March 7, 2021

The Uffizi Gallery uses an algorithm to combat queues | Culture

The Uffizi Gallery uses an algorithm to combat queues | Culture

Mass tourism and the bat followers selfie They have transformed the way they visit the world. And also, of course, the priorities of the museums. The revolution, modernity, is not so much about innovating in the story of the organization of collections, as in the nineties, but about something as prosaic as the improvement of a mass experience and increasingly unbearable. The Uffizi Gallery in Florence is almost as famous for its works by Botticelli and Leonardo as for its tails. The same thing happens to the Vatican Museums in Rome and to so many other cultural centers, converted into an emotional and climatological torture when we have to wait more than two hours in the open. Life, they think now in Florence, is too short to consume it in a queue.

When Eike Schmidt (Freiburg, 1969) landed in 2015 at the Uffizi, the most visited museum in Italy (3.4 million a year), he decided to dedicate part of his effort to questions of the artistic environment. He was the first foreign director in the history of the museum, who had no website, and lived on his legend. First, he established a variable rate system. The high season and the low season could not cost the same. That helped. Then, he reordered the collection and made the reforms to regulate the flow of visitors, often collapsed in front of works such as Spring of Botticelli or the Venus of Urbino of Titian. But there was the worst propaganda that was done to itself.

Last Sunday we tested for the first time a system based on an algorithm that collects scientific information -such as the average visit time, the capacity of the rooms, the time of year and the historical comparison …- and social. This section is what gives the machine its vividness, since it bases its prediction of waiting on issues such as meteorology, the impact of certain temporary exhibitions or the profile of visitors.

When the system is put into operation definitively (this is a beta version that has been tested with the 7,561 visitors last Sunday), there will never be any more queues. Each visitor will receive a scheduled appointment upon arrival, with a margin of error of 15 minutes, which allows time to be used in other matters. In fact, Pitti Gallery, has increased this weekend and 22% visits. "The management of queues is an exact science, based on statistics, the management structure, computer science … But it is also a social science, which has nothing to do with molecules but with groups of people who behave in a different depending on the environment. We have been able to work on it to have a very precise predictive statistical model, but there will be cases in which we have not yet thought, "says Schmidt.

3% passes four hours

Visiting the Uffizi will not be like ordering the time in the butcher shop. Time accuracy is essential so that queues of people waiting for a wrong turn do not form again. "We have analyzed the behavior of visitors outside, but also inside. We have seen what their strategies are when they visit the museum, how they are grouped together. Every day there are groups that spend 40 minutes in the museum or less. It means that they enter, take a picture and leave. Then there is a 3% of visitors who spend more than four hours, arrive in the morning and leave in the afternoon. But most spend between two and three hours. And that is a very comforting fact. It is usually thought that mass tourism is superficial, but it is not, "says Schmidt.

The system has been devised by a team from the University of L'Aquila led by Henry Muccini, president of the Computer Studies Program. The objective, he says, is not just to optimize the use. "It's also about creating sustainability in tourism. It redistributes the load of visitors, increases the quality of the visit and improves the visibility of the city internationally. " In addition, he points out, there is an incontestable security element. "A tail, unfortunately, is a very clear terrorist objective."

The risk of eliminating the ranks is implicit in the DNA of mass tourism. If there are no people waiting at the door, will it be worth what is inside?


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