Unattractive Attractions

Blackpool Tower was recently declared the second worst tourist attraction in an analysis of the world’s top visitor landmarks by travel site iVisa. It came second only to the Palace of Versailles in generating most Poor and Terrible ratings, as a proportion of all reviews. Even worse for the UK, half of the top 20 most complained-about attractions are to be found within these Isles.

TripAdvisor rankings and other such lists are part of the customer research process we all go through when deciding how to splash our holiday spending money, so this is a blow.

Even worse for the named and shamed attractions, the findings were picked up by several national online media, including this piece in mirror.co.uk. Journalists love a survey or a ranking, especially when it’s slinging mud at some of our national treasures, human or otherwise. Coverage in these widely read publications is guaranteed to propagate the research findings to an even larger engaged audience who might be in the market for a trip to Blackpool, Stonehenge, Big Ben, The Angel of the North, York Minster or the Giant’s Causeway – all of which made it into the top ten on the list of unattractive attractions.

The combination of poor online reviews and unfavourable online media coverage can be a devastating mix for an industry that has to work hard to keep up visitor numbers in a competitive market. What’s more, UK attractions are still struggling to recover from the impact of Covid, as this BBC news article reported in the same week. There are fewer international tourists than pre-pandemic and 37.8m fewer people visited a UK attraction in 2022, compared to 2019.

Judging by the reviews for many UK tourist destinations, visitors are simply no longer prepared to be fobbed off with exorbitant entrance prices, inedible food, rude staff or hours-long queues. In a world where we have to think twice about spending on basics, spending on leisure has to deliver a memorable visitor experience that lives up to the brand promise.

Reputations in any sector are built painstakingly over many years but can be eroded rapidly. What the research doesn’t explain is that 79% of Tripadvisor reviews for Blackpool Tower are either Very Good or Excellent, but that’s not the point. It’s not the story, as far as online news publications are concerned.

So, what can visitor attractions do to stave off the criticism and keep the turnstiles revolving? Reviews and online news coverage can be turned into invaluable insight, which provides advance warning when reputation is at risk. Here’s Metricomm’s own Top Ten list to help the UK’s tourist industry better manage its response to customer feedback and media interest, before an engaging story mutates into a crisis:

  1. Look past the headlines and focus on obtaining a balanced view of reputation
  2. Conduct regular online reviews analysis, which allows both net negative and net positive reviews to be properly understood in context
  3. Don’t just read reviews and try to placate visitors who weren’t impressed by responding online– use robust content analysis to quantify the information contained in customer feedback thematically and determine a) what’s going well and b) what could be improved
  4. Fix the problems that most irritate visitors. Even if ‘only’ 10% of the admissions are dissatisfied, that can translate into a lot of destructive negativity and breed brand detractors who continue to share their disappointment
  5. Look properly at review trends over time to monitor whether the guest experience is improving and if not, why not
  6. Combine regular professional reviews analysis with regular evaluation of what the online media audience is seeing and what themes are influencing brand perceptions
  7. Understand the named media which are creating visibility and vibes. Evaluate how this alters overall online positioning
  8. Find out what consumers are doing as a consequence of reading media coverage. What is the impact of news on Google search, website visits or even admissions revenue
  9. Work out what kinds of stories produce an uplift in Google search, or admissions numbers, or website visits. Can these opportunities be maximised through media relations activity?
  10. Feed this insight into communications strategy and planning as a ‘barometer’ and a means to better target messaging, budget and other resources.