Attractions worldwide are masters when it comes to the art of reinventing themselves. Guests are well used to seeing epic lands, rides, and exhibitions roll out every year. But all businesses can benefit from being more chameleon-like, changing up offerings to reimagine their facilities for audiences in search of new reasons to visit.
Late-night openings are a popular way to maximize business and reach new audiences with cleverly rejigged products. The London Dungeon Lates cater to cool, young Londoners who find themselves sipping gin cocktails, donning period dress, and enjoying Victorian pub banter during a frightfully funny evening. The adults-only tour involves a shortened version of the London Dungeon show, where villains such as Sweeney Todd await. Lates guests can expect an immersive theatrical experience that is closer to the bone than the daytime version, with more jump scares.
“We do very well with international visitors, but we were trying to find a way to attract younger, domestic audiences,” says Jazz Cowler, London Dungeon’s public relations and marketing executive. “It’s about making London’s history come alive for people who might have heard the stories a thousand times before. We wanted to give them a fun time to go to the Dungeon.”
The over-18s tours cost £29 and run every 10 minutes, accommodating 40 guests at a time (120 people in total). “We sell out regularly.” Tours run between 7 and 9 p.m. and last around an hour. Guests steel their nerves first with a tipple in “a Victorian gin palace—something exclusive to the Lates,” says Cowler. Afterward, they can stay in the Dungeon Tavern, which is open until 11 p.m.
“The success of the Lates has made us realize that people are trying to find new things to do in the week that aren’t going to cost them too much money,” says Cowler. “Find something that’s exciting and authentic in your local area and spin off something from that.”
The beauty of the Lates are their flexibility. The San Francisco Dungeon recently hosted a pop-up Rat Bar for a limited time only. Guests could taste Ama-RAT-o Sour cocktails and handle real live rats during the evening event, which included a dungeon tour. The San Francisco Dungeon partnered with the nonprofit Ratical Rodent Rescue, meaning that anyone who fell in love with the critters had the opportunity to adopt them.
Elsewhere, museums regularly host their own after-hours events, with everything from family game nights to concerts, silent discos, book clubs, and film screenings.
Live theater can breathe new life into familiar places. Visitors to the historic SS Great Britain museum ship in Bristol, United Kingdom, found themselves scrubbing the deck and singing shanties during a production of “Moby Dick.”
The SS Great Britain also collaborated with Bristol’s Closer Each Day Company and Show of Strength Theatre Company on “The Steampunk Mistress and the Time Machine,” a show inspired by H.G. Wells. “We challenged them to use more of the site, and they came up with fun ways to split the audience into different group sizes and use our larger spaces, such as the First Class Dining Saloon, Weather Deck, and Dry Dock,” says Events Officer Gavin Dale.
Events like these “give people a unique way to experience the SS Great Britain after hours and give theater companies a chance to create a truly immersive performance.”
The SS Great Britain stages a range of theatrical experiences, from “The Spooky Ship” over Halloween to Dickensian-themed Christmas productions and promenade theater shows during the summer. Dale advises “careful coordination between the venue and the theater company to make sure you are balancing creative ideas with practical realities.” Each show is run as a standalone event with its own admission fee. “This year, our theater shows will reach over 3,000 people,” he says.
Day to Night
In China, entertainment design company Forrec has worked on a project for the Xixi National Wetland Park in Xihu District, Hangzhou. It includes an evening experience at the traditionally daytime destination. “The proposed Xixi VR Theme Park project will be a holistic, gamified experience that will enhance the park experience during the day and night,” says Matt Dawson, Forrec’s vice president, business development.
Forrec’s client aims to develop an attraction anchored by immersive virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) experiences
that leverages its location within the park. The concept preserves the natural scenery and makes use of existing buildings. “The unique environment of Xixi Wetlands provided the inspiration for Forrec’s creative storyline,” says Dawson.
The project allowed Forrec “to explore how large-scale spectacles can be created from unused or underutilized assets. An empty architectural space, a remote landscape, a blank wall—each have the potential to be transformed through creativity and technology into places of storytelling spectacle.”
Robin Hill Country Park on the Isle of Wight has seen October attendances rise around 300% since 2014, after launching its “Festival of Light Inspired by Diwali.” It came about after the park created a product called “Electric Woods” to offer an illuminated event on either side of its main season. The park began with a Lunar New Year event in February 2012 and added an autumn “Festival of Light” event in 2013.
“The Diwali concept was a good fit: It is a huge global cultural celebration and aligns with the right time of year for our event. It also allows us to leverage amazing visual and cultural content to tell a great story for our customers,” says park manager James Crofts. “Visitor numbers in October are now comparable to our peak summer weeks.”
What started out as an illuminated trail through the park’s ancient woodland has grown into a “more well-rounded experience,” says Crofts. The Diwali-inspired event invites guests to discover the colors, flavors, and sounds of the Asian subcontinent.
In 2019, bigger and more interactive lighting and sound installations will evoke the history of the Silk Road. An Electro-Light Circus show combines LED-clad performers and circus tricks. Families can get messy in the Holi powder arena. A Bollywood DJ spins tunes while dancers entertain the crowds. Food producers serve up Indian curries, kebabs, and sweets.
Illuminated trails are crowd-pleasers, but daytime trails can add another dimension. Chessington World of Adventures partnered with Macmillan Children’s Books to bring back the “What the Ladybird Heard Activity Trail” to the park this summer. Children who followed the trail clues were given an exclusive pop badge and treated to Ladybird-themed activities in a dedicated marquee.
These examples show how events and activities can create different vibes in existing spaces. With imagination and ingenuity, attractions can conjure up offerings that will surprise and delight guests.
Funworld Contributing Editor Juliana Gilling covers the attractions industry in the Europe, Middle East, and Africa region. Contact her at [email protected]