Some people learn best when they hear someone speak. But your budget is not large enough to hire an army of tour guides! Here are some options for creating effective audio tours.
Podcasting is a viable option for many museums because the overhead costs are extremely low. All you need is some basic recording equipment, podcasting software (see link for a 2010 review of podcasting software options) and a website to get started. The expensive part – the mp3 player – will be provided by your guests, at no charge to you!
You can create a podcast for a temporary or permanent exhibit, a historic walking tour, or a nature hike. Visitors can listen to it whenever and wherever they like!
Cell phone audio tours created by companies like Guide By Cell allow museums to offer audio tours for visitors using their own phones. There will likely be a monthly cost for setting up and maintaining the program, but pricing for your visitors is up to you. You may choose to offer the tour to your visitors for free, or ask them to pay the tour company via credit card over the phone or as part of an admissions package where you provide an access code.
Some museums may have limited cell phone reception, which might create a negative experience for your visitors. Test a variety of cell phone carriers’ signals inside your museum first. Don’t forget the galleries deep inside your building.
Another option is to create audio tours through a handheld device that is available at your facility. Most museums charge a small rental fee for an audio wand or mp3 player and require the user to leave his or her driver’s license as a deposit to ensure the return of the equipment.
Handheld devices are more expensive for the museum, but they offer anyone a chance to listen to an audio tour, even if they don’t have an mp3 player or were not aware it was an option before their visit.
Using a digital message repeater and a speaker, museums can create site-specific programs at the location of the exhibit or vignette with the push of a button. After the visitor presses a button, he or she will hear a short audio tour that explains the exhibit or provides more in-depth information about a subject.
Sound bleed may be a problem with this type of system. Be sure your audio tour buttons are placed far enough away from each other so they do not overlap and make it difficult for a visitor to hear.