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Castle Howard’s love story with China - as told by Abbigail Ollive

Episode Summary

Abbigail Ollive, Head of Marketing at Castle Howard, shares the brilliantly inspiring story of how the castle has increased overseas visitors from China to 60% of all their international visitors.

Episode Notes

Castle Howard is a stunning stately home in rural North Yorkshire, designed by Sir John Vanbrugh back in 1699 for the third Earl of Carlisle. Since the 50s, Castle Howard has been a visitor attraction, welcoming around 300,000 visitors a year.

In todays podcast, we’ll hear from Abbigail Ollive, Head of Marketing as she shares with us a beautiful story, of how China fell in love with the Castle, and how one wedding started a chain reaction of incredible events leading them to increase overseas visitors to around 60%.

Castle Howard was one of the first attractions in the UK to install the WeChat pay solutions across shops, restaurants, ticket office and we’ll hear all about the challenges, success and specialist they worked with to make that happen.

It’s a wonderful example of how implementing small things can make huge differences to a visitors experience, and we know you’ll learn a lot from their unique story.

A few things we discussed:

  1. The importance of understanding our audience and catering specifically for their needs
  2. If it’s difficult to integrate WeChat and Alipay for Chinese visitors
  3. How to create a digital guest experience that’s second to none
  4. Why you need to be proactive in changing and adapting your marketing strategy
  5. Why you need to work with sector specialists
  6. How empowering your front of house team to be super helpful creates the ultimate experience for your guests

We hope you enjoy!


Show references:

Episode Transcription

Kelly Molson: Thank you so much for being on the podcast today. Abbi, it's lovely to have you along.

Abbigail Ollive: Thank you for having me. It's great to be able to talk to you.

Kelly Molson: You're very welcome. Well, one of the things that our listeners are keen to learn more about is how to get more international visitors. This is something that Castle Howard have been able to do particularly well, but it all started with a love story. We'd love for you to tell us about the love story today.

Abbigail Ollive: It's a really, really interesting and unique story. So for those of you who don't know, Castle Howard, we are a stately home. We're in rural North Yorkshire. Castle Howard was built as a family home, so, always intended to be a family home. It was designed by Sir John Vanbrugh back in 1699 for the third Earl of Carlisle, and it's his lineage and family who still live in the house today. In the 50s Castle Howard, like many other stately homes of the country, all our fantastic historical heritage opened up the doors and also became visitor attractions. So we've been welcoming visitors to Castle Howard since the 50s and we currently welcome about 250, 300,000 visitors a year. We have some really high profile events and lots to do throughout the year.

Abbigail Ollive: But our love story started on a very snowy January day in rural North Yorkshire back in 2015. So it was January the 17th, 2015 and Castle Howard had kind of helped to plan what was going to be a very lavish wedding reception. So our wedding planner at the time had been liaising with this couple, flowers by the lorry load had been arriving. The house was being set up for their wedding reception and on the morning of that day it was quite strange as our staff begun to arrive for work. There were some groups of Chinese visitors by the gates of Castle Howard. This was quite an unusual thing for Castle Howard. So I'll remind you, we're in rural North Yorkshire, and I think the year that proceeded that date, we'd had about five groups of Chinese visitors and in the whole year, so it wasn't very normal to see groups of Chinese visitors gathering, trying to get a look at what was going on.

Abbigail Ollive: So it became very obvious very quickly to our team here that this was something a bit special. And it turned out that the couple getting married, the groom happened to be probably China's biggest pop star. So a gentleman called Jay Chou, who not many people in this country are familiar with, but across China and he's Taiwanese. So very, very famous. People call him kind of the Justin Bieber or Elvis of China. So he is a massive pop star. And it was his wedding reception that we were hosting here at Castle Howard and it immediately put us on the map for Chinese visitors. So that was the start of the love story between Castle Howard and China. And then I sort of often say that China as a demographic, as a segment of our audience happened to Castle Howard. It wasn't like Castle Howard went out to try and grow a Chinese audience. So it was quite an unusual strategy, not really a strategy but something Castle Howard had to react to quite quickly. So we went very quickly from about five coaches a year to about 500 coaches a year of Chinese visitors.

Kelly Molson: That's a huge increase.

Abbigail Ollive: It was a huge increase very quickly. And it was an audience that Castle Howard wasn't used to welcoming. We certainly weren't geared up at the time to provide a fantastic level of interpretation or we needed to go on a very steep learning curve, I think it's fair to say, and I think we've done that, and that was the sort of part one of the love story and part two of the love story is everything that's happened since, and how we've sustained that interest in the Chinese market, continued to grow the audience but also ensured that, we're leading the way really and people have a very fulfilling experience when they're visiting here from China.

Abbigail Ollive: So that's an introduction to how we found a Chinese audience, which is, I guess people sit and think that's very fortunate that somebody rocked up and got married at Castle Howard who happened to be one of the world's biggest pop stars. And we are lucky in that sense. But I think it's interesting that as a business it has absolutely shaped our business model and everything we've done since to sustain that growing audience. And it hit a real curve in the trend. We know that inbound tourism from China to the UK has been on the rise significantly over that period of time since 2015 and we know that, especially to York and North Yorkshire, there's a real interest now from China to not just experience the South of England, but many more visitors coming into the North. So I think everything aligned perfectly for us.

Paul Wright: So how did Jay Chou find you?

Abbigail Ollive: Now, we're called Castle Howard, but if you Google us, look at a picture of us, we are very beautiful stately home. So Vanbrugh designed the house with a dome on top, inspired by St Paul's Cathedral. He was working with the architects, Nicholas Hawksmoor at the time. But we're definitely not what you'd traditionally call a Castle. The stately home is built on the site of Henderskelfe Castle. Henderskelfe was the medieval village that Castle Howard sits on and the Castle was taken down and removed before the building of Castle Howard. So the name is inherited from that time. But actually I believe just as the story goes Jay Chou and his fiancée, Hannah, actually Googled Castles in Europe and came across Castle Howard and came to visit, came for a look round and just fell in love with it. So again, a bit of good luck on our part and sometimes people do expect Castle Howard to be more traditional Castle. But well, it worked in our favour certainly on that occasion.

Kelly Molson: It's lovely. I think what I really loved about the story is, it's such a lovely thing that's happened, but the things that have kind of progressed on from that have been really kind of changing for the attraction itself. After this happened, at what point did you go, "Okay, we really need to look at our marketing strategy here and how we can kind of incorporate this new market into that and what do we do? What do we do next?"

Abbigail Ollive: Very quickly, as I said, we had to go on a steep learning curve. So the group sales manager at the time started taking bookings from, it was mostly coach groups wanting to fit Castle Howard into their itinerary and for a Chinese group itinerary, the distance in China is not comparable to miles covered in England, to see the whole of England. So they were doing things like going from Cambridge up to Castle Howard for an hour and then on to Edinburgh, they fit the whole of the country into a very short timescale. So we started seeing these coach loads of visitors arrive. But I think there was a general sense that they were coming in, getting a photo of Jay Chou's wedding venue, maybe learning a little bit about the house, just taking wonderful photos, but leaving after quite a short visit to go onto the next part of their itinerary. We weren't really giving them the right level of interpretation or helping their understanding of what the place was all about other than it being a nice picturesque place for a photo.

Abbigail Ollive: So very quickly, the team here got translated some of our interpretation and there was an A4 sheet of paper really with some information about the house, it's history, the family. And that was the starting point, some very basic information in Mandarin on some of our signage and visitor maps. So that was a starting point. Quickly get some information translated so that when visitors arrive they at least have a little bit of information. That was step one. But I think what we have now is the really incredible innovative way of explaining what the house is all about. It definitely has helped Castle Howard innovate actually, which is really amazing as part two of our story.

Kelly Molson: So let's go to part two then. So we know that you have a Chinese website. Was that the start of part two or was there more before that?

Abbigail Ollive: Yeah. So initially, we have a page, like most visitors attractions will do on their website, which is the booking information, the opening times, we had to translated page into Mandarin, but actually, we realised that we needed a full website in Chinese and available in China. I think that's one of the key things is that, people are planning their visit and what they might like to do before they set foot out of the country. So we did work with a partner on this. We didn't try and build a Chinese website in house, but we worked with a partner to build that website. And I think the main difference really between the English and Chinese website is, it's all about storytelling and the authenticity of that story and what might be interesting and the most important things for an English audience to come to our website and read was certainly quite different to what a Chinese person wanted to come on and read.

Abbigail Ollive: So we did a full process working with the partners to produce the website of, copywriting, of producing imagery. So it looked authentic. I think we were a real risk in the early days of you coming onto the Castle Howard website or looking at one of our leaflets and not seeing any Chinese visitors here. So we wanted to very much project the fact that we were open and welcome and did have Chinese visitors here. So the photography, the copywriting and the different stories we're telling on that website are quite different actually. It's not just a translation of the English website.

Kelly Molson: Absolutely. And I guess that's ... So did you work with your partner to understand what the Chinese market would need to see on that site as well?

Abbigail Ollive: Yeah, we did. So we had a website partner and we also have worked very closely with Visit York who were our destination management organization locally and they have a Chinese ambassador and some people within Visit York who help them with their Chinese social media. So we quickly formed almost a little steering group of Chinese friendly people who were willing to contribute those ideas. They worked with our curators in house. So, they went round the house and started looking at the different objects and artwork that we have, the different bits of history that really appealed to a Chinese audience, the family history of the Howards and just pulling out the stories that they thought would be most interesting to what Chinese audiences are most familiar with in English culture.

Paul Wright: The partner that you're using, are they a specialist in the Chinese market?

Abbigail Ollive: There's a company called DigiPanda and they work out of London, but across the country with visitor attractions and quite a lot with the education sector. So they are a Chinese digital marketing agency who specialise in helping visitor attractions and any organisations in the UK kind of provide a better marketing portfolio of websites and print and online advertising to the China market. But I think they do a lot of the technical stuff as well. So it was very important for us in house to grow the actual storytelling elements of it.

Paul Wright: In terms of the technical details, was there any challenges you had with that?

Abbigail Ollive: Most people will be aware that English social media, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others don't work. They're not accessible in China or to Chinese audiences. So we very quickly embraced WeChat and Weibo, which I'm sure a lot of visitor attractions now have as well, and we needed to have a presence on those platforms and to be producing the right content for those platforms. So I suppose one of the challenges actually wasn't so much technical, but it was ... We've got a small team of, three of us in the marketing team and then a group sales office and we don't know that much about how Chinese social media ... So I think it's about not pretending that you are capable actually of doing a good job of it and finding the right partners. And the way we did it actually was, we worked with the internship bureau at the York university to recruit specifically a Mandarin speaking, paid intern in the marketing department.

Abbigail Ollive: So we had a couple of interns working with us who were Mandarin speaking, who could do translation, but also advisers on the types of content and stories that we should be producing to make sure it's all very well signing up for a WeChat or Weibo account. But if it's not populated and we're not talking to that audience, answering questions, managing it on a daily basis, it's kind of redundant. So it was invaluable actually to have somebody in house. And we realised quite quickly that that was a permanent full time position. So we then advertised for a marketing and visitor services assistant in brackets, Mandarin speaking, and in rural North Yorkshire, got 49 applications for that role. So I was absolutely astounded and delighted, and we could have employed several of them.

Abbigail Ollive: And actually now when we're doing our ... Well, we've just recruited 50 visitor assistants for Christmas and we've had several that are Chinese-Mandarin speaking, because I think, we're advertising now in that market and specifically asking for that skillset to have in house. So having somebody in house who can work with our agencies and partners for us, it feels like the best way to do it because they understand from the inside out what Castle Howard is all about, the history, they've started doing tours and welcomes for groups and experiences in Mandarin as well as doing a lot of the content creation for those platforms that I talked about.

Kelly Molson: I think that's one of the things that really kind of shine through as you're speaking that every decision that you've made has really been about improving that experience for the visitors as well. Because having somebody there that speaks their own language rather than just having kind of translated leaflets, it's obviously going to be able to make them feel a lot more welcomed into the centre.

Abbigail Ollive: Yeah, absolutely. And we know how important Chinese social media is. We observed most visitors coming and experiencing the attraction with their phone in hand, but I think the the face to face person to person aspect of it shouldn't be underestimated. And you're right, having somebody who can welcome groups who can explain things. One day I lost our Chinese intern, I couldn't find her for a couple of hours. I was quite worried about her.

Abbigail Ollive: It turned out she'd found a group wandering in the grounds who were looking for one of our temples and she'd just taken them, I talk on a little tour and she was up there still an hour later, chatting to them and explaining what that was and telling that story and for somebody to feel empowered and able to do that, that's what we should all be doing across visitor attractions. And I think there's sometimes a barrier with our core team are so well-informed, so knowledgeable, and very welcoming of course, but there's a barrier to being able to help some times someone when one is so unfamiliar, is a language barrier and we've kind of taken a double pronged approach and that technology can really help with that. But actually a real life person can also be invaluable to us.

Kelly Molson: Definitely. It goes a long way, doesn't it?

Abbigail Ollive: It does.

Paul Wright: And I suppose they know the cultural differences as well.

Abbigail Ollive: Yeah. And so we've worked with another partner called Capela China Training to do sort of China welcome training with all of our teams. So anybody who's in a front facing visitor services role, whether that's somebody serving on the cafe or on our admission tickets desk or in the shops have been through this training program, which helps just build their confidence and ability to understand any cultural differences and to not be afraid of challenging things or going up to people welcoming things, helping to explain things, saying Nǐ hǎo and Xièxiè, hello, thank you in Mandarin and it always fills me with a nice warm go when I walked through the cafe and here our visitor services assistant serving people and trying to help Chinese audiences in their own language. It's great.

Kelly Molson: That is lovely. That's a very small thing that can make a very, very big difference to someone's experience.

Abbigail Ollive: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I think so.

Paul Wright: What are the main cultural differences you've seen?

Abbigail Ollive: I think understanding some of our food, so we have three restaurants on site, two a table service, but one's a self-serve kind of cafeteria style. And the layout of that, if you come in and you understand what all that food is, it's absolutely obvious what's intended as a dessert, what's intended as a main course, which bits you help yourself to, which bits you wait to be served to. But as a Chinese visitor with zero explanation of that, it was absolutely confusing people and we could see that because, I mean this in all seriousness, there was a jug of gravy quite close to where the victoria sponge was and we were observing Chinese customers pouring gravy over the cake and I and our staff didn't really know how to ... obviously in a way it's quite comical, but it was not the right reaction to laugh at that. So they were finding it a bit of a struggle to try and help explain and help people understand how to navigate that.

Abbigail Ollive: And then this would be the same for us, wouldn't it? Stepping into a completely foreign environment, not really knowing what some of the food is, and our Chinese member of staff has now done little blackboards, which explain the system and explain what is what, and explain this is hot food and actually some very small things you can do like offer hot water. So Chinese audience is one of the big cultural things is they carry hot water with them all the time. And when they come into the attraction, often they want to fill up their flask with hot water. So just being open to say that's okay and ask one of our team, and our team now know if they're handed over a water flask what to do with it, and what Chinese visitors will want.

Abbigail Ollive: But I think just doing some of those really small touches on blackboards, they explain what's the special of the day or those kinds of things really help. You don't have to do a full blown translated Chinese menu, but it's just some of those little touches. So I think some of those things were noted as some of the main cultural differences actually, just in how they understand the food and navigate the experience.

Kelly Molson: Abbi, you mentioned earlier in our conversation that this has allowed Castle Howard to be more innovative.

Abbigail Ollive: Yes.

Kelly Molson: One of the things that we do know is that you were one of the first attractions in the UK to install the WeChat pay solutions and you did that across shops, restaurants, ticket office. Could you talk us through how easy that was to do?

Abbigail Ollive: I thought it was quite easy, although I've told the tourist attractions who seem to be finding it a bit more of a struggle. So we again worked with, it was DigiPanda who did our website and then they work with a company called GlobePay, and we had a meeting between all three partners and our finance team here and it was pretty simple actually. So you have to set up the right licensing and GlobePay did that for is in China and then you get a set of the point of sale terminals and lots of really nicely done perspex or point of sale, bits of signage that explain and we should mention QR codes as well cause a lot of it is done by QR code. But WeChat pay works in a very similar way to Apple pay. So visitors will come in, they'll see the fact that we've got these terminals and we've got the point of sale information.

Abbigail Ollive: So it's a terminal that can switch between Alipay or WeChat pay. So you can choose which payment system you want to use and then you scan your phone and it's like you would now with Apple pay. So we didn't find it that complex to set up. We get a reconciliation and obviously our finance team work on that. But it's been really, really popular. I think partly it's difficult to track if I'm honest. So we don't know whether people are spending more in the shop than they would have done without that facility. But they're certainly delighted about it. So the look of delight on Chinese visitors faces when they realise they can pay using their WeChat account is invaluable actually. And we have taken a substantial amount in the shops in the cafes via that method, which we can obviously analyse and check.

Abbigail Ollive: But I think it's working with the right partners. I've obviously we couldn't do it ourselves. And then the second phase of all of that is having admission tickets available via our website in China. So people can pay for an admission ticket via WeChat pay before they even get to the country. And we're just about nearly done with that. So that's been a little bit more complicated because we will use a third party booking system, so our tickets are done via a third party website. So it's then an extra person to integrate into all of that. But actually again, having somebody, Mandarin speaking in house who can help explain and talk kind of IT with the right people who are doing the Chinese payment link-up and has been really helpful. So I think it's just working through in a step by step process and not being over faced by the fact that it's a bit different or difficult.

Abbigail Ollive: We kind of just did it. I didn't think I realised we were being massively innovative at the time. It just was really aware that everything in China is paid for via WeChat pay. I mean everything, even a taxi, even market stall holders, people wanting a donation for a charity or even homeless people with a QR code sort of attached to them. You scan it, everything is WeChat pay. So it just felt like a really good level of visitor service to be able to offer that here. And as I say, at the time, I don't think we realised we were being very forward thinking or innovative. It was grown purely out of a lets service the need of this particular group of visitors.

Kelly Molson: I guess that's going to be easier to track because you mentioned that it's difficult to track the payments in the kind of restaurant and ticket office at the attraction, but I guess you are going to be able to track that quite well in terms of how many bookings are being prepaid for on the website.

Abbigail Ollive: Yeah, and I think it's just about making things easy all the time. So we have WeChat pay and Alipay on our admissions desk, so if a Chinese visitor walks up and wants to buy a ticket today to come in, they can do that via WeChat pay. But it's also about the kind of mini bus drivers or people who are organising trips for smaller groups and that's one thing I should say actually, although we started off very much in the groups market, we've seen that level off a bit and a huge increase in what we call FIT, Fully Independent Travellers, coming in smaller groups and a lot of Chinese visitors coming back to the UK for the second or third time who don't want to do the kind of Cambridge to Edinburgh all in one day, but they want to spend longer in each place. So we getting many more smaller groups now who are coming, either self-drive or in our private mini bus van type thing.

Abbigail Ollive: And it's that network of drivers who help organise admission tickets that it would be massively beneficial for those people to be able to book in advance online using WeChat pay.

Paul Wright: On that note, given the fact that China doesn't use Google, how did the Chinese always find you and find your website?

Abbigail Ollive: So again, that's one of the things that working with our partner, we make sure that the sort of programmatic and digital advertising on the biggest Chinese websites is all set up. So it works in a similar way I guess to Google and Google sort of SEO. But actually WeChat is almost like, WeChat has many programs which is almost like a mini website that sits within it. So we get a lot of bookings of groups and FIT, small visits directly through WeChat. So I'm on it as a personal account, as as the group sales manager and our Mandarin speaking assistant as well as the officials of Castle Howard accounts. So whenever we go to trade fairs with partners, so with Visit Britain and Etoa the China European marketplace where you sit and meet lots of travel buyers, I sit there and have my WeChat account open, which is a QR code, they scan that, we're connected and then they can ask me questions, booking, send me messages and then they will push that out to their clients in China.

Abbigail Ollive: So I think it works in a similar way to here, but obviously just a different set of websites, different set of social media. But the principle is the same. And we've worked on a few advertising campaigns, digital advertising campaigns to hit things like golden week. So the two big Chinese holidays every year where lots of people want to come abroad cause they're on holiday. So having all those Chinese holidays plotted in throughout the year is quite important as well because if they don't match up with when we see our peak times of visitors on UK school holidays.

Paul Wright: When are those dates?

Abbigail Ollive: Chinese new year is really big and then October, that's been our biggest one. I can't remember what the exact dates are.

Paul Wright: But there must be a nice time of year to receive more people through the door.

Abbigail Ollive: Yeah, definitely. And you can't sort of target China. It's not one audience. It's obviously massive and we have two universities in the city of York, and also lots more in the North of England. You have large numbers of Chinese students. So we see peaks as well around graduation time. We encourage people to bring their families for a special visit and work really closely with you because a whole cross sector group, we have a sort of York-China forum, which includes the universities and some business colleagues to make sure when they're attracting people to come and study in the city or work in the city, the things to do and things to enjoy, castle Howard's kind of top of their list.

Abbigail Ollive: And one of the top reasons for Chinese visitors to come to the UK is all around landscape and open space and blue sky and greenery. And there's no where more stunning than this. We're in the area of outstanding natural beauty and national parks here at Castle Howard. And it's just stunning. And you know, Chinese visitors absolutely love that. So it's making sure that we hit all of those different peaks of not only the Chinese holidays, but when the universities are doing their freshers weeks and when they might have family visiting. And it's a complex ecology, but it's the same with any different audience type I guess.

Kelly Molson: Abbi, what has happened since then. So have you gone on to forge kind of more closer links with China because of this?

Abbigail Ollive: The Jay Chou wedding put Castle Howard on the map. I've been amazed when I've been to China that you talk about Castle Howard and people know what it is and where it is. I thought that the biggest battle would be explaining where we are and even where York is. And some of the events that you go to where you're talking to travel operators, you're there with the person representing Paris or it's not even just competing with the regions of the UK, but actually the amount of people who know what Castle Howard is, I'm astounded by every time I kind of go and do that.

Abbigail Ollive: We do sort of the, call them sales missions, but I think having the partners like Visit Britain, like UKinbound, like those trade associations who talk to overseas tourists. And then I mentioned the networks a bit closer to us. So Visit York and Welcome to Yorkshire and our colleagues in York across a China forum. I think explaining what Castle Howard is is not the hard part because people see the photo, see our advertising, kind of get what it is. And why they'd want to visit.

Abbigail Ollive: And then it's kind of trying to help people come up with that itinerary and be part of an itinerary. So it's been really brilliant that we've now got direct flights from Beijing into Manchester. So there's a whole sort of education piece around coming into the North of England and looking at partnering with other regions like the Lake District, like Liverpool, like Manchester, and we sometimes go as a collective kind of powerhouse of the North because again, I said, lots of Chinese visitors coming back to the UK for the second and third time. And they might have spent some time in London already, and obviously it's never boring going back to London, but we're trying to encourage people to create those itineraries around the North of England as well to get a slightly different experience of the UK.

Paul Wright: I suppose making them realise there's more to Britain than London.

Abbigail Ollive: And especially because we know one of the drivers is all around the natural beauty and where we are, in any season is just stunning. I'm sat looking at my office across our great Lake and the colour of the trees at the moment is just absolutely beautiful in autumn. And our Christmas tree is just gone past my window cause we're busy setting up for Christmas, which is also a really special time of year and one that I think Chinese audiences are becoming more and more interested in those traditional traditions actually of what happens in a historic state.

Abbigail Ollive: The high volume, and Downton Abbey is very popular over there. So it's some of those real historical and cultural references that we tick every box on. We've just launched a new digital guide for the house for Chinese visitors coming around the house and we've replaced that A4 sheet of paper of interpretation about all of Castle Howard's history, now with a really innovative digital guide. And I think what's different about it is ... So Castle Howard had an audio guide and most visitor attractions, art galleries, will be familiar with the kind of hire a handset and headphones and give it back at the end of your visit type setup, which works very well. But we noticed that Chinese visitors were all coming with a mobile phone, with a smartphone and actually having two things in the hands and trying to take photos and manage headphones and everything else was again, perhaps not the best visitor experience.

Abbigail Ollive: So we've done a streamed version, so you just scan a QR code at the start of the tour and you stream the guide in Mandarin onto your phone. It automatically recognises whether your phone's operating system is a Chinese one or you can switch between English and Chinese if you wish. You'd have made that sound very simple as a process to get to that point.

Abbigail Ollive: We're a 300 year old building and the walls are very thick and getting wifi into every single room on the visitor room was a real challenge. But we've managed to do that. And that was a really big investment, but it means that now we have this stream guide. So every room you go into you can choose the different objects you want to learn about or the general history of quite a lot of social history about different processes. Everything from how the chimneys cleaned right through to the art on the walls. And the Chinese version is quite different to the English version of the digital guide. So we know that Chinese visitors don't spend as long in the attractions. So we've made it a shorter guide. They like to have time in the shop at the end of the attraction. So we've consciously made it a shorter version of the guide in Mandarin to English.

Abbigail Ollive: And also, as I said before with the website, we're telling different stories. So we've worked with a Chinese writer to look at our interpretation and choose the specific objects, all the stories, all the bits of social history that are most interesting to a Chinese audience.

Abbigail Ollive: So it's quite a different story you get if you listen to the Mandarin version and it's digital, so it's not just audio, there's videos on there opening up areas of the perhaps the temples that you can see out the window that you wouldn't be able to go in. So it's quite interactive and I'm very excited because there's selfie options in there, so you can put a filter on, you can put yourself in a beautiful setting in our great hall with the frescoes and murals behind you. Or you can put yourself in a gilded frame and then you can save that and share it directly to your social media account, which again is a great marketing tool. So it's quite a leapfrog, I think, of a traditional audio guide and we hope that's going to again, take us another step further in improving at what we offer for Chinese visitors.

Paul Wright: Did you develop the digital guide in house?

Abbigail Ollive: Yes. So we've worked with Antenna Audio, who do digital guides for visitor attractions all over the world. But it's the first time they've done a streamed one. So again, it's been quite a long process when you're the first people being a Guinea pig for somethings. But it's been really brilliant. And we involved ... I think I talked about authentic storytelling at the beginning and the fact that we're a family home, does set us apart from a lot of other visitor attractions. And also it's something Chinese audiences are very interested in that English hierarchy and understanding that the Howard family live here and what part they play in the running of the business.

Abbigail Ollive: So Mr Howard introduces the guide, he says, "Hello." He learnt how to say hello and who he was and welcome to Castle Howard in Mandarin. So we filmed him doing that. I think I can say it cause we rehearsed it. And then he does a farewell and "Come back soon. Hope you've enjoyed your visit." At the end of the guide. And he narrates the whole guide in English, which again, it's really personal because it tells some stories from his childhood about how he remembers the rooms changing and being developed. But in Mandarin obviously it's then dropped into a Mandarin voice. But I think some of those things just give it a very, a nice personal touch.

Kelly Molson: Definitely. I think what was really good to hear is that the guide had been developed really based on the user's needs as well. Rather than just saying, "Look, we need a digital guide. We're going to kind of translate it." It feels like so much more effort has been taken to really make it exactly what they need.

Abbigail Ollive: You mentioned the challenges. I think sometimes you feel like, "This project's been going on for so long," but actually getting it right and overcoming some of those technical difficulties. And it's things like, they're making sure it works on all the different possible operating systems and phones that people could walk in with, because you're not just giving everybody the same device. It has to work for so many different things and I'm sure there'll be an area of tweaking it and getting all that right. But it's something that we're really proud of.

Paul Wright: It sounds like it's bringing a lot of value.

Abbigail Ollive: So it's clear we're about to open for Christmas as we speak. Hence I've had three more Christmas trees go past the window since I mentioned that. And Christmas is a time of year where the amazing installations, they don't kind of disguise the visitor experience. So you could still use the guide and see what's in the rooms. But obviously there are decks out to the nines and look amazing. And so we think probably from next season when we open, that's when our digital guide will really kick in and start to make a real difference to the visitor experience. There's enough to see at Christmas time without needing layers and layers of interpretation.

Kelly Molson: Definitely. One of the other things about the digital guide that was really smart is the user generated content.

Abbigail Ollive: Yes.

Kelly Molson: So brilliant. Get them to make your content for you. And I guess that then you use that on the Chinese platform so the WeChat and Weibo.

Abbigail Ollive: Oh yeah, definitely. So we've got plans throughout next year to do some curation of that. We'll do some campaigns where we collate different people's selfies and to get people to send in their content as well that we can then repost. But we know, it's one of those things that's difficult to attract, but we know how much gets shared across Chinese social media from visitors here taking photos because it is so photogenic and we know that's one of the biggest cultural differences, we should have mentioned that earlier, is the desire to take the perfect photo and that kind of one-upmanship and that sort of fairytale setting and wanting to start that formal thing isn't it? The sort of fear of missing out, wanting to show off actually to your friends and family back home that you've been to this amazing place. So the more we can enable that ... It'll happen anyway. It's just a case of I was trying to enable it so they tag the right tags and post, tag our social media and that kind of thing.

Abbigail Ollive: And actually, quite a lot of Chinese visitors and especially students in this country also do have Instagram and kind of managed to find a way to get in and get that to work. I could never do it when I've been into China, but I'm sure there's a techie way of doing it. So, across English social media as well, we do see a lot of user generated content and that's great for us.

Paul Wright: You've mentioned about QR codes a couple of times.

Abbigail Ollive: Yes.

Paul Wright: I don't know if that's because the Chinese, they really like the QR codes. I think they use them a lot more than the UK public. How else have you used them?

Abbigail Ollive: The main way we've used them is, so we have a nicely designed and printed sort of foamex boards sitting on our admissions ticket office, which is one of the first things a visitor will see. It's in Mandarin and it explains that if you scan this QR code, it takes you to Castle Howard's WeChat and Weibo account and that's like a way straight away. As soon as somebody walks into the attraction that they can use a QR code to take them to our social media platforms, which helps them engage in that sort of user generated content and visitor journey straight away. So we use them for that and it is the way that people will get onto the digital guide as well. And you just scan a QR code and it takes you straight to the guide. And I think Chinese visitors are very, very used to that. So if we haven't had anybody yet kind of look confused at us when we present them with a QR code. Perhaps more so our English visitors are.

Paul Wright: Yeah. Did they get confused by the QR codes?

Abbigail Ollive: Yeah, I mean we've done a familiarisation with all of our staff, so staff and the team here are really good at helping people actually if they don't know what one is, how to scan it and how to access it. And then there's a backup web address if people want to revert to actually just typing it into their browser. You are definitely right. Chinese visitors are much more familiar with using QR codes than English visitors are. It's again, another way of welcoming them in the way they want to be welcomed.

Paul Wright: I think UK visitors need a bit of education and actually how to use them and what they're for.

Abbigail Ollive: Yeah. They had a bit of a peek, I think a couple of years ago. There was a lot of interest in them and then it kind of fizzled out a little bit. I think it's maybe just using them where it's relevant and actually helps speed up a user journey to get to something.

Kelly Molson: We've got one kind of final question, which is really what has been the overall results from all of this? In terms of sales and customer experience.

Abbigail Ollive: So of our international visitors to Castle Howard, China makes up nearly 60%. So it's incredible, but it's higher than the USA, it's higher than us, that is a lot higher than the attractions working in similar environments. So it's become a really important market for us. And then that means we focus probably a little bit more time, effort, resource, money into developing stuff for that market because we see it growing. We know that visits to the UK from China are still on the up. It's a growing market to the UK. So there's plenty more people to go out. We're hitting a very small percentage of the population and still, I can't remember the statistic, it's a very, very small percentage of Chinese nationals who've even got a passport and that's growing every year and it's sort of two in three cities that are now enabled and mobile to travel to Europe and to Britain is still on the up. So we think even though we haven't sort of saturated the market, so it's still worth us really investing in how we engage with that market.

Kelly Molson: So China now makes up over 60% of your overseas visitors?

Abbigail Ollive: It's a bit of a rough statistic because obviously some Chinese people booking via our group sales office and some just turn up on the day and we do the visitor attraction surveys through Alva to try and capture that stat, but we're just in the process at the moment here at Castle Howard of implementing a CRM system for the first time. So we'll be able to track exactly where people are coming from more accurately over the next few years. But yeah, it does make up between sort of 50 and 60% over the last three years.

Kelly Molson: It's such a lovely story to hear and it's really lovely to know that you are kind of still going to be progressing with that as well. But I think I've said it all along, the one thing that really, really shines through all of this is how much it is about improving their experience, not just about getting them through the door, which is brilliant.

Abbigail Ollive: Definitely. We want people to come and to know about us, but then it's how they're welcomed, how they experience the whole journey and leave telling their own story. So I think that's always at the core of what we do. And I keep coming back to authenticity and making sure we're giving that audience an experience that they'll share with other people and find really enriching.

Kelly Molson: So we've got one final question for you.

Paul Wright: If you was to give one key take to a visitor attraction that wanted to attract more Chinese visitors, what would it be?

Abbigail Ollive: It's a difficult question, isn't it? Because I think the risk of it sounding like a cop out, I don't even think it is one single thing. I think it's building a whole strategy. They're all slices of a really big pie. The digital stuff, the visitor experience stuff, the social media stuff, it's making sure ... But I think probably the biggest piece of advice for me, is around authenticity and not just doing stuff for the sake of doing it or feeling like, other people are on WeChat pay or Weibo or have a Mandarin speaking member of stuff. I think it's about assessing what stories you have to tell and how to communicate them best. So we cover kind of phrase internally, which is content first, platform second or story first and think about what's going to engage most with the Chinese audience depending on where you are in the country, what you've got to offer.

Abbigail Ollive: And then think about how to put that out might be that having a WeChat account is the best way to communicate some of those stories. It might be that working with a partner to have a Chinese website is the best way to do that. So I think it's that a bit of a cop out of an answer that it's not just one thing, but I think it's just looking at the core of what you've got, and what you think is going to be attractive before you then start to think about how to communicate that to the audience.

Kelly Molson: Definitely not a cop out.

Paul Wright: Just going back to actually what you said earlier, I was just looking on a website. It's saying about one tenth of Chinese visitors have a passport.

Abbigail Ollive: Yeah. I know it's growing every year that, it grows massively, but it's still, if you think about the size of China, there's still a lot more people who are going over the next 10, 20 years be mobilised to visit.

Paul Wright: Yeah. Saying here by next year it could be double that.

Abbigail Ollive: Yeah. Amazing.

Paul Wright: It’s definitely an emerging kind of market, I think that the attractions need to pay attention to I think.

Abbigail Ollive: Yeah. Definitely. But I think for us it's still one of our markets. So we're doing the same we've just talked about for the last sort of at the how long, the same for thinking about an American market, European market, but of course the domestic day visitors and people from other parts of this country. And then going back to our very local audience and growing our membership and looking at the things we're doing for the people who are right on our doorstep. So as a small, passionate, enthusiastic, hardworking marketing team, it's everything from the people five miles away to the people in China that we have to have a strategy and a plan for, and making sure we're doing our very best across all platforms for all of those people which keeps it really interesting and really it's going to say it's never boring.

Kelly Molson: And there's never nothing to do, always something.

Abbigail Ollive: Absolutely. That's what makes it such a great place to be actually.

Kelly Molson: Thank you so much for joining us today. I've been really-

Abbigail Ollive: No. Thank you for having me.

Kelly Molson: ... really enjoyed having you on and I think that what you've given us today will be really invaluable to our listeners, so thank you for sharing.

Abbigail Ollive: No problem at all. It's lovely to talk to you.

Kelly Molson: You can find links and notes from this episode and more over on our website,, or search, Skip the Queue on iTunes and Spotify to subscribe. Please remember to leave a rating. It helps other people find us. This podcast was brought to you by Rubber Cheese, an award winning digital agency that builds remarkable systems and websites for visitor attractions.

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