The MMIAM Journey

A blog about the Master of Management
in International Arts Management program

An Analytical and Comparative Approach to Cultural Heritage Experiences Enhanced with Augmented Reality (Abridged)

Introduction

Many tourist and cultural heritage sites have sought to enrich their visitors’ in-situ experience by deploying digital tools such as augmented reality (AR). Some managers of tourist and cultural heritage destinations seem convinced that AR enriches the visitor experience while others continue to offer other choices (e.g., audioguides and  interactive kiosks) and they remain less convinced of the effectiveness and return on investment of adopting AR devices. This study applies the notion of perceived value to the visitor’s experience and compares AR device usage to other non-technological visit alternatives.

To realize our research objective, we used the notion of perceived value by the visitor. Perceived value is defined as a relative preference characterizing the experience of interaction between a subject and an object.

Two of the value approaches that the literature proposes to apply in the tourism field are relevant when examining the various components of the experience of visiting a heritage site: i.e. the Perceived value scale (PERVAL) and the Experiential value scale (EVS) approaches.

The PERVAL distinguishes four dimensions of value (i.e., Functional Value Quality, Functional Value for Price, Emotional Value, and Social Value), while EVS approach is structured around seven dimensions (i.e., Escapism, Enjoyment, Visual Appeal, Entertainment, Efficiency, Economic Value, and Excellence). Rather than competing with each other, these two approaches are complementary: the PERVAL approach offers a general view of the different facets of perceived value, while the EVS scale makes it possible to examine the experiential aspects of consumption more precisely.

Two studies, one quantitative, the second qualitative

Using two studies, one quantitative and one qualitative, this research aims to better observe and understand the effects of technology-enhanced tourism experiences compared to a non-assisted visit supported only by a distributed paper brochure (with summarized information about the site), and a professional guide.

In the quantitative part, a questionnaire was administered face-to-face to visitors at the castle Château de Chambord in the Loire Valley in France. Immediately after the visit ended, 109 individuals were interviewed.

Prior analyses found that the intrinsic evaluation of using the AR is higher for the benefits related to ‘Functional Advantage’ and ‘Pleasure of Use’ than for those related to using the paper leaflet.

However, the intrinsic evaluation of using AR is lower than that of using a professional guide. The functional and hedonic benefits are significantly higher during interactions with a professional guide than with AR. Contrastively, the perceived complexity (energy, effort, time) of interactions with the professional guide is higher than that perceived in using AR.

Woman watching info on a painting in a Catalan museum through augmented reality on her tablet
Augmented reality at Museu de Mataró linking to Catalan Wikipedia. Photo: Kippelboy. License: Wikimedia Commons.

 

Beyond these preliminary analyses, it appears that using AR does not enrich (or only marginally enriches) the perceived value of the overall visit experience. Only the ‘Functional Value Quality’ (PERVAL) and the ‘Entertainment’ dimensions (EVS) are significantly higher when using AR than when using a non-assisted paper-based visit, while no other observed differences are significant for the other nine sources of value for these constructs. Similarly, using a professional guide (compared to using AR) only slightly improves the perception of ‘Functional Value Quality and ‘Enjoyment’.

Despite the additional price associated with the use of the AR, the economic dimensions of the perceived value (“Functional Value for Price” for PERVAL and “Economic Value” for EVS) are not affected. To understand why using AR does not generate more effects on the perceived value of the visit, we carried out a qualitative study.

Following this first stage, we conducted 15 individual interviews directly after users returned the AR. The thematic analysis shows the problem of the (perceptual) duality of the physical and virtual environments which gives us a better understanding of why no added value was generated by people using AR during their visit to the castle.

AR users alternate their focus between the tablet and the real environment. The functional and hedonic benefits (linked to acquiring new knowledge and dramatizing the physical space) that  AR can favor  cannot be fully revealed in situ and, therefore, do not contribute to enriching the visit experience.

The castle visit is structured around a succession of more or less immersive episodes punctuated by alternate sensations of presence (full consciousness, cognitive stimulation) in the physical environment (e.g., amazement at the double spiral staircase) vs. telepresence (cognitive absorption, focus of attention) in the virtual environment (e.g., immersion in a room made more dramatic by the added AR), and disconnection from these immersive episodes (e.g. as the visitor changes rooms).

These breaks in rhythm, which are produced by using AR, adversely affect the hedonic value of the visit experience. AR also produces exclusively individual benefits and thereby excludes all interpersonal relations or more collective benefits that confer the role of ‘guide’ on the user.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this research shows that using AR does not significantly improve (or worsen) the perceived value of the visit to the tourist site, compared with two more traditional alternatives (i.e., a non-assisted visit supported by a paper brochure and an assisted visit using a professional guide).

It also clearly shows that certain functionalities favor the sensation of telepresence and isolate the visitor from the physical environment that they came to discover. Thus, these telepresence sequences (linked to immersion in AR) need to be better controlled, structured, and integrated into a journey where these particularly immersive episodes would enhance the overall experience of visiting the cultural site (and less the intrinsic use of the device).

 

IMPORTANT: note that this article contains scientific references that we have omitted to lighten the text. Please consult the original article if you wish to quote excerpts.

Contact us at mmiam@hec.ca to request a free copy of the full article published in the International Journal of Arts Management, Volume 25, Number 1, Fall 2022.

You can also browse our abridged research articles here.