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Digital transformation for Exeter Cathedral

Historic attractions in Britain and France (including Exeter Cathedral) are set to be transformed as experts work to use virtual reality and digital technology to revolutionise the way visitors experience the historic locations.

Historians, academics, designers and architects will help tourist destinations use virtual reality headsets, tablets and smartphones to bring history to life, meet characters from the past and explore artefacts that are otherwise inaccessible. It is hoped the research will lead to a 20 per cent increase in visitor numbers in heritage sites taking part in the project.

Having access to new digital technology will lead to try new ways of operating businesses to increase revenue and visitor numbers. Tourism is worth more than £10bn a year to the economy in the South West alone. The project, called VISTA AR, aims to help heritage attractions use virtual reality and apps can encourage more people to visit and return to historical and cultural sites.

Experts will help them understand how technology can drive visitor experience and help them run the attraction in the most effective way. There will be new ways developed of collecting information about where visitors spend the most time during their visit.

Those working on the 7.8m Euro project, led by the University of Exeter, will develop a range of virtual and augmented reality resources which will be trialled by tourist attractions in the South West and in Northern France. This includes smaller sites, who would otherwise not have been able to afford to use expensive equipment. This project is co-financed by European Regional Development Fund from the France (Channel) Interreg Programme.

The first places to test the technology will be Exeter Cathedral and Fougères Castle in Brittany. They will be followed by the National Trust Tin Coast in Cornwall, the South West Coastal Path and the Lorient Submarine Museum and the Gardens of Valloires in France.

In Exeter Cathedral visitors can expect an augmented reality game based on the astronomical clock. The carvings of angels playing instruments in the Minstrel Gallery will also be animated. Visitors to the Tin Coast will be able to use virtual reality helmets to experience what it would have been like to work at Botallack Mine, the location used to film the popular BBC Poldark series. Those walking along the South West Coast Path will be able to use technology to find out more about the area’s maritime and coastal heritage.

“Bringing our shared heritage to life through new technologies is an important part of how we tell our story.”

Laurence Blyth, Marketing Manager

The project was launched at Exeter Cathedral on 7th September 2017, where those who run heritage attractions were able try virtual and augmented reality and digital technology equipment.

The resources will eventually be available through a cloud platform so other UK and French heritage attractions will be able to use them, and adapt them for their own specific needs. There will be a library of images and designs for attractions to create their own apps, or online tours, and they will just need to add their individual content. Heritage sites will be encouraged to upload the digital resources they have created for visitors to the cloud, so the online library will become larger as more businesses use it.

The resources will also include software tools so businesses can better analyse visitor feedback – for example by helping them more easily categorise comments left on review sites. There will be other software which allows customers to record verbal feedback on their experience, immediately after they have finished their visit.

Professor Andi Smart, from the University of Exeter Business School, who is leading the project, said: “This is a unique opportunity to capitalise on the wealth of cultural heritage assets found on both sides of the channel. Expertise from Britain and France will be used to help those running tourist attractions enhance the visitor experience and also the business model they use. It gives those in the tourist industry the opportunity to explore digital possibilities which are otherwise largely cost prohibitive.”

Laurence Blyth, Marketing Manager at Exeter Cathedral, said:

“Bringing our shared heritage to life through new technologies is an important part of how we tell our story. We’re all very proud that Exeter Cathedral will be at the forefront of this new project, and can’t wait to introduce it to our visitors when the time comes.”

The project will run for four years, with the online tools ready to test next year. Tourist attractions can sign up at [email protected] to be kept up to date with developments and project events.