Merlin welcome Biggin Hill Memorial Museum to the family

Merlinsoft Ltd are very pleased and proud to have supplied a full Venue Management Solution for the newly-opened Biggin Hill Memorial Museum in Kent, England.

Spitfire aircraft and previously unpublished photos of World War 2 pilots and never seen before letters have gone on public display at the museum, with the aim of creating an environment where people can learn about the Battle of Britain and those who lost their lives in the conflict.

Winston Churchill called RAF Biggin Hill his “strongest link” during the Battle of Britain as pilots from the airfield took down over 1,400 Luftwaffe aircraft during World War 2.

Work on the £5.6m project commenced in late 2017 with funds supplied by the Government, National Lottery, Bromley Council and even private donors.

Jemma Johnson Davey, Director of the Museum, said “The aim of this new museum is to offer a new way of telling for what some people would be a familiar story. The history of Biggin Hill goes so much further back than the Battle of Britain. It is one of Britain’s oldest aerodromes and was instrumental to the development of wireless communication technologies.”

In addition to this new museum, Biggin Hill is also home to St George’s RAF Chapel of Remembrance, where those who died working from Biggin Hill are commemorated.

Owen Gleadall, Managing Director of Merlinsoft Ltd said “we have worked with the staff of the new museum over several months to ensure everything was ready for this new opening and I’m pleased to say it has all gone very smoothly. We look forward to seeing it grow and develop over the coming years”.

Staying Safe Online with Merlin

Staying Safe Online

The Internet is an important part of life in today’s society. Social media, work, shopping and banking is now common occurrence online. So it’s important to be careful with your personal data. Scams have become more effective with their increased sophistication, so people need to be even more vigilant.

Read our non-technical and jargon free guide to understand how you can keep yourself, your family and your data safe online.

Phishing Scams

So what exactly are they?

Phishing scams can come in different forms, they can be false websites, emails, phone calls or text messages which pretend to be something they’re not.

The goal of phishing scams is to trick the targeted person in to giving information, which will give criminals access to your data. Some scams will try to put you under pressure to do something within a time frame. A few examples of such scams include a website pretending to be your bank, or an email that’s seemingly coming from a trusted source asking you to provide login details, passwords or personal information.

The Solution

A crucial part of staying safe online is being vigilant and knowing how to spot phishing scams.

Some examples of phishing scams:-

  • Any email that refers to you as your email address (for example “dear”)
  • Be wary if anyone that asks you to make a payment or log in to your account right away.
  • Look for strange spellings, often interchanging numbers and letters Th3 B4nk

Check the email or web address. If it’s from a free provider, like Gmail or Yahoo, it could be a scam. You can call your bank or the organisation you’re meant to be dealing with to confirm whether or not it’s them.

If you suspect any website, email, text message, or phone call is a phishing scam, it’s vital that you report it to Action Fraud. Reporting suspected fraud can help keep you and other more vulnerable internet users safe.

Fake Websites

Fake websites are usually the sign of a phishing scam. It’s very easy to copy websites, along with their logos. It’s important that you don’t reveal your information to any websites that you’re not confident about.

The Solution

Learning how to spot fake websites is one way you can protect yourself against this type of scam. Fake websites often look very similar to the real website they are imitating. If you find yourself asking: “is this website safe?”, then it’s probably not!

Never trust a clickable link, which directs you to a website. Always look at the address bar wording. Sometimes words are misspelt or changed, to fool you.

If you want to visit a website, always type it yourself to verify you’re going to the correct website. Also, news is a great media support, for alerting you to large-scale phishing scams.

Spend a few minutes checking the website. Have a read at their other pages, i.e. ‘About Us’. Look for poor spelling. Also look for the padlock next to website address bar, at the top of the page. This will let you know if the website is a trusted source.


Protect your computer from viruses is still important part of dealing with scams. If a virus infects your device, this can be detrimental to your device and also leave your personal data vulnerable.

The Solution

It’s important you have virus/malware protection software running on your computer. If you’re not sure what that entails, it’s worth talking to someone who can advise and help keep your computer safe. Good news is that there is free software to help with this problem.

Do not download or open anything from sources which you do not trust. If you get an email from an address you don’t know, don’t open it. It’s especially important that you don’t download any attachments from websites or email addresses you don’t recognise.

Children’s Safety Online

Keeping your child safe online can seem overwhelming, especially when they seem to know more than you do. From social media to online gaming and instant messaging, monitoring your child’s online presence can seem incredibly daunting. Children can be naive and inquisitive to various types of media online. There are a number of ways you can help keep your kids safe and one of the most notable is through internet education.

The Solution

One of the most important parts of ensuring internet safety for kids is education. The more you teach your children about online safety, the better prepared they’ll be to safely use the internet. This is really important, as your child may not always be at home, when accessing the Internet.

Depending on your child’s age and maturity, it may be appropriate to apply some parental controls. This can be done through your internet settings. Parental controls allow you to prevent your children from accessing certain websites. Your internet provider may have advice on this, so it is a good idea to get in touch with them and see what they offer. Also having the device where you can monitor what activity is happening.

General list to help educate your children:

  • Don’t post any personal information online – like your address, email address or mobile number
  • Think carefully before posting pictures or videos of yourself. Once posted it’s not just yours anymore
  • Never give out your passwords
  • Don’t befriend people you don’t know
  • Don’t meet up with people you’ve met online
  • Not everyone online is who they say they are
  • If you see something online that makes you feel uncomfortable, unsafe or worried: leave the website

Merlin Ken

How does EPOS work for retail?

How does EPOS work for retail?

While the success of most established brands is now leveraged behind optimised supply chains and huge economies of scale, the secret to exponential growth is just as achievable for the sole trader as it is for multinational organisations. Mastering the formula has lead to success for many leading retailers, paving the way to multi-site chains and record profits year on year.

The ultimate objective in retail is a business which operates like a well oiled machine, seamlessly delivering excellent customer experience while maximising commercial opportunity. To tap into the unlimited growth potential of retail, you must start with the two core words at the heart of every successful business: continual improvement.

In terms of business intelligence, the retail sector offers unparalleled opportunity for sales analysis. Every transaction is an indication of your target audience and their preferences, and every product left unsold is quietly signalling to you that your all important shelf space has unrealised potential. EPOS technology has been designed and refined to harness this information into a range of in-depth, customisable and meaningful reports.

The potential of EPOS goes beyond optimising product and supplier selection. Digitisation of records means that purchase orders and ledger accounts can be automatically generated, drastically reducing administration time. In addition, integrated store card features create the opportunity to track purchasing behaviours over time, and reward your loyal customers with exclusive and tactical offers.

When we designed our EPOS system, we did so with the businesses in mind that would thrive with the right tools, which is why you will find scalability to be an integral part of our service. From the sole trader to the multinational organisation, our solution is ready to connect and maximise your business.

Contact us for a free consultation, or read our case studies here.

July 2018 News Roundup

In this new section, we’ll be reviewing the latest trends and developments within the UK tourism market. This month, our focus is on the economy and some of the biggest and brightest projects across the British Isles.

Tourism on the rise thanks to weak pound

Figures have been published for UK’s inbound tourism in 2017, and reports say that numbers grew 4% year on year, which has been attributed to the weak pound, offering more value for money for many overseas visitors.

While the overseas buying power of Sterling has reduced, this has opened up opportunities for investors and tourists within the UK


In June 2016 when the referendum was held the USD/GBP rate fell from $1.47 to $1.35, with lows of around $1.22 through the winter before making a slow recovery towards the end of 2017. This equated to around 20% more spending power for US visitors which has acted as a great incentive for UK vacations.

Historically, the US is our most valuable market, and last year saw 13% year on year growth from visitors to 3.9million over the year, while spending increased by 9% up to a record £3.6billion over the year, equalling around £925 spend per person.

Our biggest gains came from Asian markets. Typically high-spending visitors from China delivered a 35% increase in spend from a 29% increase in visits. Tourism from China delivered a spend of £694 million between 337,000 people, totalling over £2050 spend per person.


Latest Discover England Fund successful applicants announced

The Discover England Fund was launched in 2016 to promote tourist destinations across England to target European, Scandinavian, Gulf & US markets by developing local infrastructure and cultural sites through a range of projects. Earlier this month, 11 applicants were awarded a share of up to £250,000 spending to invest in developments for the third year of the fund.

Among those successful are projects to market ‘England’s Seafood Coast’ and the ‘Urban Food Hub’ in Bristol, which hope to improve perception of England as a destination for culinary enthusiasts. Other projects focus on embellishing England’s cultural history with investments into ‘England’s Literary Greats’, ‘Authentic Collections’ and ‘The Northern World Heritage Collection’. ‘Uncover the Cotswolds’ ran by Cotswolds Tourism also seeks to promote tours and experiences around the wider region to improve integration with tour operators.

Manchesters’ music scene is to be marketed as one of the UK’s key selling points as part of Discover England’s third round of funding

The North West appeared to be the big winners, with multiple projects approved to promote the region for short getaways centred around music, dance, exploration, food & drink. Other local initiatives include marketing horse racing on an international level, as well as promoting extended stays for delegates attending scientific conferences in Manchester.


New theme parks are blowing up!

In quite a bizarre new trend, the number of new total-wipeout themed inflatable theme parks across the UK has rocketed this year. The new developments include the first of their kind in both Scotland and Wales, riding on the back of the success of a number of temporary fixtures which have been travelling the country.

Wales’ new “Limitless” park in Swansea opened earlier in June, ripping out their old trampolines and replacing them with a huge inflatable playground. A similar development was also recently completed at Nottingham’s ‘Planet Bounce’. Not to be outdone Cardiff is opening their own attraction, ‘The Inflatable Arena’.

InflataNation in Manchester is one of the growing number of inflatable theme parks in the UK

In Scotland, Aberdeens’ ‘Innoflate’ opened earlier this month as their first inflatable theme park, to be followed by ‘Flip Out’, a 63,000 sq ft arena in Glasgow due to open later in the year, making this their 25th location across the UK.

Meanwhile in Beverley, the UK’s first double-decker inflatable theme park is due to open, which will also include the biggest ball pool in the country. This new location for Inflata Nation will be their fourth, adding to existing parks in Manchester, Cheshire and Birmingham.


Have you benefited from hiring inflatable obstacle courses, or noticed more international visits as a result of local initiatives? Let us know your success stories!


Getting found online – SEO for visitor attractions

How to get your attraction found online

Last month we looked at whether museums should charge for admission, and found by and large that while a small drop in visitor numbers can be expected when moving from free admission to paid, increasing charges surprisingly tended to have little effect on attendance.

But what if we’re looking not just to boost spend per visitor, but overall visitor numbers? The tourism sector is fraught with competition and the methods used to stand out have evolved over the years. In this guide, I’ll be giving you the rundown of the latest trends in being found online.


#1 Build and maintain an online identity

While a website will always be the richest and most informative source of information for your visitors, it’s unlikely to be the first they hear of you. Chances are, people will discover you through their friends   experiences, and when they do, it’s important to have an active presence on whatever platform that may be.

Popularity of social media platforms by share of visits. #1 Facebook, #2 Youtube, #3 Twitter #4 Reddit #5 Instagram #6 Pinterest

Facebook and Twitter are still the largest and most active social networks, and while pushing original contentcan often have very limited visibility, a consistent approach which drives engagement can be a powerful force for growth. Bodelwyddan Castle 

Ideally for these networks, you should be looking to maintain an active presence, engaging with visitors as they ‘check-in’ at the venue and use local hashtags to push any special offers or new features.

While Instagram has continued to rise past Pinterst since being bought out by Facebook in 2012, both are great tools to distribute some of the more scenic and unusual details of your venue. Bressingham’s Steam and Gardens Instagram profile is a great example of how varied imagery can set the scene of the experiences on offer, without saying a word.


#2 Demonstrate credibility and great service with testimonials

Being found online means utilising every tool at your disposal to create a consistent public profile for audiences of every kind. While a social media presence can target your visitors’ networks, how do you reach those who have never heard of you?

Search for any kind of attraction in any city in any country, and you’re likely to see Trip Advisor as one of the top results with their recommendations. Why? Because they’re a trusted authority who see millions of visits per year for their crowdsourced assessments of visitor attractions, restaurants and travel destinations.

Museums in England google search screenshot
Most searches involving tourist destinations will return Trip Advisor recommendations on the front page

Opening your venue and service up to public critique can be a decisive turning point in terms of success. Positive reviews and a high user rating can be an excellent indicator to local tourists; while on the other hand, a damning critique could potentially deter visitors who would have otherwise been happy to make the trip and find out.

While this may seem a risky move, the evolving trend of reading reviews before buying or visiting anywhere is not one to be ignored. Not only are your competitors benefiting from the exposure, but being unable to find any public reviews can often arouse suspicion in itself.


#3 Make sure your website is optimised

It’s estimated that around 85% of all searches are now done by mobile, which is the reason why last month, Google updated its search algorithms to ‘mobile first’. Today’s search engines can tell when you website was last updated, and will often penalise those who do not offer a user friendly experience.

Some common mistakes are:-

  • Site resolution does not scale to the device (do users have to scroll right and left to navigate your site?)
  • Page takes too long to load (do you have high resolution images or web-applications which cause pages to take longer than three seconds to load?)
  • Do visitors have to pinch and zoom to read text on your site?
Mobile friendly site guide
You can review whether your site is mobile optimised for free by clicking this link here.

Aside from mobile optimisation, there are many other factors that determine the quality of a web-page for the purpose of search rankings. A few questions to ask yourself might be:-

  • How relevant is my content to the people I want to attract?
  • Does my website look like a trusted source? (i.e, do I have a privacy policy, website terms of use, about us & contact details?)
  • Could my website potentially raise any ‘spam’ flags? (high advert to content ratio, excessive linking, duplicated content, excessive keyword concentration)

There are many numerous guides to read on SEO (search engine optimisation) which range from white-hat best practice, to black-hat algorithm exploitations. As a rule of thumb, try to make your website engaging, original, relevant and user friendly. Ultimately, this is the type of content that Google wants to reward with high search rankings.


#5 Build a network of backlinks

In SEO, a backlink is exactly what it sounds like. A backlink means another website has seen fit to link to your website as an affiliate, information source, or subject of their own content.

The most immediate benefit of having a strong network of backlinks is that it can be a source of direct traffic. For visitor attractions, some key places to be listed might be local travel reviews or ‘things to do’ directories. By speaking to journalists, travel bloggers and local businesses, you may be able to create a public listing that reaches a much more specific audience than you could achieve through social media.

The second benefit is a gradual one. The more links you have from trusted, relevant sources, the more trust and authority your own webpage is perceived to have, and the higher you will tend to position for your relevant search terms.

Google search snippet with Moz bar plugin
This is a snippet of front page results for Castles in Yorkshire, with the Moz browser plugin for Chrome.

While Google’s search algorithms are a tightly guarded secret, Moz have some great tools to assess how websites are likely to perform in search results. For this search of “Castles in Yorkshire”, our top 7 hits are all from travel sites including Trip Advisor; #8 is Wikipedia, which is a highly trusted source (with 97 Domain Authority or DA); and number 9, the first singular attraction listing, is Skipton Castle.

While Skipton Castle is nowhere near as authoritative a source as English Heritage, it has over 2000 backlinks referring to it’s website. Such links include Travel reviews from Foursquare (where it makes the list as the 69th wonder of the world), and listings with local hotels under things to do. These connections signal to Google that this is a trustworthy destination regarded by authorities in the sector.



In summary, being found online is about standing out against your competitors. To do it, you’ll need to look far afield for networking opportunities, while delivering a consistent social message and excellent customer service.

As technologies develop and both search engines and tourists are becoming smarter in their approaches. The only way to ultimately achieve market leading visibility, is to consistently and publicly deliver a market leading experience.

Have we missed anything? Comment below!

Should Museums Charge for Admission?

Should Museums charge for admission?

One of the most difficult challenges for museums is defining a charging structure that offers value for money, promotes long-term growth, meets fundraising objectives and encourages engagement from both local and tourist populations.

We were lucky enough to catch a seminar given by DC research on their AIM commissioned study at the Museums & Heritage show in May this year on the “Impact of Charging or Not for Admissions on Museums”. In this slightly longer than usual blog-post, I’ll be giving you an overview of their findings.

Association of Independent Museums Credit Credit to DC Research

Full credit to AIM & DC Research for their report “Impact of charging or not for Admissions on Museums.

The Study

Their research stems from interviews with over 300 museums across the UK, of which the majority were independent museums. They found most (67%) of independent museums charge some kind of admission, whereas the same percentage of local authorities did not.

percentage of museums who charge admission
Most of the respondents were Independent museums due to AIM’s existing connections with the sector

Interestingly, when questioned about the effect of charging or not charging, 55% of free museums felt their structure had a definite positive effect on visitor numbers, whereas of those who charged admission, only a small minority felt their fees had a negative impact.

Based on the testimony of venues who had recently changed their pricing structure, going from free to chargeable often meant a drop in visitor numbers, but increasing fees seemed to have little effect. Those who did charge admission generally felt there was an understanding with their guests that the fees were to a good cause and offered value for money.

It was noted that not all visits of free venues were necessarily of value, as a number of guests would use the venue simply for restroom facilities, as a meeting spot, or even respite from the rain. This belief is reinforced by the statistics that show that in general, visitors of paid attractions tended to stay longer, indicating a desire to get their money’s’ worth. Similarly, when free venues began charging, they found that local traffic saw the most significant drops.

effect of charging admissions on donations, secondary spend and dwell time
Respondents felt that charging admission generally had a positive impact on dwell time and secondary spend, while opinions were split on spontaneous donations

The findings became more interesting when looking at the effect of charging admission on donations in general. While a small majority viewed admissions as detrimental to receiving additional donations, 56% of respondents felt that charging admissions had a neutral or positive effect. In addition, those who charged admission also reported longer dwell times, though they were less confident than free museums of the impact of this on secondary spend.

Qualitative Observations

From DC Research’s qualitative assessment, the researchers found that in general, whether or not a venue charged had little to do with visitor spend. As they put it, if you want to buy a tea and cake, you won’t be put off because you’ve already spent £5 to enter. Instead, visitors were actually more likely to visit the shop or on-site catering as part of their paid-for experience.

In terms of creating a visitor experience, museums charging admissions generally had the edge over their free counterparts, in that they offered a formal welcome to the establishment. This forms an integral part of delivering value, and it was DC Research’s recommendation that otherwise free venues should still have an alternate welcoming process.

Who charges what?

Of the participants interviewed, the median price for a ticket was £5 for an adult, £2 for a child, £16 for a family and £4.05 for concessions. The mean was slightly higher, indicating a skew for ‘key attractions’ who charged up to £24 for an adult ticket.

trends for museum pricing
While independent museums charged more than local authorities, average prices had less to do with sector and more to do with significance of the attraction itself

The lowest price recorded was just £0.50, which raised concerns from the research team. Not only do such low priced attractions suffer from the footfall drop of charging, but they also don’t benefit from the otherwise flat price elasticity. As the speaker put it, such venues have “suspiciously low” pricing, wherein the value of the experience is downplayed to the point of being a deterrent.

While there was no real correlation between admission rates and the type of museum, the more expensive museums generally saw over 100,000 annual visits, and operated in the South-East & London.

How does charging admissions affect fundraising?

Of the participants who increased pricing in the last 3 years, 70% reported that it had no impact on spontaneous donations. For those who transitioned from free to charging, donations were commonly claimed to have decreased. In both instances, overall revenues were reported to have improved.

Despite the general trends, It’s important to know the local demographic when planning any price increases. The case study below highlights difficulties faced by Cannon Hall, which attempted to charge admission to its’ grounds after years of free admission for guests to its’ grounds.

Cannon hall admission fees case study
The cannon hall case study, a local attraction for us here at Merlinsoft is a great example of needing to understand your audience. In this case, Cannon Hall arguably forgot the colloquial Barnsley motto: “how much!?”

The general consensus was that admission charges were of minimal importance to the donations received. More critical factors were things such as how the donation boxes were presented, whereabouts in the museum they were positioned, and the messages associated with them.

Final word

After reading this article, it seems apparent there is much goodwill towards museums, and audiences are generally tolerant of price increases. It is worth noting that the majority of museums who increased prices, did so with the addition of a new offering, with full disclosure of the reasons for increasing charging, and/or with sound evidence about their audiences’ preferences.

In truth, good fundraising comes from understanding your audience and sharing a mutual vision which lets them share in your cause. For some, free admissions were a way to build a sense of community, while others flourished and grew their offerings year on year through paid admissions. Ultimately, it comes down to your museums identity, and that of your visitors.

Article source:

Merlin Tickets, Official Ticketing Partners

white label booking site
The booking site was designed with continuity in mind when navigating from the conferences’ main website.

As part of our commitment to improving our online ticketing system, we recently ran a live trial with Mid-Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce (MYCCI) to provide online booking, check-in and delegate badge printing for their largest annual event, the Kirklees Business Conference.

Our objective was to pilot some of our newly developed tools in a live setting, and demonstrate the overall effectiveness of managing larger events with the Merlin system. In order to get the most out of the event and be to be there at ‘the sharp end’, two of our team attended as the official ticketing partners and manned the registration desk.

wireless ticket redemption
Alex wirelessly scans a ticket, while volunteers prepare the delegate badge and hand out visitor packs

Starting with a branded and AA compliant booking site (select ‘Buy Tickets’ here), we took hundreds of advance bookings in the weeks and months leading up to the event. We also used the Merlin ‘Sessions’ Add-On feature to allow attendees to register for a limited number of seminar spaces as part of the booking process, and sent out automated e-tickets to all guests.

Armed with student volunteers on the day, we created a two-stage check-in process in order to minimise waiting time while producing delegate badges in real-time.

ticketing made simple
Alex (Left) spends a few minutes explaining our system to the volunteers while Owen (Right) assembles a delegate badge

On arrival, a typical guest would produce their ticket or confirmation email to be scanned by one of our greeters equipped with a tablet and 2D scanner, and asked to proceed to the next desk. Where guests did not have a ticket, a built-in search function could find bookings, or new registrations could be processed from our laptop, or by the attendee’s mobile phone.

By the time the delegates reached the welcome desk, a personalised lanyard had been printed and assembled together with an information pack for the day. Using this process we were able to personally greet all guests to the event by name.

Delegate badge printing
Badges were prepared in advance, with name badges printed and inserted on arrival

Overall, the day was an excellent opportunity for us at Merlin to appreciate the capabilities of our system first-hand. We successfully admitted hundreds of delegates with minimal delays, eventually honing the process to be managed by a single attendant. It was our honour to be the official ticketing partner of MYCCI for the day and we look forward to serving similar events in future.

GDPR – Your quintessential last minute panic guide


What is it?

GDPR stands for the General Data Protection Regulation; which will replace the standards set within the Data Protection Act. This new regulation sets guidelines for the responsible use of personal data of EU Inhabitants, and seeks to empower individual rights where private data is collected and used.

When does it take effect?

The regulations were adopted on 27th April 2016, with a two year transitional period before the changes become enforceable. By the 25th April 2018, all companies who hold and use personal data must be compliant to avoid potential penalties.

What penalties are involved?

For major breaches, maximum fines can total €20 Million or 4% of annual global turnover, whichever is greater.

How will it affect the data I hold?

Assuming you want to avoid the penalties, conforming to GDPR will require you to review the type of information held about your customers. Essentially, you may only hold information which the data subjects have unambiguously consented to you using, for the explicit purposes they have agreed to.

The exception to this rule is where the data controller has a lawful basis for processing, such as to fulfil a service agreement or contract, or where data is collected for an express purpose – such as for gift-aid claims.

How will it affect my customers?

As with the Data Protection Act, GDPR gives your customers the right to access the information held about them, in addition to the purposes for which the information was collected. Your customers will also have the right to be forgotten, meaning that any data records held must have the potential for deletion or total anonymisation or pseudonymisation..

What will be the benefits of GDPR?

As a result to the extra controls put in place, GDPR stands to improve the quality and relevance of marketing information each of us receive on a daily basis, as well as protecting our private information from unlawful collection and processing.

Do you have any questions about becoming GDPR compliant within your Merlin systems? Feel free to call our team on 01226 294413

The Need to Knows of Gift-Aid

Gift Aid Logo
The Need to Knows of Gift-Aid

Originally started in 1990, albeit with very different rules, Gift-Aid is a great opportunity for charities to increase their fundraising potential by up to 25%; all that it takes is an eligible donation and express consent from the donor. In this short article we’ll be looking at some of the common pitfalls and top tips to making the most of this initiative.

It must be a donation!

The rules for Gift-Aid are very specific in terms of what constitutes a donation, but in essence, a donation is a voluntary contribution given freely which is surplus to the value of benefits received. For example, a charity dinner charging £50 per head would be ineligible for gift-aid. You could, however claim gift-aid on a £20 suggested donation above a £30 ticket, provided that the £20 was not required, and did not entitle the donor to more than £5 of additional benefits.

When is a donation not a donation?
When is a donation not a donation?

What’s the deal with benefits?

Benefits are small gifts given by the charity in thanks to a donor, and these too have specific rules where Gift-Aid is concerned. For donations up to £100, these cannot exceed 25% of the donation. Up to £1000, they cannot exceed £25, and after £1000, they can’t exceed 5% of the donation, up to a maximum of £2,500.

By this rule, it is generally fine to give certificates detailing what a donation will be spent on, or a box of chocolates for a larger donation where RRP is less than 25% of the donation. The benefit rule excludes things such as school trips from gift-aid eligibility, where suggested donations are spent immediately on benefits such as admission and transport.

Receiving gifts as favours after a donation
Chocolates and certificates are fine, anything bigger could raise questions!

How do charity shops claim then?

In the charity shop scenario, the donation is in the form of items gifted, yet this isn’t eligible for Gift-Aid until the items are monetised. Once sold, charities must confirm with the benefactor that they are happy to donate all or a specific amount of the proceeds before Gift-Aid can be claimed on the remainder. After 3 weeks, if no response is received, it can be assumed that the donation is the full value of the goods sold.

Charities cant claim gift-aid on donated goods until they are sold
Charities cant claim gift-aid on donated goods until they are sold

What about collection boxes?

Collection boxes are a little different, not least because there is no formal declaration given with each donation. In these situations, donations are eligible for the Small Donations Scheme.

The Small Donations Scheme allows up to £2000 of donations not exceeding £20 each to be eligible for 25% gift-aid. For charities which operate a community building such as religious institutions, this figure increases to £8000, allowing a gift-aid claim of up to £2000! Donations claimed through the small donations scheme cannot exceed 10 x of donations which have been declared for.

How are declared donations different?

Declared donations must be from a UK taxpayer, who explicitly states they are happy for the charity to claim the 25% Gift-Aid from the tax they have paid that year. The evidence of these declarations must be kept on record by the charity to support a Gift-Aid claim.

Merlin Tickets booking site example with gift-aid
Your Gift-Aid process at point of sale should inform your customers and present them with the choice to opt-in. You also need to keep record of your customers declarations for audit purposes.

Crucially, the declaration must be on an opt-in basis, rather than opt-out; signifying that the beneficiary has willfully signalled their desire to Gift-Aid their donation. This rule also means that donations cannot be Gift-Aided on behalf of another, such as when donations are pooled from multiple people.

In addition to collecting the additional 25% from each donation for the charity, if the donor is a higher rate tax payer they can also claim back additional tax relief for themselves. Systems such as Merlin 8 can be used to collate statements for such donors to easily include in their tax return.

How does Gift-Aid apply to admissions?

Entry fees are ineligible for Gift-Aid, as these technically constitute a payment for a service. There are however, ways to qualify admission revenue as donations. Adding an optional donation of at least 10% on top of an admission cost can entitle the visitor to gift-aid the entire amount.

For example, if admission to a museum cost £8, but Mr Smith decided to add a 10% donation, he would then pay £8.80, and the museum would be able to claim an additional 25% Gift-Aid on the whole value with Mr Smith’s express consent, totaling £11.

Charity attractions should consider how Gift-Aid will fit into their fundraising strategy
Charity attractions should consider how Gift-Aid will fit into their fundraising strategy

The other method is to allow access for at least one year with an admission ticket. In this case, the entire initial payment can be classed as a donation. Entry must then be granted either at a reduced rate for the whole period, or for free with the exception of up to five days.

What about Memberships?

Memberships can also be used by charitable venues to claim gift-aid, but the memberships must meet certain criteria. As with admissions, the payment cannot be in exchange for services. To qualify, look into other ways to reward your members such as with newsletters and engagement in fundraising and governance activities.


  • Gift Aid must be opt-in, and declarations indicate that the benefactor is happy for the charity to claim 25% from their income tax payments for the current year.
  • The Small Donations Scheme can be used to process a limited number of claims for donations under £20.
  • For gift-aid to be claimed, the donation must be a voluntary contribution, which is not compensated for by way of goods or services.

For more information on Gift-Aid, take a look the website. For software solutions to help you claim Gift-Aid both online and on entry, Contact Merlin.

Digital Strategies for Attractions in 2018

In 2016 the UK soared past Mexico and Germany to become the 6th most visited tourist destination on the planet. Competition has never been fiercer among thousands of historic sites and visitor centres across the country to tap into the growing market of domestic and international visitors.

While national theme parks have always benefited from economies of scale in marketing from newspapers to cereal boxes, smaller less established venues have often had to be more creative in their outreach initiatives. For such attractions, the rise of digital media has been indispensable as a route to market.

Pictured: available offers could be a prerequisite or the last push that leads consumers to visit an attraction.

Evolving over the years from text to photo to virtual reality, digital media has continued to offer innovative means of engaging with an audience. In a 2014 report into the effect of high-quality listings on consumer perceptions, Google found that on average those sites which offered ‘rich’ media listings generated as much as twice the interest as those without.

As we enter 2018, some of the biggest names in tech are now primed to escort us to a new age of experiential marketing. Samsung, Google, Facebook, Playstation and HTC each have their own virtual reality headsets, with Apple rumoured for a 2018 announcement, and there is no shortage of content with bloggers, advertisers and TV shows keen to explore 360 video as a new medium.

Looking to the future, Mark Zuckerberg is aiming for 1 billion users of Facebook’s Oculus, with the intention to create a full virtual reality for users to experience concerts and galleries from the comfort of their own homes. This is all part of his eventual ambition to create an augmented reality where users can share in simulated experiences.

The Cutter & Cutter gallery in L.A has a virtual tour online, which includes exhibit information.

As a more immediate stepping stone, Google has been building a network of thousands of media producers to accelerate the introduction of their virtual tours, an extension of street view. With notable adopters such as English Heritage and National Trust in 2017, virtual tours are poised to help attractions turn interest into excitement as a highly engaging means of conversion.

Such introductions of new technology have a two-fold impact on the way we consume rich information. On the top-side, early adopters can benefit from a first-mover advantage, gaining widespread recognition over their competitors, new technological shifts are always driven by a small number of facilitators and an expanding audience


In addition to technological driven changes, changes in social attitudes have also lead to the emergence of new platforms to promote great experiences. Confidence in online reviews has continued to increase in recent years, with 19% of respondents reporting that they always trust online reviews, and a further 45% having confidence where reviews are corroborated, up from 8% and 40% respectively in 2015.

High numbers of positive visitor reviews indicate a great user experience and demonstrates the venue is reputable and trustworthy.

This increasing reliance and trust is immediately apparent when looking at Trip Advisor’s growth rate. In 2006, Trip Advisor had around 10 million total venue reviews, of which around 34,000 venues were visitor attractions. Ten years and one smartphone boom later, there are now 760,000 visitor attractions listed and 465 million total reviews, with more than 20% year on year growth. This meteoric rise is symptomatic of an increasing reliance on technology to help consumers research and book new experiences.

A similar trend can be seen in the use of voucher codes. Whereas coupons for visitor attractions were once in the form of wrappers and newspaper cut-outs, savvy consumers now scour the web to decide between similar experiences, or reduce the costs of those they would prefer. On average, searches for coupons in the UK have increased 38% year on year for the past 10 years, with search volumes now over 20 times in 2017 what they were in 2007.

What we have and are continuing to see is a veritable explosion in routes to market. Though the mobile boom has passed us, our consumers are still learning and trusting in new methods to plan and research days out. The use of online booking facilities, for example has risen from 10% of museums in 2010, to nearly 30% today.

The sum of these shifts means that Museums and attractions now more than ever must have their finger on the pulse of digital media trends. With each surge in a platforms’ popularity comes a fresh new audience to market to, and the more engaging the content, the more likely this can be translated to footfall from excited new visitors, each keen to share their experiences.