Group Tour Interest in Decline: Why Museums Should Invest Elsewhere (DATA)

group tours

Investing in attracting tour groups is an increasingly futile endeavor for museums. Here’s the data and what to do instead.

Many visitor-serving organizations increasingly bemoan the challenges associated with the leisure group tour market. (This being a different attendance category – and revenue line item – than school groups.) Typically, visitor-serving organizations have salespeople dedicated to the process of soliciting tour groups. In other words, their job is to get group business.

This business has been in decline – and the data suggests that it’s not because the salespeople suddenly got bad at their jobs.  It’s because people do not want to go on group tours.  This makes sense: Ours is an era of personalization- every experience is tailored.  Group visits are the exact opposite – every experience is standardized.

Your organization isn’t imagining things: It’s harder to attract leisure tour groups today than in the past. Here are three, data-based reasons to utilize full-time staff (FTEs) in a way that is more likely to drive actual visitation than futilely increasing investments in the leisure tour group market:


1) People do not think group tours are a fun way to visit a museum

IMPACTS group tours are fun way to visit museums

The Y-axis in the chart above indicates the mean scalar variable response so as to indicate the level of agreement with the statement on a 1-100 scale.  Anything much below 60 tends to indicate a level of disagreement (i.e. “not fun”).

Perception of the enjoyment of museum visits through group tours not only started out at less-than-impressive levels when IMPACTS began tracking the metric in 2008, perception has since been in steady decline. This is also the case in regard to group tours to zoos and even cities, suggesting that it isn’t the museum group tour that’s “broken” – it’s the group tour concept itself. Similar data exists for sporting events, aquariums, theme parks…you name it. Again, the personalization trend is at odds with the standardized experience of group tours – regardless of the venue.

We decided to look into this a bit more, and the outcomes to this inquiry were also extremely telling (although perhaps altogether unsurprising)…


2) Group tours do not likely have a sustainable future

 IMPACTS group tours are fun chart

Like the previous chart, the data above also demonstrate a mean scalar variable response so as to indicate the level of agreement with the statement on a 1-100 scale. Again, dipping below 60 tends to indicate a level of disagreement (i.e. “not fun”). The data here is unassailable: The market – and especially millennials – do not think group tours are fun.

Millennials represent the single largest generation in human history and will make up the largest consumer segment of the market for the next 40 years at minimum. These folks don’t think group tours are fun – and their perceptions are declining rapidly. “We aren’t trying to attract millennials with group tours anyway,” you say? Well, the general market (even excluding millennials) doesn’t think group tours are much fun either.

This trend toward the negative perception of the enjoyment of group tours – like most evolution within the industry – mirrors the general market preference for more tailored experiences. On social media, the ads that come up in your newsfeed are picked just for you. Email has evolved to become a more personalized way to tell important stories than an opportunity to “spam” with broader messages. Audiences want to decide what they think of organizations for themselves. Today, everyone’s a curator. Group tours embody the opposite of these market preferences – the regulated, homogeneity of a common experience.


3) There are areas in which staff resources for group tours may be reallocated in order to truly drive visitation.

I think it’s interesting that some organizations that claim to not be able to afford to augment their social teams still maintain group salespeople.  The alternative use of those same funds would likely have a better ROI more broadly engaged to support the communications effort.

Digital engagement isn’t the only area in which data suggest alternative investments may yield more visitors and donor support. Indeed, any position that supports more personalized experiences has been proven to drive both reputation and satisfaction levels within institutions. Investing more in front-line staff and deploying personal facilitated experiences is an urgent need that many institutions are overlooking.

In short: Museums often have full-time staff dedicated to managing a program that many folks don’t even want. At the same time, there are data-supported audience “touch points” that may not be receiving adequate investment. Once a month, one of us at IMPACTS seems to get asked, “What can we do to improve our leisure group business?”  The answer is: Get out of the group business (and get into the personalization business)!


Like this post? Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

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Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, IMPACTS Data, Millennials, Myth Busting, Trends 9 Comments

About the author

Colleen Dilenschneider

MPA. Chief Market Engagement Officer at IMPACTS Research & Development. Nonprofit marketer, Generation Y museum, zoo & aquarium writer/speaker, web engagement geek, data nerd, marathoner, nomad, herbivore

9 Responses to Group Tour Interest in Decline: Why Museums Should Invest Elsewhere (DATA)

  1. Linda Wilson

    Your post makes a lot of sense. So group marketing will still be there, but is not a growing market.
    Not all tour groups come for a multi-day visit to a city, where a museum might be one stop.
    I’d be interested in learning about perceptions of older adults – especially in the local area surrounding a museum. Would you say your findings apply to day trips as well?

    • colleendilen

      The data suggest that the observed personalization trends apply equally to day and overnight visitors (and, for that matter, to people traveling by themselves, as a couple, with family, as group, etc.) I agree with your analysis – the traditional “group sales” model is not a growing market. There may be opportunities to update the model to be more responsive to current consumer wants- but, again, the question would be: Would the same investments applied yield better results elsewhere?

  2. Laura Roberts

    Thank you Colleen! I have been trying to convince clients of this for years based almost entirely on gut instinct. Great to have data!

  3. Paul Orselli

    I’m curious how this information squares with the rise (at least in media coverage) with groups like “Museum Hack” that seem to thrive on group tours for millennials?

    • colleendilen

      Great question! I think that Museum Hack has been responsive to this data in so much as their positioning seems to emphasize the “renegade” nature of their experiences and offer a level of personalization, “behind the scenes” insider access, and intimacy that is atypical of the more structured group tour experience. Even the construct of their tours varies from the 45 person motorcoach that has dominated the leisure market – small groups, more personally facilitated experiences, etc. So, in a nutshell, I think that they’re working to improve many aspects of what the market deems lacking about the many more traditional group tours. Perhaps there is a lesson in their offerings for organizations seeking to re-imagine their own experiences?

  4. Erin Bailey

    Thanks for sharing. I am curious how this relates to university based museums?

    • colleendilen

      The data wasn’t specifically segmented as to denote university-based museums. This said, I don’t observe any anecdotal or qualitative evidence that suggests that university-based enterprise would be exempt from prevailing market forces. Of course, some visits to universities (and, in turn, to their museums) may not be solely leisure motivated. For example, an open house or homecoming weekend may inspire a group visit – but this visit wouldn’t be primarily motivated by the museum’s presence, nor would it be a traditional leisure pursuit. I’ll keep an eye open for any more specific university-related findings, and report back should I come across anything that may be of interest to you. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  5. Mary Warner

    My organization, the Morrison County Historical Society/Weyerhaeuser Museum, is located in a community with lots of other attractions. There has been a strong push in our community to have attractions offer group tours. For years (probably over a decade now), we have known that group tours don’t work for our organization. For most group tours, we’re just another stop on the way to lunch and socializing with other tour members. Some tour members really take in our exhibits; most of the others give our exhibits a cursory glance and are looking at their watches (note that I didn’t say phones) because they’re waiting to go to the next site. Our bread-and-butter has been assisting individual researchers with their specific research requests … the hands-on, personalized service you suggest in your post.

  6. Emily Mahon

    This is an incredibly helpful article. My group tours office has been under incredible scrutiny for a trend that they don’t have control over. This has really helped provide our team with a basis from which we can start to make meaningful arguments for change in departmental focus. My question for you is whether you can share more details on your data sources and collection methods? I’m sure that’s going to come up and I wonder if I could receive tips on where to find other studies like this?


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