Overview of Halesworth Heritage Open Days and survey results

The Visitor Survey was completed by just 19 people (17 of these were picked up from The Cut and 2 at St Mary’s Church) representing a sample well below 10% of the probable total number of visitors based on estimated figures from past Halesworth HOD weekends. It would therefore be inappropriate to draw any hard and fast conclusions from these returns. Nevertheless the raw data throws up information which may add to the overall ‘feel’ for how the weekend went.

First, some facts about pre-bookings for Tours and Events (from The Cut HOD Box Office): Bank House – 48/48 / Chapel House – 31/32 / The Cut – 25/40 / Gothic House – 20/20Hooker House – 40/40 / Magnolia House – 72/72 / Wellington Court – 48/48 / Others: St Mary’s Play ‘A Moment in Time’ – 54 Presold, final number unknown / The Cut Choir – 20.

Overall, just over 90% of respondents enjoyed their experience of Halesworth and the HOD event as a whole – this is in line with previous surveys for this event. Most respondents came from within a 15mile radius of Halesworth but we also had visitors from Ipswich, Hitchin (Herts) and even Australia – interestingly this particular person had made a special journey to find out as much as possible about the town from which her family originated! Two comments speak for several anecdotal ones of similar ilk:
“Very grateful to those who masterminded the weekend and look forward to next year”
“Interesting, quirky, colourful”

It is also worth noting that the two ‘first-time’ events – the Medieval experience at St Mary’s and choral singing at The Cut – both drew appreciative audiences and participation.

The brochure’s ‘look & feel’ was similarly rated as good/excellent by the vast majority of respondents.

The enthusiasm and knowledge of HOD ‘staff’ (this includes volunteers, tour guides and property owners) was generally praised but this time there were one or two strong criticisms – mainly concerning lack of preparation as evidenced by a heavy reliance on “reading from a script as if for the first time” by some tour guides. Nevertheless we also received appreciative comments such as:
“Enthusiastic guides, fascinating info.”
“Staff excellent – all interesting in different ways”

If there was a consistently more critical element in the responses, it was over the matter of ‘bookings’ – although even here the good/excellent rating was in the region of 85%. Nevertheless, nearly half of the respondents commented that they did not manage to see the particular venues that they had most wished to view, and I know that Peter at The Cut Box Office had to remain extremely calm in the face of some quite unpleasant and misdirected criticism. The main problems concerned confusion over published box office opening times and one or two mis-timings or clashes between individual events – eg. choir rehearsals and Cut tours / the Malt Trail walk not being available on Sunday despite what was said in the brochure.

The reality is that there will always be an over-demand for the ‘hot’ properties (Bank House is the prime example this year) in relation to their limited availability. Consequently a large number of people are always going to be disappointed, irrespective of any confusion over box office times. I suspect that the much clearer and more informative photos included in this year’s brochure probably also stoked up an increased demand for visits to the highlighted properties. Two suggestions from respondents are worthy of consideration for future HODs:
Include a note of tours and walks in date/time order on website and brochure so that the viewer/reader can immediately pinpoint alternative sets of choices.
Have a brief ‘online-only’ pre-booking period before opening it up to walk-in ticket hunters, so that visitors from further away have an equal opportunity to book themselves into popular venues. [NB. This from a visitor coming all the way from Australia for the occasion]
Someone also commented on the fact that there were fewer tours on Sunday, thus contributing to a further limiting of choice on the second day of the weekend.

Finally, as in previous years, the majority of respondents said that they had spent between £5 & £15 in the town during their visit, although the number spending more had also increased somewhat as a proportion of the total (the visitor from Australia booked into a local hostelry for the weekend).

Simon Raven – 24/09/15

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Traveller, writer, bad yoga student, dog walker. East Anglian. Woodland owner

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