, German and Hebrew.

…and at the Museum

We’ve all seen museum guides and maps in multiple languages at the information desk of a museum. But other ways that art and cultural institutions are making content and their museums more accessible is through multi-lingual apps and language-specific audio tours that guide international visitors through their space. Some institutions even encourage bilingual staff members to identify themselves with lapel pins, so that foreign visitors can approach them with questions, or just to say hello.

Speaking of “hellos,” even a simple welcome will do. At the National Museum of American Jewish History, a sign hangs along the length of the museum’s glass façade welcoming visitors in 14 languages.

The main idea behind these initiatives is to help international visitors feel welcome before and during their visit. This way they can make the most of their experience and can spread the word with other potential visitors when they return home.

Show People Like Me

The power of Instagram also serves as a connector to the international market, particularly when newsfeeds flow with images of people of similar background and appearance. International visitors represent a broad spectrum of diversity. By showing museum attendees with similarly diverse backgrounds, international museumgoers can feel a sense of belonging to an institution before even reaching the door.

The Statue of Liberty – Ellis Island Museum’s Instagram account does a great job of embracing diversity while sharing interesting stories of immigrant arrivals. In addition to showing images of international visitors to the site, the organization also posts photos of well-known Americans with details on their immigrant story, along with historic archive images of new arrivals.

In addition to Instagram, research and connect with your international visitors through the social media platforms they use most. For the Chinese market, Weibo and WeChat offer enormous reach and are used by museums like the Met and MoMA, while Twitter and Facebook continue to be popular in Japan. Also, create hashtags and opportunities for international visitors to share selfies from within your museum.

Welcome Programs for International Market

If your museum has a large number of visitors from a specific international market, a welcome initiative could reap benefits.

From fun fact sheets geared toward specific international groups to language-specific maps and guides as well as sensitivity training for employees, along the lines of “how to make a good experience for international visitors,” small efforts can make a big difference in a museum experience.

To make Chinese visitors feel welcome, museums like the J. Paul Getty and the Corning Glass Museum have provided their staff with Mandarin lessons. They also developed “what to do in an hour” brochures, and even offer Chinese food favorites on their café menus.

Host International Journalists

When it comes to serving international visitors to your museum, no entity can help more than a local destination marketing partner. In addition to having data on which foreign markets are visiting your city, DMOs can help with bringing international journalists to your institution.

DMO-hosted press and familiarization trips provide an excellent opportunity to showcase a museum’s offerings to the international market. These multi-day tours give journalists insight into local attractions, activities, dining, and accommodations so that they can write articles encouraging other travelers from their country to visit the destination.

Connect with your DMO to seek out ways to host these international journalist groups. Opportunities might include hosting a museum tour guided in the language specific to your group or hosting a reception with access to exhibit rooms and local cultural groups with the same background.

For example, DCI worked with Chicago’s cultural institutions, in partnership with Choose Chicago and CityPASS, to implement a press trip for international media that highlighted Chicago’s cultural institutions. Local language audio guides were provided to journalists from France, Germany, Mexico and The Netherlands, in addition to Canadian and U.K. journalists

When an exhibit has a natural appeal to a specific international market, such as a Picasso exhibit in Chicago appealing to the Spanish market, it’s a prime opportunity host a delegation of travel journalists from that destination.

Make Impactful Cultural Connections

One of the most important ways to connect with international visitors, is to develop exhibits that speak to specific audiences, in their language.

In 2017, the Dallas Museum hosted an exhibit of Mexican masterpieces that included works of Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and other works previously housed in Paris. The exhibition not only brought local visitors from the Hispanic community but, through smart marketing, drew international visitors of Mexican heritage as well. From family days to sponsorships through businesses with Latino connections and even a Guinness World Record-setting “Frida Fest,” these initiatives inspire a sense of pride and belonging among international visitors.

Is your museum looking to increase its number of visitors from the international traveler market? We can help. As leaders in tourism and museum marketing, we have a proven record of working with organizations to develop and implement powerful strategies to attract international visitors. Let’s connect! Just email [email protected].

Written By

Karyl Leigh Barnes

Karyl Leigh Barnes is President of DCI’s Tourism Practice. Since joining the firm in 1998, Karyl Leigh has led destination strategy and created marketing communication programs for destinations on every continent except Antarctica.

More Articles by Karyl Leigh Barnes

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