Engaging with Generation Y at Museums

Authored by: Anna Leask , Paul Barron

The Routledge Handbook of Cultural Tourism

Print publication date:  December  2012
Online publication date:  January  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415523516
eBook ISBN: 9780203120958
Adobe ISBN: 9781136324789


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Museums form a significant proportion of the cultural tourism offering in many destinations across the world. They ‘serve the functions of collection, research and exhibition, as well as education and recreation’ (Sheng and Chen 2011: 53) meaning that they have a broad range of objectives and measures of effectiveness (Leask 2010). Several authors have commented on the increasing focus on attendance numbers as museums are put under growing financial pressure (Madan 2011), in addition to the increased need to demonstrate value (Legget 2009; Semmell and Bittner 2009). As identified by Gilmore and Rentschler (2002: 745), ‘in recent years museums have changed from being predominantly custodial institutions to becoming increasingly focused on audience attraction … and the need to appeal to differentiated audiences has created new challenges for previously traditional, custodial directors’. Ames (1998: 151) states that in order to achieve growth in visitor numbers, museum managers need to know two primary sets of data: the ‘age, education level, motivations and interests of the audience and, in order to attract the largest possible audience, the profiles of one’s current and potential audience’. In a competitive leisure environment, achieving targeted visitor numbers may become a serious challenge (Burton et al. 2009), which is why many museums are now looking to engage with new markets. Generation Y (Gen Y) comprises around 11.5 million people in the UK (Office for National Statistics 2009), and this cohort offers great potential for current and future museum engagement. Recent interest in engaging with younger audiences, as researched by Gofman et al. (2011) and Benckendorff et al. (2010), has led to discussion about the characteristics and differing needs of this potential growth sector. As identified by Leask et al. (n.d.), Gen Y are often not the key audience in museums at present, although there is evidence that many museums have identified the potential of this market as an audience and are already offering opportunities for engagement in a variety of ways. This chapter will discuss the profile and characteristics of Gen Y consumers, some of the challenges faced by museums in attempting to attract this market, and discuss how museums are developing opportunities for greater engagement with Gen Y visitors.

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