Houston Sucks Part Deux

Trip Start Mar 30, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of United States  , Texas
Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I am quite (in)famous for my scathing emails, and the results they bring. I'm sharing the one I sent to the Houston Museum of Natural Science in the hope that others will be inspired to speak up when something sucks! Hey, if you don't call them on it, they'll think it's okay to continue acting the same way, and then you'll deserve what you get.

I'll post a note if I receive a reply.  By the way, I cc'd the local tourism office, Better Business Bureau, and Chamber of Commerce. If I could've found a link written in English, I would have also sent a copy to the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, who provided most of the items on exhibit. So if any of you read Mongolian, feel free to refer me to the proper email address. :-) And if anyone needs a ghost writer for your own scathing email, just let me know.

Here goes...

- - - - - - - - - - -

I am writing about my experience at your Museum today. I am six weeks into a 4-5 month drive through the southwest and west, and I have had wonderful visits to seven museums in Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas so far. Today's visit to your Museum of Natural Science was a horrible experience and, unfortunately, most of it didn't have to happen.
Please know that I came out of my way to attend the Genghis Khan exhibit, having never intended to visit Houston. Again, I drove out of my way for this exhibit and was very excited to see it.
I spoke to one of your employees by phone before buying my ticket online, asking many questions about the exhibit, what my ticket allowed me to do, and the best day to visit. I then purchased my ticket online and booked a hotel room at 'city' price (vs. a suburban hotel or campground like during the rest of my trip).
Since your site only says parking is available "on Caroline" with no street number for my GPS, and there are no signs on the street pointing to a parking garage, I had to track down a mounted policeman to find the garage.
The only pleasant experiences of my visit came when checking in at the Will Call window and giving my ticket to Ruth, an exuberant woman who was quite knowledgeable about the exhibit.
While in the exhibit's third room, a large group of LOUD pre-teens entered with their "chaperones". I put this in quotes because they did nothing to quiet the crowd, so I'm not sure what their chaperoning duty actually entailed. I skipped a few items and moved to the next room to avoid them. The chaperones almost immediately raised their voices and herded the crowd into that same room. I waited for them to pass, but ANOTHER group of LOUD pre-teens crowded in. And another. And yet another. (All in teal t-shirts, if that gives you any idea who they were.)
There was not one guard or employee in the room, or any room I'd seen, and none ever came to quiet the groups, or to investigate the TWO shrill alarms that sounded when someone in these groups started pounding on the exhibit cases. The alarms evidently stopped on their own, and the children (and chaperones) went on as before. Again, not one Museum employee came to investigate.
After another room of this, along with being pushed or walked in front of while trying to view the items, I left. Disgusted and ANGRY.
Luckily, I saw one security guard running up the steps and asked for help. He escorted me back through the "no entry" doors, announcing in each room that "this is a museum, and we need to keep the noise down". Once he left, the noise returned to the same level, if not louder, and I never once saw another guard or employee in the entire exhibit.
I decided to escape to something quieter, but was not allowed to enter the Butterfly exhibit. I then decided to try an Imax film, but had to stand in line just to ask for a schedule as there was no marquee. Since I couldn't see or read about the exhibit during the exhibit, and many I did read had ERRORS (how embarrassing for you!), I visited the gift shop for an exhibit catalog or book. Once I finally found an employee, I was informed that the Terra Cotta Warriors have taken over the shop and directed to the far wall where I found one small  bookcase with a few xeroxed pages in a booklet.
(1) I made a 4-hour trip out of my way to attend your exhibit.
(2) Nowhere on your site does it say that 10:30am on a Monday - or any other time - will be filled with huge groups of uncontrolled children (although the security guard, ticket taker, and manager of the Will Call window all seemed to know this and pointed it out to me after the fact). Your phone employee also neglected to mention it.
(3) If you provide guidelines for visiting school groups, such as "don't pound on the cases" or "be quiet as in a library", you do not do it well. I heard the ticket taker (not Ruth) welcome yet another group while I was there, and she said not one word about decorum or respecting the artifacts. Before finding the security guard, I approached two chaperones, asking if anyone had spoken to the children about noise. They shrugged and wandered off, saying they weren't the teacher and weren't responsible for talking to the children. You CANNOT assume the adults will keep these children in control, and it is YOUR responsibility to protect these antiquities.
(4) I have never seen a museum without a guard or monitor in every room, or at least every other room. Never. Not even in the tiny Cherokee Heritage Center in Oklahoma. If this exhibit is so "special", shouldn't there be a guard? Or two? I wonder what the organizers of this exhibit would think about your inattention?
(5) I paid $22 for an exhibit I did not see, and all your Will Call manager did was offer a pass for later. I explained that I do not live here, that a pass didn't help, but got no response. He also did not respond to my request for a refund. (I assume he is the manager since he came out of a room behind the desk, but he never introduced himself in any way.)
(6) I was willing to buy an exhibit catalog or book, even on top of the $22 admission, but your "gift shop" had none, even though this exhibit is open until September 7 -- almost four more months.
(7) I paid $10 to park in the garage I had to work to find.
(8) I paid $159 for a hotel room, and wasted time and fuel.
(9) Since no one in the Will Call, box office, or information area was willing to find a manager or someone in administration, I am having to write to a generic email address in hopes of reaching a human.
I want a refund of my $22 purchase price. I also want the title of the exhibit catalog or book and information on where to purchase it. (I should be asking for this book gratis!)
I sincerely hope that this feedback will help you see your Museum through a tourist's eyes and will be useful in improving the experience for others. Specifically, you need to STATE ON YOUR SITE that certain times or days are popular for field trips. When I saw "75 tickets available", there is absolutely no way I would have thought there would be hordes of loud children - maybe "10 tickets available", but not 75. (How many hundreds of tickets must you offer every thirty minutes to have this many students come through and still have 75 left?) You also need to strengthen - or develop - guidelines for these school visits; otherwise, just close down the exhibit to non-student visitors and let them scream their way through it alone. Or, in the spirit of smoking/non-smoking, offer NO CHILDREN exhibit times so that those of us with serious interest can actually concentrate! And, most importantly, you must provide employees to control these unruly and destructive children while visiting these "special" exhibits.
I appreciate your listening. I know it is not easy to hear criticism, or to deal with the number of visitors you see every day. I am grateful there are schools that can still afford field trips, and that students have this experience, but I guarantee that these particular children saw very little, and learned even less. I also guarantee the rest of your visitors had similar negative experiences because of these same children.
Marijka Walker
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