5 Valuable Lessons From 2023’s Remarkable Venue Awards Winners

Joslyn McIntyre

October 30, 2023

While the audience for any particular museum or attraction might be specific and unique, any attraction, at its core, has a primary goal: to reach more people, connect with its audience, and provide an experience that both educates and entertains.

Technology can help deliver the message, but it’s not the main message. This is why every year, Tiqets hosts the Remarkable Venue Awards to celebrate and acknowledge museums and attractions around the world that achieve this lofty goal in notable ways. 

Two of 2023’s winners, El Capricho in Spain and Terra Expo City Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (winners of the Most Innovative Venue and Best Landmark categories respectively) sent delegates to the Tourism Innovation Summit in October to participate in a panel discussion about their unique approach. As one of these two speakers, Marjan Faraidooni put it: “They’re two very different experiences, but the fundamentals are the same. The experience makes something that can be difficult to understand fun and relatable.”

After all, she added, “We need to have the human touch.”

Making climate concerns personal through an engaging experience

Dubai hosted the World Expo in 2021, and the theme of environmental sustainability was front and center. Terra, the Sustainability Pavilion, was created as a “bold showpiece for humanity’s sustainable future,” and Faraidooni, the Chief of Education and Culture for Terra Expo City Dubai, explained to the panel audience where his team’s creative mind began: “My role was to create a space where anyone who came through our doors would understand the environmental issues.”

As a starting point, the team created a sustainable space: a living laboratory that included a solar rooftop, with 18 “energy trees” producing power, and innovative ways of recycling water throughout the venue. Describing the path through Terra as a “net-zero journey,” Faraidooni explained how the space was designed to give people an immersive glimpse into the Earth of the past – as well as a hint at the choices we must make for our future.

Terra Expo City Dubai Energy Trees.
Energy Trees at Terra Expo City Dubai - The Sustainability Pavilion by Dany Eid.

The way we approach education about sustainability is very experimental and emotional. We took a risk in designing the experience because we wanted something unique, not a typical museum or theme park. If I were to summarize the visitor’s experience, it really touches their mind, but more importantly, their heart.”

— Marjan Faraidooni, Chief of Education and Culture, Terra Expo City Dubai

The Terra experience takes place in three parts. During the first, the visitor chooses whether to immerse themselves in the roots of the forest or the depths of the ocean in order to soak in the wonders of nature in a sensory way. But in the second part of the experience, the visitor becomes disturbed by the ways in which human impact has changed and destroyed natural habitats. The emotional tenor is intentionally one of distress.

But there is hope! The third part of the Terra experience aims to educate people on how they can personally participate in making the future better.

While the World Expo was open, 1.2 million people came to visit. Faraidooni affirmed, “We’re very proud that 90 percent of the visitors left inspired to take action on the environment after visiting the venue.”

Although it was initially conceived as a temporary World Expo exhibit, once the Expo was over, the venue went dark for a while and then re-opened in a more permanent way in September of 2022. Now, Terra is transitioning to include events and programming that will largely focus on attracting a young audience – those who stand to make the biggest impact and benefit the most from proactive environmentalism.

To that end, Terra has invited students from school communities – including 30,000 children last year alone – to participate in focused workshops. They’re also focused on providing educational opportunities for other stakeholders such as corporations and governments. Winning the Remarkable Venue Awards helps Terra deliver the message to all of these different stakeholders, so the venue can make a real impact on our future.

It’s an ambitious goal, but Terra is poised to make it happen with an immersive sensory experience. After all, Faraidooni explains, experience is quite different from mere knowledge.

“The way we approached the education around the environment is experiential, making each visitor realize they can play a role.”

— Marjan Faraidooni, Chief of Education and Culture, Terra Expo City Dubai

Standing out as a unique museum with a tiny budget

El Capricho building from outside in Comillas, Spain.
El Capricho is designed by Antoni Gaudi, located in in Comillas, Spain

While Terra Expo City Dubai is a blockbuster of a venue driving distance from the world’s biggest international airport, El Capricho is a smaller venue tucked away in a remote Spanish town. A quirky, fascinating house designed by renowned architect Antonio Gaudí in Comillas, El Capricho provides a comparatively intimate experience. Still, in a town of only 2,000 residents, the venue manages to attract 200,000 visitors a year!

El Capricho, according to Carlos Mirapeix Bedia, the General Manager, is quite different from some of the more famous Gaudí landmarks such as La Sagrada Familia and Casa Batlló. Built for the brother-in-law of the Marquis of Comillas, it’s an early work of Gaudí’s – a fascinating architectural and aesthetic experience that art and architecture enthusiasts travel a long way to experience in person. Some of the highlights of the tour include the neo-gothic chapel with its carved chairs, the famed sunflower tilework, and a deep dive into the history of the Spanish Royal Family.

Such a small institution, with only 22 staff, has achieved something impressive, and that’s why El Capricho won the Best Landmark Awards at the Remarkable Venue Awards in 2023. Although El Capricho is nothing like Terra in its experience, the sentiment, according to Mirapeix Bedia, is much the same:

“Our job is connecting people. Whether you’re using augmented reality or another technology, it’s all about the experience of people.”

— Carlos Mirapeix Bedia, General Manager, El Capricho

El Capricho is intimate, immersive, interactive, engaging, and above all, fun. The team believes that a museum is not just for looking, it should let you interact and play. This Gaudí house is filled with delightful secrets that the visitor comes across as they tour. 

It’s also family-friendly, with the multi-generational aspect of visitors given attention throughout the experience. El Capricho offers a guided family tour, and like Terra, gratefully attracts young students.

School group at Gaudi's El Capricho.

“School tours can really sell your personality. Sometimes museums take themselves too seriously. We try to make it fun.”

— Carlos Mirapeix Bedia, General Manager, El Capricho

Couples are another target audience. El Capricho offers an experience specifically designed for folks on date night which can include, for instance, live music. In fact, el capricho, while it means “whim, folly, a touch of fancy,” has another definition as a type of musical composition. At the time of its construction, the local newspapers referred to the building as “architectural craziness,” and while the world eventually caught up with Gaudí’s vision, that legacy of zaniness prevails and is one of the biggest draws to the house. 

Mirapeix Bedia always keeps in mind that his role is to help keep the history of Spain alive and that the audience can and will change over time. This is why, he says, “We have to readapt every day to the public that we have. Active listening to the people – and changing – has been a great lesson.”

“We’ve had to change things many times to find our place. We are slow, imperfect, and sometimes crazy. But that’s the way we like to be.”

— Carlos Mirapeix Bedia, General Manager, El Capricho

5 things your venue can do like these Remarkable Venue Award winners

IDEAL Centre d'Arts Digitals visuals of Tutankhaumun's exhibition.
Visitors enjoying Tutankhamun's exhibiton in IDEAL Centre d'Arts Digitals.

While Terra is a museum experience that tells the future, El Capricho is invested in keeping the past alive. What’s your museum’s focus? Regardless, there are five lessons to take away from our Remarkable Venue Awards panel with Faraidooni and Bedia.

1. Make something difficult to understand fun and relatable

Terra turns a quite serious topic into a sensory experience like no other. El Capricho has turned one of Gaudí’s early career architectures into a timeless attraction. Both are powerful examples of how the experience of any museum can connect different people from around the world by focusing on what’s human about it.

2. Lead with storytelling

An impressive exhibit is only part of the goal. Telling a good story to the visitor is critical. As Mirapeix Bedia says, “You also need to tell people a good story with a beginning, middle, and end, and that’s what we try to do.”

3. Think about your audience

While the audience may change over time, knowing who it is right now is important to the experience. For both Terra and El Capricho, there are several important audiences across generations, and that’s probably true for your museum or attraction too.

4. Find what makes you unique

Without the creative eye of its designers and marketers, El Capricho might just be a lesser-known house in a rural Spanish town. And without the vision of its creators, Terra might have come and gone as a temporary World Expo exhibit. What gives both of these attractions staying power is the unique point of view they deliver, and the impressive way in which they deliver it.

5. Partner to promote your museum or attraction

Whether your attraction is a small venue in an out-of-the-way spot or a spectacular new introduction to a global hotspot like Dubai, you still need to be on your game with marketing so that people find out about it, and hear the right things. A partner like Tiqets amplifies your marketing reach.

For this reason, Terra partnered with Tiqets to launch in 2021. Faraidooni admits that the competition is quite fierce among attractions in Dubai and that the partnership with Tiqets, and particularly winning a Remarkable Venue Award, will help broaden the visibility of the experience it offers. Badia says the same for El Capricho, noting that a small attraction inherently has a small budget, so getting help with visibility makes an enormous difference.

Will your museum or attraction win next year?

When it comes to offering visitors an engaging experience, we so often talk about new types of technology such as augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and remote apps, and in fact, a lot of our Remarkable Venue Award winners have found innovative ways to use technology to create incredible experiences.

But it’s interesting to hear from Mirapeix Bedia another perspective:  “All of the conversations about technology will change. Things will be different in the future. But one thing will remain: Our work is to connect people. It doesn’t matter if you’re using a cellphone a tablet or any other technology. Your job stays the same.”

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