Cliché as it may be, the opportunity to ‘stop and smell the roses’ is a major reason why people visit Sarah P. Duke Gardens. Boasting 55 acres of specialized gardens and five miles of pathways on the campus of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, Duke Gardens attracts more than 600,000 visitors from all over the world each year.
But that was before the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Like many attractions in the United States, the gates to Duke Gardens were closed and locked on Friday, March 13, 2020. The closure at the end of that now infamous week in March 2020 was part of ‘Duke’s university-wide efforts to minimize health and safety risks to the Duke community and beyond, and to encourage social distancing to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.’
The gates would remain locked for visitors for the next 384 days.
During its year-long closure, Sarah P. Duke Gardens began to plan for a phased reopening. Set to begin on April 1, 2021, phase I included limited capacity to ensure best practices for health and safety. In this initial phase, entry was also limited to Duke students, faculty and staff that completed symptom monitoring and had a Duke ID.
Beyond capacity limitations, the hours for the Gardens were also reduced to 10am to 4pm from Thursdays through Sundays – a significant change from the normal operating hours that allowed people to visit from 8am to dusk, 365 days a year.
Historically, because it is a free-admission botanic garden, Duke Gardens had few options to control access, capacity and flow, aside from its limited parking. In recent years, especially in peak cherry blossom and tulip season, paths would be increasingly packed with throngs of excited nature-lovers, while the parking lots filled with drivers frustratedly seeking a vacant spot. But viewing the guest experience through the new lens of social distancing was an added cause for pause, especially given the fact that many of the Gardens’ paths are only two to four feet wide – making it nearly impossible to create a safe distance with large spring crowds.
In its more than 80-year history, Duke Gardens never required visitors to make a reservation or acquire a timed ticket for entry, although the ever-increasing spring crowds had prompted its staff to consider the possibility. The COVID-19 driven restrictions turned that distant possibility into an urgent need. Reopening with a strictly limited capacity would enable the Duke community to return to a beloved part of its campus while enabling the Gardens to shape its crowd-control logistics for a later reopening to the public.
These new requirements led the leadership of Sarah P. Duke Gardens to enlist the help of the Duke University Box Office, a university service provider that works with different organizations across the campus community to ticket events of all kinds. The ticketing professionals in the Duke University Box Office use the AudienceView Unlimited platform to meet the unique needs of their campus clients – ranging from smaller events run by student organizations to the four-day, morning-to-midnight Full Frame Documentary Film Festival.
“The Duke Box Office team is a service provider for the entire University,” explains Jessica Reveal, Associate Director of Ticketing and Guest Services at Duke. “We’re often presented with challenges related to event logistics – from ticketing to house management – and take great pride in solving them. We’re like puzzle masters that don’t usually get the benefit of seeing the full picture before we get started.”
“The Duke Gardens leadership team approached us about using our box office ticketing platform, AudienceView Unlimited, to help create a solution that would allow them to satisfy their new requirements related to capacity limits and guest flow,” added Reveal. “Beyond the requirements from Duke Gardens, we also needed to account for the health and safety protocols that are set by Duke University as a whole.”
Reveal and her team use a highly effective combination of collaboration, experience and technology to solve for new challenges. After further research, testing and consultation, the ticketing team created a timed entry ticketing system for the Gardens to safely reopen for phase I. “I’ve personally set up thousands of events in my 6 years here at Duke, but timed entry ticketing was new for me,” said Reveal. “I love new challenges and adding new skills to my ticketing toolkit, so I was very excited about setting this up in AudienceView.”
Once the decision was made to use timed entry ticketing, Reveal began testing and building the hundreds of events to satisfy the requirements. “Once we’ve established the proper formatting, we can build 500 events really fast,” added Reveal. “Setting up the reports is also a breeze once the set of requirements is set and solidified.”
Reducing capacity is a critical factor for safety during the pandemic, so timed entry ticketing has made the phase I reopening of Duke Gardens an overwhelming success.
After making an online reservation on a dedicated microsite, Duke students, faculty and staff were able to enjoy a self-guided visit to Duke Gardens. Although a ticket with a specific entry time was required in advance of arrival, the visitors’ time in Duke Gardens was not limited or restricted, as long as they exited by closing time
The vision of Duke Gardens is to offer a respite from the ordinary in a welcoming and beautiful setting. Since reopening on April 1, 5,600 reservations have been made to visit Duke Gardens.
“I’m from Durham and spent a great deal of time in the Gardens as a child and now as an adult. The grounds are truly stunning and offer our community a much needed break from our daily grind to be one with nature, exercise, soak up the sun or just to get some fresh air,” said Reveal. “I’m so happy to have played a role in the phased reopening of Duke Gardens.”
|Capacity limits for visitors||Timed entry ticketing|
|Building hundreds of events||Data loader and Business Intelligence tool|
|Online reservations||Custom branded microsite|
|Contact-less entry||Mobile and print-at-home tickets|
|Visitor verification at entry gate||Easy-to-use scanners|
|Daily (and hourly) visitor lists||Scheduled reports|