Embracing the Rush: Preparing for the Arts and Cultural Busy Seasons

Last week Ginny Fitzgerald, the Director of Visitor Services and Membership at Chicago History Museum, joined us to host a webinar about how she prepares her team for peak attendance times. Ginny has over 17 years of experience in visitor services.

Here’s Ginny’s advice for how your organization can best prepare for the seasonal rush that’s quickly approaching:

1. Summer Tourism

Chicago History Museum defines their summer season as June 1 through August 31. Because of this, they make sure their prices and packages are buttoned up by early March so that their program and tour information can be made available to members and the public. Once they publish this information, changes can’t be made to pricing models.  Something that goes along with pricing is membership. Members are the first to receive the quarterly program brochure, and they use the member pricing benefit to upsell membership to the museum all year long.  They make sure that all of the benefits of membership are communicated effectively and repeatedly to visitors in the summer, since many summer visitors are visiting for the first time.

When communicating program pricing externally, use three main access points:

  1. A quarterly calendar 
  2. Your website
  3. Printed brochures

Ginny pointed out that on all printed materials they ask for people to check the website for the latest pricing information in case any changes have to be made.

The ticket counter 

You want to be as efficient as possible when people start visiting, whether it’s a group or an individual. That means staff working the counter should be fully trained and comfortable before June 1st. In a perfect world, no one should be going through the training process during the summer months.

Tours and programs

These go hand in had as both are the programs you want in place for the summer to encourage traffic. Depending on the size of the program, the majority of the planning has likely already occurred for this summer but there are some final program details still underway. The museum likes to find new and unique ways to engage visitors each year. One really popular way for encouraging people to visit, or repeat visit, is by offering offsite tours to different parts of the city. Chicago History Museum has found that getting out of the building is a low cost way to increase engagement, and the city is their premier artifact!

2. Spring Field Trips

Chicago History Museum has more school visitors between April 1 and June 15 than any other time of the year and they are operating at full capacity for the school audience at that time of year.

Website brochures

At this point, in the winter months (February), it is typically most important that the School Visit pages of their website are up to date because they have found that their brochures are most helpful in getting schools to book trips and the website is the teacher’s point of reference in the weeks just before the trip. The museum has “Guidelines for your Visit” that describe when to arrive, what students should wear, how students should behave, and any applicable waiver forms.

Staff Preparation

Long before April 1st make sure that you have the appropriate staff in place. You need volunteers and visitor services staffing to be on their “A” game for a field trip because there are so many visitors. In addition, try to remember that if the kids have a good time, they will want to bring their parents back. You want to make sure your volunteers and staff are doing everything they can to keep kids engaged and, of course, safe. Also, make sure the orientation process is smooth and quick, requiring the staff member(s) responsible for checking-in the groups to be properly trained on the processes and tools.

As you can imagine, a group of kids is messier and harder on the museum than a group of adults. Be sure your facility maintenance staff’s schedule is in place for this busy time of year so that your facility stays clean and neat.  Provide them a copy of the weekly school visit schedule.

Plans for the future

By the end of the field trip season you should be beginning to prepare for the next year. The heaviest volume for field trip reservations for Chicago History Museum is from September 1 through October 10. They design, print, and mail their field trip brochure between July 15 and August 15 and make sure their web pages are updated to coordinate with when the brochure will land in the teacher’s mailbox.

Additionally, a very important function of Visitor Services is accurately tracking the attendance and revenue for the school audience.  This is vital information that is reported externally and it is essential for future planning and school program development.

3. The Holidays

The holidays are a big season for everyone and the museum is no exception. Depending on the day of the week that Christmas and New Year’s fall, Chicago History Museum sees a rush of General Admission tickets for anywhere from 10 days to 3 weeks.

Staff Vacation

Many of staff members are taking vacation during this time of year, but visitor services, membership sales, and facility support are operating at full capacity. In fact, Chicago History Museum notes in their job descriptions that no one on these teams will get to take the entirety of the holiday off of work. While it’s important to give your staff time with family, make sure you have the staff members present that need to be there to take advantage of this busy season.

Program Promotion

Because so many people are coming in during this season, make sure to promote your museum programming. During this time printed materials fly off the brochure racks, onsite membership sales take off, and ticketing and reservations for upcoming programs all increase.

Don’t forget…

Ask for donations!

Tis the season for end of year giving, so make sure to remind your visitors that you are a nonprofit and gifts are tax deductible.


The biggest takeaway from this event was the importance of planning ahead. Ginny has a team of approximately 8 people from across the organization that are responsible for driving this planning and they are constantly looking ahead to make sure their museum is set up for success.

Is your museum planning ahead for busy seasons? What are you doing now to prepare for summer?

Want to watch the webinar? Check out the recording today!