Shaftesbury’s Abbey Museum is preparing for more non-English speaking tourists next season. Their Chairman has taken action after noticing increased numbers of overseas visitors. The TIC Manager has recognised a similar pattern. Alfred reports.
“It’s just a general feel that there are more foreign visitors coming here. It’s something we want to make the most of,” explained Pete Ryley, the Chairman of Shaftesbury Abbey Museum.
Pete says that visitor numbers have remained fairly static, at around 13,000 people each year, during his seven-year involvement with the Abbey. But more visits by Russian travellers has prompted Abbey Museum volunteer, Svetlana Goddard, to translate the museum’s guide into that language.
The Abbey doesn’t record entrants’ nationalities, but Pete flicked through their visitors book in front of me. On the most recent page, long distance visitors made twelve comments. There were just two entries from United Kingdom residents.
“There are two from the Netherlands, Australia, different parts of the United States, Florida, Maine and Washington. There’s another one from Australia, Victoria. And more from Florida and California. That’s a Canadian from Ottawa,” said Pete, as he read the handwritten remarks and addresses. “It just shows that Shaftesbury is on the international map. It’s something I think we need to build on,” said Pete.
Perhaps people who have travelled long distances might be more likely to record their presence in a visitor’s book? We all know that British people can be quite reserved whereas some nationalities are keen to wave their flags. A disproportionate number of non-Brits could be signing the museum record.
Pete accepts this. “That is true. The vast majority of our visitors are from the UK, but they tend not to record the fact that they have visited in the book, unless we specifically ask them for comments.”
Over on Bell Street, David Taylor, Manager of the Tourist Info Centre, has also been aware of a trend towards more international visitors. “There has been a slight increase this year. We have always had overseas visitors. The Dutch are normally our largest single contingent. This year, we have seen more Germans, Americans, Australians and a lot more Eastern Europeans and people from the Far East. There has been a small but marked increase,” said David.
Whilst the weak pound makes British holidays a good deal for many people abroad, David puts our town’s tourism draw down to our most famous landmark, that quintessentially English scene. “Why would anybody from overseas come to Shaftesbury? We know that Visit England and other organisations use Gold Hill as the iconic image of England. People come to see the hill. The question comes in various languages and accents, ‘Where is the hill’? The use of the hill works overseas,” said David.
Alfred recently featured a party of six American tourists who booked a stay for four days of their 12-day England and France break at Melbury Abbas. They were encouraged to visit because they’d searched for a classic English view online and Google had served up an image of Gold Hill.
So how will tourism bosses cater for overseas visitors in the future? In the summer, the Abbey Museum asked visitors how they wanted its story presented, as part of a proposed redevelopment of the museum. Pete believes that a planned new timeline needs to refer to international events, like the Black Death, so non-UK visitors get a sense of what happened and when.
“This timeline will not only say what the dates are, it will present the key people for the Abbey, such as important royal visitors, saints and the abbesses. It will then put that into context with the international events which were happening in those periods,” explained Pete.
And Pete says the Abbey is now making provision for more foreign language speakers. “Earlier this year, we replaced the audio guide system with one that will take foreign language translations and allow us to readily put them on the guides. We have not done it yet, but we have bought kit that will enable us to. At the moment, we just have the printed guides in eight different languages. It’s a way that we are trying to move ahead. But we are a volunteer-run, volunteer-led museum. We can only go so fast,” Pete explained.
David says the TIC does consider the needs of non-English speakers. “We have the lovely walk guide written by Anna McDowell. One by one, we’ve had various nationalities coming in to volunteer to translate it. We’ve now got that walk translated into Italian, French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Chinese and Polish. We don’t have a Russian version yet,” added David.
Whether it’s the poorly performing pound making England more attractive, foreign families visiting their children in our area’s many private schools or social media selling Shaftesbury’s scenery, it is good to know that two of our town’s tourism assets are offering a warm welcome, willkommen or witaj to people who have made a real effort to visit.