U.K. on Tour
Great Britain is bursting with great attractions. From theme parks to castles, museums to family entertainment centers (FECs), water parks to zoos, there truly is something for everyone. The United Kingdom is a mature, progressive, and resilient market, capable of coping with a year full of headlines detailing COVID-19 and Brexit. Whether visitors stay in London or venture farther afield, a number of attractions are waiting to welcome guests. Read on to explore their unique approaches to operating in the U.K.—from infrastructure expansion to international audience building, and much more.
Reassuring Guests and Embracing Change
Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Blackpool, England
Blackpool Pleasure Beach, which celebrates its 125th anniversary in 2021, continues to evolve. “In the last 15 years, we have invested almost $100 million in new attractions, facilities, and hotels, from the U.K.’s first Nickelodeon Land to the world’s only ‘Wallace & Gromit’ themed ride, top thrill rides such as ‘Icon,’ and the recently opened Boulevard Hotel. Investing in new attractions and constantly exceeding guests’ expectations is crucial to driving your business forward,” says Amanda Thompson OBE, managing director at Blackpool Pleasure Beach.
The park has extended its 2020 season to early December. The priority is “to give our guests confidence and assurances,” as attractions “reopen around the world slowly, carefully, and respectfully,” says Thompson. “It is very important that everyone remembers how great our industry is to work in. Our industry is used to, and embraces, change.”
Revealing Scottish Secrets Through Storytelling
The Real Mary King’s Close, Edinburgh, Scotland
Beneath Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, The Real Mary King’s Close takes visitors back in time to streets that date back centuries. “It is a one-off. It tells a fascinating story in an authentic location,” says Juliana Delaney, CEO of Continuum Group. Costumed characters bring tales of plague, murder, and heroism to life.
When Continuum took on the lease in 2003, initial studies suggested the Close could attract 63,000 annual visitors. The attraction has smashed those stats. “Last year we were at 270,000 a year. It’s a strong, award-winning brand with great word-of-mouth recommendations in a great city,” says Delaney. She believes city center attractions need to “work hard with their destinations to build confidence and support in the home markets, and then work together to get the overseas markets to return. And they will.”
Making Memories with Wholesome Fun
Harbour Park, Littlehampton, England
“When you’re a small park/FEC it is important to know your market, know your unique selling points, and be the best in what you do. You can learn a lot from bigger parks, but they can learn from you too,” says Ash Smart, deputy managing director at Harbour Park.
Harbour Park is a family business that has long provided a fun day out at the seaside. “We are proudly etched into our guests’ memories,” says Smart. With people currently craving wholesome, fun experiences, he believes the park is “well placed to remain special in guests’ hearts.” Harbour Park’s owners pride themselves on excellent customer service with a personal touch.
“Investment is a constant,” says Smart. “We have invested in new family rides, more redemption machines, and video games the whole family can get involved with, as well as developing our menu offerings to encourage higher price lunch options.” The park has a laser-like focus on children ages 3 to 11.
The pandemic has meant the postponement of a much-anticipated indoor attraction project, although COVID-19 precautions might aid plans to introduce cashless systems into the arcades.
“For me, growth is not limited to a black-and-white bottom line,” says Smart. He wants to see “skills growth,” especially among the park’s younger employees.
Nurturing Nature and Knowing Visitors
Chester Zoo, Upton-by-Chester, England
Chester Zoo is one of the U.K.’s most visited zoos. “In 2019, we welcomed over 2 million visitors,” says Chief Operating Officer Jamie Christon. “We believe that we have a vital role in inspiring and educating people about animals and the natural world, creating and nurturing the conservationist in us all.”
Chester Zoo has seen its profile rise, thanks to new animal habitats, national campaigns, and the TV show “The Secret Life of the Zoo.”
“Our founder had a motto, ‘Always Building,’ and we have sought to do just that,” says Christon. “We know lots about our visitors and their motivations to visit. This insight sits at the center of all of our programming and commercial activity.”
COVID-19 has had a huge impact. “Three months of closure with no income coming through our gates pushed us to the brink. We’ve had to pause our exciting expansion and development projects. But now we’ve started to safely welcome visitors back, we’ve renewed hope that this great charity zoo has a future.”
Presenting World-First Thrills
Thorpe Park, Chertsey, England
“Thorpe Park Resort has been offering intense coaster action, immersive events, and exhilarating experiences to guests for over 41 years,” says Helen Bull, divisional director for Thorpe Park. This season, the park had planned to open the world’s first “Black Mirror” experience, “Black Mirror Labyrinth,” inspired by the Netflix TV series, which started on Channel 4. “We have made the difficult decision to postpone the launch to spring 2021,” says Bull. “‘Black Mirror Labyrinth’ will be an incredible addition to Thorpe Park’s lineup.”
Differentiated, Authentic Products Are Key
Warner Bros. Studio Tour London, Leavesden, England
“This is the only place in the world where you can step on to the real sets from the ‘Harry Potter’ film series. However, the Studio Tour experience is made truly magical by our staff. They are exceptional and make every visitor’s experience special,” says Sarah Roots, executive vice president, Warner Bros. Worldwide Studio Tours and Retail.
“We put a lot of emphasis on keeping the experience fresh,” she says. “Most recently, we opened Gringotts Wizarding Bank, with no detail spared.” The Studio Tour hopes to showcase “A Celebration of Slytherin”—a brand-new, limited-time attraction—when it reopens. “We are fortunate that the Studio Tour has always been prebook only, so we have the systems in place to control numbers and facilitate social distancing,” says Roots.
As attractions navigate these uncertain times, she shares this advice for attractions owners:
- “Differentiate your product: Unique points of difference in your experience help push through economic challenges and develop visitor demand.”
- “Work with others in the industry and local communities to look for opportunities.”
- “Be creative with your experience and content.”
- “Reassure visitors by communicating safety measures clearly.”
Roots believes “the future is bright for differentiated, authentic, and high-quality experiences.”
Evolving the Visitor Experience
The London Eye, London, England
The London Eye was built to mark the millennium: “It’s a symbol of time and change, the perfect structure for a city that’s always changing. It’s become an iconic part of London’s skyline and provides the ultimate moving view of the city,” says London Eye General Manager Sunny Jouhal.
“The London Eye experience has been ever-evolving, from the introduction of our 4D cinema experience to the prestigious Eye Lounge Champagne Bar,” says Jouhal. “However, it is the continued focus on providing the best experience for our guests that our team does brilliantly.”
Earlier this year, the London Eye confirmed a headline sponsorship with lastminute.com. Jouhal is looking forward to “exciting, collaborative plans” with the travel brand.
Dining Like Superheroes
Park Row, London, England
Park Row is the new DC Universe-inspired dining experience coming to London. “We want guests to feel like they’ve walked off the streets of SoHo and straight into the world of Gotham City,” says James Bulmer, founder and chief creative officer of Wonderland Restaurants.
Guests can expect British sharing dishes at the elegant Pennyworth’s, named after Bruce Wayne’s butler, Alfred. The Penguin’s opulent Iceberg Lounge is the largest restaurant in the Art Deco dining room, featuring an international menu, seafood, cocktail bar, and live entertainment. Guests can frequent the Rogues Gallery, a restaurant within Catwoman’s art gallery. Old Gotham City is a villainous speakeasy. The Monarch Theatre, Park Row’s multisensory tasting menu experience, uses projection mapping technology. There’s also the mischievous Amusement Mile, home of the Joker and Harley Quinn.
“Park Row is an example of leveraging fan worlds to turbocharge real-life spaces,” says Bulmer. “We are part-attraction, part-restaurant experience. Our talented team at Wonderland are determined to rewrite the rulebook on themed dining and show people it can be done at a premium level.”
Park Row hadn’t opened before COVID-19 hit. “The time together as a team under lockdown has not been without its challenges, but it has allowed us to take stock, look at the business plan, and reevaluate a lot of the design so our guests get an even better experience than before,” says Bulmer.
Tailoring Offerings to Different Audiences
The View from The Shard, London, England
The Shard has become a London landmark, and The View from The Shard is the capital’s highest viewing gallery. “Visitors of all ages love the experience,” says Luke Reilly, head of sales at The View from The Shard. You’re as likely to see Londoners pointing out familiar sights as tourists taking in the city for the first time.
“We have a range of ticketing options to appeal to our different target audiences,” says Reilly. “We offer everything from a standard ticket to a premium ticket that includes fast-track entry, a panoramic guide, and a glass of champagne. We also host a wide range of special events, including silent discos, cinema screenings, and Gin Experiences.” The View from The Shard team aims to deliver further themed activities later this year.
Funworld Contributing Editor Juliana Gilling covers the attractions industry in the Europe, Middle East, and Africa region. Contact her at [email protected].