Industrial tourism is a growing activity in some parts of the world. It attracts a diverse public with various motivations, such as discovery and learning. This article is intended for small and medium-sized businesses, as well as large groups interested in the subject, providing them with keys to understanding the benefits of industrial tourism, its costs, and how to set it up.
1. What is industrial tourism?
Industrial tourism designates a form of tourism that centres on the discovery of industrial or artisanal activities (Source). It mainly translates by visits that have had, have or will have an economic activity of historical, strategic, scientific, educational interest, while providing visitors with a recreational dimension. These may include companies, production units (factories, workshops, quarries, mines, etc.) or functional buildings (workers’ lodgings, employers’ housing, etc.) (Sources).
Industrial tourism attracts many different types of visitor. Three groups of visitors can be identified according to their main motivation towards industrial tourism:
- “Academic visitors” such as researchers, teachers or students.
- “Business visitors” who visit sites to benefit from their know-how and transpose it to their own activity.
- “Other visitors”, including leisure tourists or participants in company outings (Source).
Industrial tourists are not necessarily foreigners, they can also live in the region or country where the company is located in.
Companies that open their doors to visitors also have varied profiles. Carter (1991) (Source) has classified these companies into four categories.
- Companies operating in controversial sectors, such as nuclear energy, constitute the first category. The main benefit for these companies is to improve their public image, by highlighting the transparency of their safety procedures.
- The second category includes projects that use impressive infrastructure, such as road construction. Innovation and the size of the infrastructure are the main interests for visitors.
- The artisanal or luxury product sectors represent the third category.
- Finally, the last category focuses on companies manufacturing consumer goods or common services. Their visit allows the observation of the inner workings of the companies and their production. Governmental institutions or banks are also companies that sometimes open their doors to the public. (Source)
Industrial tourism can take many forms. Some companies organize a museum about their history and the main innovations in their sector of activity. Others set up guided tours or a visitor’s circuit allowing everyone to immerse themselves in the site. It is common to find workshops in some craft companies, such as soap or chocolate making factories for example. Finally, many hybrid forms of industrial tourism are offered, such as visitor circuits followed by workshops, or museums followed by guided tours.
In France, there were 13 million company visits in 2014, in nearly 5,000 locations. 95% of the companies offering industrial tourism were SMEs. Visits were mainly in the food, wine and spirits sectors (60%), followed by crafts (18%) and the environmental and energy (10%). (Source) Little data on industrial tourism in the world is available.
2. Benefits for the company
Interests for companies can be both financial and non-financial.
Companies can benefit from additional income by charging entrance fees. Moreover, many companies set up a gift shops where their products are sold directly to visitors. Tourists are quite fond of them, with an average purchase 2.5 times higher after a visit. (Source)
However, the most important aspects for companies are non-financial.
Visiting the infrastructure and/or the production facilities can considerably improve brand image, thanks to the transparency and humanisation of the company.
Customer loyalty is also a notable benefit for companies. A study has shown that the customer loyalty rate in corporate tourism is 60%. Thus, customers are 60% more likely to buy a brand they have visited behind the scenes, rather than a competitor’s brand. (Source)
The employer brand also benefits from the influence of industrial tourism. Through brand awareness and equity, companies opening their doors to the public can enjoy more interesting returns in their recruitment process.
Finally, industrial tourism is an integral part of the local community. This can result in many opportunities for the company.
3. Costs for the company
Nevertheless, the organization of company visits entails costs for companies. These costs are also financial and non-financial.
First of all, setting up and conducting company visits requires human resources. This can also represent costs for the company: it is necessary to think about the form of the company visit, to provide it with tools (displays, animations, screens, tablets…), to provide a welcome for visitors and if necessary, a person in charge of the shop if there is one.
Secondly, companies opening their doors to the public must meet safety requirements. This can represent a workload for the company in terms of documentation, implementation and follow-up. Industrial espionage is also to be taken into account, as well as competitive intelligence of competitors. It is recommended to pay particular attention to the confidentiality of certain information. Finally, employee productivity can be impacted, especially during visits or guided tours. In addition, some employees may consider a company visit as an intrusion into their private lives and an infringement of their freedom.
4. Set up of adequate markings and informative and didactic signages
1. Proper signage for safety
Setting up visits in a company requires to be able to quickly distinguish visitors from employees for industrial espionage reasons. This can be easy in an SME, but much less in a large corporation. For this purpose, the use of visitor badges is the ideal solution. Each visitor receives a visitor’s badge when he enters the site, which makes it possible to distinguish him at a glance.
In addition, the opening of the site to the public may require additional safety signs and markings. This often takes the form of specific floor markings, such as anti-slip for stairs, directional arrows, no entry signs, etc.
2. An informative and didactic signage
Good communication of information about the company and/or its manufacturing processes is expected by visitors. Although a guide can be considered to meet this demand, an informative and educational signage is often considered the most appropriate solution.
When the company visit takes the form of a signposted tour, the use of floor markings can easily guide visitors throughout their visit. The use of display frames can also be an asset to highlight any important information.
In museums, information related to the company’s presentation and history can be arranged in display systems to be consulted by visitors. It is also possible to use screens or tablets, for example to display videos, interactive presentations, games, etc.
Implementing a showroom, a space to display the company’s products, can benefit from the use of rigid display frames to identify and present products.
As workshops are often at the heart of a company visit, information can be transmitted to visitors via screens or soundtracks at different stages of the visit. If too intrusive (the sound can be disturbing to employees), a paper display is also possible via wall-mounted or desk display systems that fit perfectly into an industrial or specialized environment, such as environments where hygiene must be irreproachable (pharmaceutical, food processing, kitchens, …).
Warehouses can also be part of the corporate tour. In these spaces, magnetic pockets can solve many signage needs.
In conclusion, industrial tourism has a bright future ahead of it. Companies can see the benefits, especially in sectors of activity that are a source of curiosity to the public. Nevertheless, the resources needed to set up company visits need to be weighed.