Visitor centre business plan. What’s involved?

Visitor Centre Feasibility StudyBusiness plans are an invaluable tool when looking to maximise the long-term financial sustainability of visitor centres and other built facilities in leisure destinations. Planning Solutions Consulting use a market led approach to identify and assess a variety of options, backed up by a robust business case. This article shares the steps we take in the preparation of a winning feasibility study and business plan.

We start by understanding the brief, getting to grips with key challenges and the client’s vision for success. An inception meeting brings us up to speed with the design and development of the project so far, including options considered to date. Client expectations are combined with extensive market research to establish the key issues for consideration.

A site visit and assessment is essential to understand the project in more detail and how the potential visitor experience could work.

A review of the relevant strategic documents from the Council and other national and regional bodies helps to place the project within the wider strategic context of the region or sub region.

Consultation with key stakeholders regarding their needs and aspirations. Primary research with potential visitors is usually carried out too. This can include face-to-face and online surveys.

A market review looks at the needs of visitors, considering factors such as:

  • Current provision in the local area – understanding the competitive landscape, which also helps to identify gaps within the market place
  • General demographic and economic trends
  • The tourism market place
  • The wider visitor attraction market place

A significant amount of research is involved in this stage of the project in order to establish robust business case and to ensure that the end product meets the needs of the market.

Benchmarking against competitors and similar sites, we will identify multiple examples of best practice which could be applicable to the project. Our wide portfolio of projects and relationships with previous clients provide a fantastic resource for future developments.

The next stage of our work focuses on identifying a range of potential options. We will then highlight activities which have the greatest potential to meet the brief. Where a visitor centre is concerned, that may be creating a flagship visitor experience, engaging with audiences, boosting return visits, extending dwell time or optimising spend.

A matrix is built to assess the opportunities enabling objective and robust assessment. We work closely with clients to develop the scoring matrix in line with their priorities and ensure a deliverable outcome. For example, this could include Potential market appeal and ability to engage with new audiences along with an extensive range of other criteria

To help identify the preferred development scenario, the relevant parties within the Project Team are often invited to attend a visioning workshop. This can be a great opportunity to involve key stakeholders and partners and enable them to input their knowledge and experience to reach consensus on the lead opportunity.

Consideration is also given to the governance of the project.

In development of the business case, we then establish capital costs, using knowledge of previous projects and research including the latest quarterly figures from BCIS.

Key operational considerations form an essential part of delivering a realistic and achievable business plan. These may include:

  • Opening periods/times and ticketing strategy
  • Parking charges
  • Membership schemes
  • Discounting policy
  • Gift Aid (if applicable)
  • Access to catering and retail facilities

Catering and retail operations can, if managed well, contribute significantly to the income generating potential of a site. Within the business plan the potential risks and benefits of different options can be considered and recommendations made.

Visitor modelling forecasts expected footfall, driven by the markets, appeal of the offer, pricing policy, accessibility, capacity, opening times and marketing are set out. Seasonality and repeat visits are also factored into this analysis.

Following on from visitor modelling, our financial analysis then projects operational costs and income forecasts, producing a ten year trading profile along with maintenance and management costs. The figures include sensitivity analysis, taking into account differing visitor throughput and spend.

A risk assessment considers factors including economic climate and management.

Potential partnership opportunities and funding streams are explored.

If you are interested in finding out more about PSC’s approach to visitor experience business planning, please get in touch by emailing (richard@pslplan.co.uk) or calling Richard Linington on 023 9248 1999 and follow us on Twitter.