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The Access Group helps W5 overcome challenges of COVID


The Access Group, the creator of a leading visitor and venue management system, provides its Access Gamma solution to W5 Science and Discovery Centre in Belfast. This popular attraction is home to more than 250 hands-on exhibits, and also hosts seasonal events, science shows and temporary exhibitions.

W5 (whowhatwherewhenwhy) is on a mission to ‘to fire the spirit of discovery’, engaging visitors with hands-on science education. Since it opened 20 years ago, it has reached over 4 million visitors and is working to make STEM more accessible, relevant and fun for guests of all ages.

Unique challenges

As a Science and Discovery centre, there are several challenges that W5 needs to overcome each year, as Victoria Deenon, Head of W5 Experience explains:

“We have to make sure we stay relevant and up to date with what we want to deliver to our audience so while our exhibits may be fixed and not change for a long period of time, we need to make sure that we are getting that visitor experience as interactive as possible and updating that as often as possible.”

Therefore, the centre needs to make long term plans when it comes to events and workshops, in order to provide a new experience for visitors each time.

Recently, as with many other attractions, W5 has faced a whole new set of challenges as a result of COVID-19. Because of this, it was key that the centre had the best solution in place ready for reopening. In particular, it needed to move to a fully online booking system that can manage advance bookings quickly and easily. This is where Access Gamma came in:

“It was through conversations we had with Access about the Gamma product, which we already had in place, and we realised the solution was right there and just by adding a couple of different modules from Gamma, will give us that solution to be able to go completely online with the bookings and to be able to play with our pricing – so that at certain points of the day to be able to offer slightly cheaper pricing to ensure we were meeting our social affordability goals for our visitors,” says Deenon.

“It’s been a real benefit to us having Access Gamma available during these times, to make sure we can deliver a safe visitor experience but also one that delivers the best quality visitor experience because we are able to manage our capacity for visitors over a day.”

Working more efficiently

In addition, Access Gamma allows W5 to extract comprehensive reports. This means that it is able to make informed, data-driven decisions, says Deenon:

“Prior to Covid, Gamma was really a great product for us because it helped us manage a lot of different aspects of our complex business so whatever we do at W5, has to be able to integrate with the bigger organisation that we are part of.

“We found that through using Gamma, we have been able to run very effective reports to help us with managing stock levels, to make sure we are making good decisions around what visitors attended when and also to integrate with our financial system and make sure that when we are developing bigger reports for the wider organisation, that what we’re doing in W5 can easily match up with the organisation as a whole.

“We found that just by adding a couple of different modules to Gamma over the course of 6 years or so, we’ve been able to do that more effectively each time.

“The great relationship we have with our Sales Manager and all the team at Gamma has massively helped. We talked things through about what we want to achieve, how we want to get there and then being able to get demonstrations of how those products would work for us in that particular environment.”

Reaching new audiences

W5 is always working to reach new audiences. Being a very data-driven organisation, it is able to use the features of Access Gamma to help bring visitors in and to drive repeat visits as well.

Being able to run reports through Access Gamma has really helped us maximise what we were able to do as an organisation,” says Deenon. “So when we are doing our long term planning, one of the major things we’re looking at is how we can reach out to new audiences but also how do we make sure that those audiences that are coming, keep coming back.

“It really helps us when we’re able to look at the data, work with our Marketing team on that data and develop key goals in terms of going forward when it comes to marketing and promotion of W5.”

A user-friendly solution

“One of the nice things about the Gamma system is that it is very user friendly,” adds Deenon. “We have delivered training through Access to all of our staff who are using it more on a daily basis and they seem to pick it up very quickly. From a Manager’s point of view, I really like the overview that you can get from the reporting structure and I find a very intuitive system to use.”

The Access Group also provides support to customers, to help them to get the most out of the solution:

“One of the nice things for me personally and for the rest of organisation is that we have a great working relationship with Access and that has led to us using more products from the Access line.

“For example, with being closed as a result of COVID, we’ve had some ongoing discussions about how we can look to the future and do things differently and that has led us to a path where we are looking at the potential to implement additional Access products on-site across the business and not just at W5.

“And this has really been the result of working closely with our Sales Manager about what needs we have that we’re not currently meeting through technology and how we could be working more closely with the products we have to get the best results.”

Safety is key

“Through COVID, one of the things that has been very important across the board for the sector has been this need to really manage your visitor experience, make sure it is safe and that you’re not going over capacity in certain days or time slots,” says Deenon, on how the solution has been key in helping W5 in the wake of the pandemic.

“One of the lovely things about the Gamma product is that it gives you the ability to control all of that and to do it dynamically so on a particular day, you can change your capacity, or you can change your pricing structure if that’s something you’re looking to do. I was really excited to learn how flexible and agile the system can be and I think this is something attractions across the board are going to have to look to implement if they’re not already there.”

Last year, The Access Group released a new content hub with insights into how to create the new visitor experience as attractions recover from the impact of COVID-19.

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charlotte coates

Charlotte Coates

Charlotte Coates is blooloop's editor. She is from Brighton, UK and previously worked as a librarian. She has a strong interest in arts, culture and information and graduated from the University of Sussex with a degree in English Literature. Charlotte can usually be found either with her head in a book or planning her next travel adventure.

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