Cleanliness and Your Museum

Everyone is talking about the importance of cleanliness at tourism destinations due to the coronavirus right now.  While cleanliness for health reasons is a critical discussion, in today’s post, I’m going to talk about neatness and cleanliness as strategic imperatives. 

Let’s start with an exercise.  Go into your gallery tomorrow and drop a crumpled up piece of paper on the ground.  How long does it take for someone to pick it up and throw it away?  The answer to this question matters more than you think.  As visitors walk around our facilities, they make conscious and subconscious assessments of everything about who we are as an organization.  One of the most important attributes people naturally judge is how much everyone involved with our museum cares.  Visitors assess how much we care based on an accumulation of what they experience through all senses.  Everything they experience becomes part of their assessment, including a conversation among staff members they overheard, the attitude of the volunteer they spoke with, even the actions of the outsourced lawn care company you use.

Circling back to neatness and cleanliness, people attach neatness and cleanliness to caring.  If they see dust, fingerprints on walls, debris around the building, unclean bathrooms, unkempt walls, and floor, full wastebaskets, lights out, outdated or poorly displayed signage, etc they attribute these shortcomings to a lack of caring. 

Primarily, this is important because it takes away from their perceptions of your visitor experience.  Long term, this is important because people don’t give money to organizations that they perceive don’t care.  I heard this articulated very well while participating in a feedback group a few years ago, a participant simply stated, “If you don’t care enough to address fundamental items, why should I.”  Even if a visitor falls in love with your exhibits and your mission, if they think you don’t care, the rest doesn’t matter. 

The sweet spot is items that can easily be addressed and speak to effort.  For example, your town probably has a trendy restaurant in a dilapidated building.  As long as it appears neat and clean, people flock to the restaurant downplaying the building’s shortcomings.    If your museum is in an older building that needs to updating, people understand these types of upgrades require resources beyond human effort; as such, they don’t tend to attribute these types of issues to the staff’s level of care.

The items that are easily in your control are the ones that you need to put the focus on all the time from top leadership to the front of house employees and volunteers.  First, make sure everyone understands that neatness and cleanliness are everyone’s job.  No one should ever walk past something that needs to be cleaned; even if they don’t know how to get to the cleaning products, they should bring it to someone’s attention.  As I mentioned, this starts at the top; every few hours, I walk around the public areas of the building doing a neatness and cleanliness check.  I also get to interact with front-end staff, volunteers, and visitors, which is also quite valuable, but my primary goal is looking for neatness and cleanliness items.  This is quite easy, I simply ask myself what I would notice if I were a first time visitor.  Make sure all employees understand the importance of neatness and cleanliness.  Have your full-time employees take regular walks around the building.  We all need a few minutes away from our computers, and this is an excellent opportunity to rest the eyes and get a few steps in.

Lastly, on the earlier question about the crumpled up piece of paper, if it takes more than ten minutes for someone to see it, you have work to do. 

Note:  I’m a strategist with no medical expertise, so I am not qualified to speak on the coronavirus issue. Please consult a medical professional with questions on this issue. 

Article by Frank Bennett, originally published at

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