Creating a Holistic Visitor Experience

“Customer journey mapping” or “customer walk-through assessments” are relatively new method of studying a customer’s buying experience by identifying all the places that a company interacts with a customer and evaluating each of these “touchpoints.”   By mapping the customer’s journey to buy a product from their initial search for information to its delivery and installation, a company can better understand the customer experience and discover where to improve.  Here’s an example of a map for a business traveler for an airline company:


The same technique can be adopted by historic sites who are seeking to increase visitor revenue and satisfaction.  Mapping their journey goes far beyond evaluating just the tours or exhibits.   A visitor’s experience of the site starts long before the tour starts, and as we all know, their evaluation of the site and organization can be seriously affected by hard-to-find parking or a confusing ticket purchase.

A simple Customer Journey Map for a visitor traveling from home to a museum and returning home.


The process of creating a “customer journey map” or “visitor experience map” starts with a staff team identifying all the touchpoints for a particular visitor, such as tourists or local residents.  Each touchpoint or experience where the visitor interacts with the site (either directly or indirectly) is identified from start to finish.  This could include a guidebook, website, highway signs, admission desk, parking lot, tour, restaurant, gift shop, and exit gate.  These touchpoints are arranged from start to finish, and then evaluated individually.  This becomes the start of a plan to improve the visitor experience.  Wired Canvas of London offers a free workbook for arts organizations to explain the process in detail.

Although incredibly useful, I haven’t seen customer journey maps adopted by historic sites.  There are variants, such as a circulation path for the grounds, as a way to organize a heritage trail, or providing pre-visit and post-visit activities for school programs, but nothing at the depth of a customer journey map.  Even among museums it seems to be rare although I found a great example for the Exploratorium.  This year they moved to a new larger facility in San Francisco and in preparation worked with Adaptive Path to create a visitor experience map starting with the premise that, “the future Exploratorium, online and off, offers new opportunities for visitor engagement.  The co-creation of a customer experience map can help us all see how to integrate, extend, and deepen these visit experiences.”  In their process, they developed an ideal “happy path” and then examined each of touch points to describe the visitor’s behavior, feelings, and thoughts along with the potential highlights and pain points from “get the idea” to “do the museum” to “return to life”.



Visitor experience mapping is a novel idea for museums and historic sites, but reinforces the need to be more visitor-centric in our exhibits, programs, and fundraising to be sustainable.  A recent study in the Harvard Business Review noted that, “journey-based transformations are not easy and they may take years to perfect, but the reward is higher customer and employee satisfaction, increased revenue, and lower costs.”

At the upcoming workshop Historic House Museums Issues and Operations in San Francisco on April 24-25, 2014, we’ll be using visitor experience mapping and other techniques to explore the latest theories and methods in the management of historic sites.  And if you can stay an extra day, it’s an ideal opportunity to visit the newly reopened Exploratorium to see how they engage their visitors.

Max A. van Balgooy is the President of Engaging Places, LLC, and serves as faculty for the Historic House Museums Issues and Operations workshop. He also serves on AASLH Council.

AALSH Footer Logo

Our Mailing Address:
2021 21st Ave S., Suite 320
Nashville, TN 37212

Phone: 615-320-3203
Fax: 615-327-9013



The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) is a national association that provides leadership and support for its members who preserve and interpret state and local history in order to make the past more meaningful to all people.

Join Today


Please take a moment and sign up for our newsletter. You will get valuable and historical information delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign Up Today
AASLH eNewsletter

Please fill out the form below to subscribe to our newsletter.

AASLH eNewsletter

Please fill out the form below to subscribe to our newsletter.