ROOM TO GROW: The dining room at the Breakers, where new audio technology has helped boost tours at the mansion.
COURTESY PRESERVATION SOCIETY OF NEWPORT COUNTY
By Patricia Daddona PBN Staff Writer
(Corrected, 11 a.m., July 29)
On the heels of record-setting attendance in 2012, the Preservation Society of Newport County is seeing continuing improvement in 2013.
The story behind the numbers, according to John Rodman, director of museum experience for the Preservation Society, is investments in visitor experience and marketing that the group has been making for years.
“We’ve been rolling out at least one new audio tour a year for the past five years,” Rodman said. “Our main marketing message this year is, ‘Where’s the new tour this year?’ ”
The newest tour is an updated audio tour at The Elms, one of the 11 mansions the society maintains, he said. The investment of more than $1 million in new tours, new audio tour technology and visitor tour experience is reflected in growing attendance, Rodman said.
June admissions at the mansions, which constitute a major portion of Newport attractions, increased 7.3 percent over last year’s figures to 97,567. When members’ admissions are subtracted out, the increase jumps to 11.7 percent, he reported.
The new audio technology “really has traction with the public,” Rodman said. “We added an audio tour at the Breakers [four seasons ago], and that eliminated lines that were up to 30 minutes long,” he said.
While holding prices stable, at $19.50 for a Breakers tour and $14.50 for most everything else, with discounts for multiple tours, the Preservation Society also has beefed up its digital marketing, Rodman said.
Hired a year ago, consultant Jennifer Little of Jenn Little Media of Bristol introduced the mansion owners to a custom-designed, guaranteed pay-per-click advertising strategy that is yielding results. Investing in Facebook is also paying off, he said.
Some momentum to the June numbers also may have come from the extended season, Rodman said, which started in mid-February instead of April, and will end five weeks after Labor Day, on Columbus Day.
“The Newport Mansions represent an enormous market share,” said Evan Smith, president and CEO of Discover Newport. “They’re the trendsetter.”