Quick note / warning: this post is dedicated to a number of unnamed places we’ve visited that would otherwise go unmentioned on One Weird Globe. This is also a bit of a rant.
Bloggers like myself take pride in showcasing what a place has to offer, and some places make it easy to make them look good — exhibits are well-lit, guides are friendly, and signage is plentiful. Some places can be a bit harder to love — their budget prevents needed upgrades, the price doesn’t quite match what’s inside, and so on.
After 9 years of travel blogging and almost 2,000 posts, I’ve come up with a list of pet peeves that ensure a place doesn’t get covered, doesn’t get visited, or doesn’t get recommended.
Don’t allow guests to take photos
Act scared of a person with a camera! Give me a BS reason why your centuries-old artwork can’t be photographed by mere mortals. The best excuses I’ve heard:
- “Our exhibits are copyrighted.” No they aren’t. Pretty much anything of a creative form created before the early 20th century is considered public domain. Trademarks and patents expire after years or decades, not centuries. More modern art may fall under copyright, but allowing people to take pictures falls under the principle of fair use. (Criticism, comment, news reporting, and research are all considered fair use of otherwise-copyrighted thing.) To be sure, ‘fair use’ is not explicitly written into every country’s copyright law, but it is an internationally accepted principle that dates back centuries.
- Even if they are copyrighted, at least one reputable source says “Modern copyright has established that it is not the owner of a work of art who is the copyright holder, but the creator: possession does not automatically convey copyright.”
- “Our benefactor has chosen not to allow photos.” Ahh, the classic ‘pass the buck’ game! Lame! See above — it’s not necessarily their right to choose that.
- “If you take pictures of the place, then people won’t want to come for themselves.” If your exhibits can be so completely and thoroughly enjoyed by a dozen pictures, then there’s no point to come.
- We’re trying to protect the dignity of our exhibits.” (Heard at a collection of human bones in the US) No, you’re not. First, you’re using said bones and remains to charge admission and allow the public to see you. Second, you’ve already taken pictures of them and used them in your overpriced hardcover books and other souvenirs. How does that protect their dignity?
- “We don’t want the pieces to be damaged.” Of course you don’t, and neither do I. Taking a photograph does zero damage to an object, regardless of whether it’s made with paper, clay, oil, canvas, or rock. Using flash photography can lead to the degradation of some items, and I completely understand the need for ‘no flash’ rules. Tripods and selfie sticks can also fairly be restricted since they can take up a bit of room in a cramped area and may create a tripping hazard.
- “It’s a security risk.” No, it’s probably not. My camera need not be a DSLR or smartphone — it might be built into the bridge of my glasses Mission Impossible style, it might be built into the end of a pen, or a thousand other places you’d never think to look for. If I had a decent memory, I could simply remember the pertinent ‘security risks’ a photograph would show, then write or sketch them in my notebook. Whatever security risks a camera might show are flaws in your infrastructure or personnel that ought to be handled in a different way. Creating a security theater doesn’t make anyone safer.
I have heard at least one plausible reason to not allow photos: it disrupts the flow / experience of the museum. Tight spaces, narrow hallways, and difficulty in moving around is hard enough before a photographer tries to get involved. In a case like this, I wouldn’t like it, but I could accept it. A bit of explanation goes a long way in this case.
Solution: know your collection, then make — and enforce — specific rules. If some exhibits would genuinely be damaged by flash photography (or if the science isn’t in and you want to play it safe), prohibit flash photography. Make signs that prohibit tripods, selfie sticks, or the like instead of a blanket ban on photography.
Along these lines, don’t tell people they’re not allowed to take photos until after they’ve entered / paid.
It feels like a bait and switch. If you’re going to set a rule, make it known before you enter or as you approach the ticket counter. Pointing to the one tiny sign in an out-of-the-way may make you technically correct, but does nothing to comfort your guest.
Solution: see above. If there’s a no-flash or no-tripod rule, put up signs.
Have a lengthy or required introductory video.
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard something like “OK, let’s just go into the next room and I’ll start the video for you”… Seriously. I cringe when I hear this. What’s in the video that isn’t on display in the museum? Making matters worse, too many of these look like they were produced in the 1990’s or were an intern’s side project. Some are best used as enticements to get people in the door — once they’re here, though, let ’em at it! Respect people’s time.
How long is too long? With only perhaps two exceptions I can think of offhand, 5-6 minutes. I came to see the place, not watch a video.
Solution: re-evaluate your video. If recent, relevant, and still watchable, upload the video to Youtube, your website, or your blog, If outdated, retire. If a couple of signs can replace the video altogether, do that.
Ask for donations multiple times after I’ve paid for admission
I understand the marketing here — people often need to see or hear an appeal more than once. At best, it’s cheeky; at worst, it’s rather off-putting. Religious places (where donation boxes are ubiquitous) or places where entrance is free get a pass.
Solution: get strategic about where and when to request donations. The middle of the museum between two major / costly exhibitions is a good potential place. The end, right by the credits is another.
Have no information on the exhibits whatsoever
There’s really no excuse here. Whether it’s a brochure, an e-book, a tablet, a typewritten scrap of paper, or an audioguide, exhibits should not be naked (e.g. without accompanying information). To have nothing suggests a lack of curation, that you just don’t care, or that you don’t know the provenance of your own collection.
(Less annoying but kind of odd: seeing multiple generations of signage. Think typewritten labels from the 1960’s alongside a modern wall sign. The info may not have changed, but the presentation ends up looking less than uniform.)
Solution: add info to your exhibits — wall signs, brochures, etc.
Overblown or long-winded signage
Walls of text should not be a literal thing unless you’re looking to bore people. It’s a museum, not an encyclopedia.
Solution: distill the information down to what’s needed to enjoy that particular exhibit.
Allow private tour guides to sell their services inside
Saw this in Egypt — seriously? I can only guess, of course, that the museum gets a
bribe kickback from the tour guides, who may well be making stuff up. The couple of places I’ve seen this had precious little or zero signage to verify a guide’s stories…
Solution: employ your own professional tour guides for people that want them.
Have only a fraction of the place open, or close large parts of the place off — then neglect to mention it at the entrance
This happened in Italy — of the dozen or so rooms to enjoy in a place, a handful or so were closed for renovation. Can’t get in. Can’t see them. You paid full price to get in, though.
I’ve also seen this at American art galleries — the permanent collection is open, but they’re between special exhibits. It’s not unfair to charge half the price if only half the space has exhibits.
Solution: if between exhibits, have a standard fee for enjoying just the permanent collection. If renovating, have clear signage by the entrance of what’s off-limits, or re-price accordingly.
Charge a ‘photography fee’, a required ‘special exhibit’ fee, or other nickel-and-diming tactics.
Admission: 11 Romanian lei (a little under $3 USD). Permission to take amateur photos? 50 Romanian lei, over four times the cost of getting in.
Airlines do this. Know how much people like them?
We’ve seen this in Europe and northern Africa, and have been a bit confused each time. What are you doing to earn a photography fee? Turning on the lights?
In another case, a European museum’s special exhibit didn’t interest us, so we opted to just purchase the regular ticket. No can do — the way the museum had it set up, you had to walk through the special exhibit to get to the permanent collection… which means you need a special exhibit ticket. The museum couldn’t be bothered to set up a direct path or bypass.
Solution: Assume your exhibits are wonderful enough and that everyone with a camera wants to use it. Don’t assume your guests need to see every part of the collection every visit.
Be overly self-congratulatory to your sponsors / partners
The reality of many museums is that their members and corporate sponsors pay for exhibits or curation efforts. A tasteful panel by an entrance or exit is one thing; a distracting placard repeated throughout the museum is not. Further, I cannot recall the last thing I bought as a result of seeing someone’s personal or company name at a museum.
Solution: find the balance that allows sponsors to be notable but doesn’t interfere with guest’s enjoyment.
Charge different prices for locals and foreigners (AKA dual-pricing)
Dual-pricing is perhaps my biggest pet peeve, so I’ve saved it for last. The only justification for dual-pricing I can think of is that the locals have directly subsidized the place (e.g. through their taxes) in a way that foreigners haven’t. This justification is harder to accept in countries where people actively avoid paying taxes or aren’t paying taxes, but that’s a different story.
In the case above, the Thai numbers just above the Arabic numbers show a different price for those services. In Thailand’s case, it seemed a matter of ‘we’ll charge the foreigners more because we can’. In Egypt, it seemed more a matter of ‘they’re in no position to complain’ or ‘But the foreigners are rich!’. Relatively speaking, perhaps. Perhaps you missed the wealthy locals skating in on a local’s ticket, or perhaps your outdated beliefs on your own country are blinding you to the BMW’s parked in the lot.
Solution: charge one price per category (e.g. Adult, Senior Citizen) unless you’re demonstrably subsidized by the people of a given area.
Over to you
What pet peeves do you have while traveling?
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Also published on Medium.