What motivates a visit?

People visit museums and galleries to meet deep-seated needs, ranging from spending time with friends and family to gaining inspiration, from feeding a hobby interest to experiencing awe and wonder – and many others. These motives are what make people set off for a visit. As they enter the building, they become expectations and as they leave they become outcomes.

Over several years, Morris Hargreaves McIntyre repeatedly asked people to tell us why, in their own words, they chose to visit museums and galleries. From this, we identified four broad drivers for visiting: social, intellectual, emotional and spiritual.

As shown below, a visitor’s primary driver determines how they see the venue and informs their entire visit. Meeting these needs is the visitor’s primary motivation for visiting, and is also their minimum expectation of a visit.

The hierarchy of motivations

The four motivations form a hierarchy: as visitors move up from social through to spiritual motivations they become increasingly engaged with the venue and its collections. The further up the hierarchy they reach, the more fulfilling and rewarding visitors report their visit to be. That doesn’t mean that social visits should be any less valued, it simply means that they result in lower levels of engagement with the content at the venue.

At each level of the hierarchy visitors have different needs and they are only able to move up the hierarchy if their needs at the previous level have been met. The suggestion is not that visitors are forced or even led up this hierarchy, but that they have the opportunity to engage at the deepest level they wish to.

Visitors’ motivations also form the basis of their expectations for their visit. These are affected by a number of factors, with the most important being existing knowledge of the subject matter and marketing materials and publicity they may have seen or heard ahead of their visit. Factors such as an exhibition title, images of the content and word of mouth can all have an impact on what visitors expect from the venue.

Related articles

Exhibition testing & strategy

Our holistic approach to formative and summative exhibition evaluation provides visitor insights that underpin solid strategies for success.

Learn more

Audience development plans

Who to target, how to reach them, and how to evaluate success.

Learn more

Culture Segments

Culture Segments is a powerful psychographic segmentation tool to help you better understand and engage with your attenders and non-attenders.

Learn more

Book a consultation

    Have questions?

    Let us know if you’d like to chat about your visitor insight needs. We’d be happy to arrange a call with one of our experts.