01 Feb 2023 World leisure: news, training & property
 
 
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SELECTED ISSUE
Attractions Management
2021 issue 4

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Leisure Management - Making pre-booking work

Research

Making pre-booking work


Encouraging customers to pre-book can mean the best of both worlds: higher revenue and a closer relationship with the guest, says Jon Young

The Roman Baths in Bath, UK, is highlighted as an example of how to make pre-booking work Rebecca Faith Photography
The Roman Baths in Bath, UK, is highlighted as an example of how to make pre-booking work Bath & North East Somerset Council
The benefits of pre-booking for visitors include reduced queuing times and less crowds Bath & North East Somerset Council
*Figures shown are for indoor venues – outdoor venues reflect similar results. Source: BVA BDRC
The benefits of pre-booking for visitors include reduced queuing times and less crowds shutterstock/Ivanko80
*Figures shown are for indoor venues - outdoor venues reflect similar results. Source: BVA BDRC
Pre-booking represents clear advantages, but a hybrid model is optimal shutterstock/Yau Ming Low

Many attractions moved to pre-booking in response to the pandemic, but doing so risks missing out on spontaneous and disorganised visitors in an age where customers want flexibility.

At consumer and business insight consultancy BVA BDRC, we conducted research among the UK population, as part of our ClearSight survey, to offer insight into visitor and attractions operator attitudes to pre-booking.

Attractions were drawn to pre-booking as lockdowns lifted, because of the need to control numbers under COVID-19 restrictions. The strategy did, however, come with its own issues around no shows. For some operators, these were as high as 30 per cent of all bookings (anecdotally – those that were free and with membership), while fifteen per cent of visitors across the attractions market had ‘no-showed’ in the previous six months.

The true number is likely to be higher, as even in an anonymous survey environment, people will feel bad about sharing undesirable behaviour.

When asked why they hadn’t turned up, the vast majority stated they were not committed to visiting in the first place. Notably, seven in 10 stated that ‘they had booked more than one place to visit and would decide on the day’ or that their intention to visit was ‘always 50/50’.

The remainder gave more understandable reasons such as government restrictions (a higher percentage for indoor attractions), unsuitable weather (higher for outdoor attractions) and ill health on the day. Some blamed poor organisational skills.

Reducing no shows
While some reasons are unavoidable, there’s potential to reduce ‘no-shows’ among people who were not committed to visiting in the first place. Ideas include communicating the negative impacts of ‘no-shows’ at an attraction and trying to change attitudes, as well as sending reminders – which also builds excitement – leading into the visit.

As we’ve seen in the wider hospitality sector, there’s also been growth in flexible booking software, allowing for last-minute cancellations. Some – such as the Roman Baths, in Bath, UK – allow you to cancel your visit up to the last minute. Others don’t allow cancellation at all. It’s no surprise, therefore, that the likes of the Roman Baths have comparatively low ‘no-show’ rates – although the price point will also be a driver.

The power of ‘yes shows’
While some people are no shows, there are also yes shows – people that would not have turned up if they hadn’t pre-booked. Eleven per cent of our market stated they’d been a ‘yes-show’ at some point in the previous six months, which statistically puts them level with the ‘no-shows’. There’s an argument that, on the day, the ‘no-shows’ and ‘yes-shows’ balance each other out. If steps can be taken to reduce the ‘no-shows’ these might even be a net gain as a result of pre-booking.

Pre-booking secures bookings in advance of the visit day, and allows venues to plan accordingly to stay in line with government restrictions. These numbers are then skewed by no shows, forcing operators to make assumptions about how many visitors will actually walk through the gates.

Increasing secondary spend
When it comes to revenue, pre-booking increases secondary spend by making visitors feel they have more disposable income on the day and evens out the pattern of visitor arrival throughout the day, increasing availability in catering outlets and enabling a better experience while making retail spend more likely. Many attractions also report growth in donations and Gift Aid using this method.

The harvesting of visitors’ emails means there are opportunities for pre- and post-visit communication, which can drive better visitor relationships, as well as building excitement and awareness of parts of the attraction that are typically missed.

The ClearSight survey found most visitors were positive about pre-booking, with seventy per cent stating they’d still be likely to visit if they had to pre-book. The main advantages were the ability to plan, as well as the incentive of reduced queuing on arrival and a less busy experience.

Despite majority support, however, a significant minority – 25 per cent – see pre-booking as a bad thing, with 30 per cent of people less likely to visit if pre-booking is required.

With fewer international visitors expected in 2022, attractions will need to maximise the number of domestic visitors. Although 25 per cent is a minority, it still represents lots of potential visitors, so –combined with our knowledge of the spontaneous visitor – these findings raise a red flag for a 100 per cent pre-booking model.

There are clear advantages to maintaining pre-booking post COVID-19. However, there’s almost certainly a need for a hybrid approach that allows for walk-up visits.

Clever messaging and booking software that allows for last-minute cancellations will reduce ‘no-shows’, but regardless of how well this is done, there will always be spontaneous, disorganised visitors who would rather just turn up on the day.

Fail to cater for them and you may lose them as a visitor. Flexibility is all.

Key research takeaways

Attractions were drawn to pre-booking as lockdown restrictions lifted, using it to deal with the high volumes of no shows.

Seven in 10 visitors said ‘they had booked more than one place to visit and would decide on the day’ or that ‘the likelihood of visiting was always 50/50’.

The main advantages were the ability to plan, as well as the incentive of reduced queuing on arrival and a less busy experience.

There is almost certainly a need for a hybrid approach that allows for walk-up visits too.

Image Credit here if required

​Jon Young is travel and culture director at BVA BDRC | www.bva-bdrc.com


Originally published in Attractions Management 2021 issue 4

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