Face to face: Eleanor Harris

The director of visitor experience and enterprise at Royal Museums Greenwich talks about future plans for the four historic sites.

You worked very closely with the British Airways i360 project, and opened it as chief executive. How has that experienced helped with your work at Royal Museums Greenwich (RMG)?

My experiences at British Airways i360 and before that as Commercial Director at the London Eye and a consultant advising museums and visitor attractions have all been invaluable to my work at RMG.

I’ve joined the organisation at a time when it is becoming increasingly important for museums to generate more income – from ticket sales, retail, catering, corporate events etc – as government cuts in museum funding seem to be here to stay.

My background in the commercial sector means I’ve been able to identify opportunities to improve our income and attract new audiences at RMG. It has been great to be able to hit the ground running and to already have a positive impact on our financial performance and visitor experience in my first year.

Have you noticed any change in visitors to RMG since you started in January?

We are seeing a real growth in the overseas market over the past year, partly because of the large number of international visitors in London. But also because of an increased awareness of Greenwich as a destination.

In particular we are seeing a surge of Chinese visitors. We cater for the Chinese market with a Mandarin audio tour at the Royal Observatory, and one will follow in 2018 at the Cutty Sark and the Queen’s House. We also accept Union Pay and our employees have had Chinese welcome training.

We are finding that tourists are beginning to discover more at Royal Museums Greenwich. The Royal Observatory and National Maritime Museum have always been big favourites, but this year we’ve had record numbers visiting the Cutty Sark and the newly reopened Queen’s House art gallery – particularly since the return of the Armada Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I.

Taking selfies seems to be the trend that is set to stay. The most popular spots at our sites are on the world famous Prime Meridian Line where you can stand with one foot in the east and one in the west; the lovely views of London from the Royal Observatory and hanging on to the rigging or steering the wheel on the Cutty Sark.

How was the revamped branding received earlier this year?

Very positively, both by our visitors and colleagues. This is the first time Royal Museums Greenwich has had a brand strategy and unifying visual identity across our four different sites: National Maritime Museum, Royal Observatory, the Queen’s House and Cutty Sark.

Ultimately, we would like visitors to experience more of RMG when they visit Greenwich and to return for another visit or join as a member.

Since the rebranding, we have had great results in terms of increased visitor numbers – we were one of the only London attractions to see a growth in visitors this summer – a greater uptake of ‘combined tickets’ for visitors to go to two RMG attractions and higher membership sales.

Our web traffic and social media followers are at an all-time high.

Do you think there is still work to be done on clarifying the RMG brand messaging?

Yes, we are still at the early stage of our rebranding and there is much more of the brand to be rolled out in 2018.

For example, next year we will update all of our external signage and our employee uniforms.

We will be developing service standards that align with our brand. We also have several exciting advertising campaigns planned aimed at the cultural adult audience, overseas tourists and families.

What are your ambitions for RMG over the coming years?

Royal Museums Greenwich is now a top 10 UK attraction. My ambition is to see our visitor numbers to continue to increase and for our reputation to grow for our world-class museums.

We will be continuing to focus on improving our visitor experience and customer ratings, which are already ahead of other London attractions and museums.

A priority will be to generate more income to ensure our financial security.

Is there a demographic you’d like to be attracting more of?

Our core audiences are overseas visitors, UK cultural adults, UK families and schools. We will continue to aim to develop these audiences.

In the overseas market, we have already worked hard to develop the Chinese market and plan to focus on some of the other top international markets in the next few years such as the USA, France and Germany.

Are you able to tell us of plans for 2018?

We will be opening the new Exploration Wing at the National Maritime Museum including four new galleries and a new shop.

I’m very much looking forward to the two photography exhibitions next year at the National Maritime Museum: The Great British Seaside (March-September 2018) and a 10 year celebration of the best images from our ever popular Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition.

We will be upgrading our cafés with more catering options across our sites. Following the success of our multi-lingual audio tour at the Royal Observatory, we will be introducing tours at the Cutty Sark and the Queen’s House, and increasing the number of languages available.

Our ever-popular cast of character crew members at the Cutty Sark will become an integral part of the visitor experience on every visit – until now they have only been onboard on weekends and school holidays.

We also have three exciting new attractions planned, which we will be announcing next year.