As attractions aim to recoup some of the revenue losses from the last 18 months, many are now thinking outside the box and offering all-new experiences. This summer, the British Airways i360 launched a new premium experience that is not for the faint-hearted: the BA i360 Tower Top Climb.
Since the attraction opened in 2016, visitors and residents alike have been able to enjoy trips in the fully enclosed viewing pod to a height of 138 metres. During this flight, guests enjoy 360-degree views across Brighton, towards the South Downs National Park, over to the Seven Sisters and out to sea. They can also sample local drinks from the Nyetimber Sky Bar.
Now, those wanting an extra thrill can opt for a new experience. This sees them reaching the very top, climbing up through the centre of the tower on a series of vertical ladders before emerging onto the viewing platform, at a height of 162 metres.
The BA i360’s Tower Top Climb costs £99 and is open to guests aged 12 and over. The experience runs from Thursdays to Sundays, 8 am to 9.30 am. Tickets include the pod flight and the climb as well as photographs taken throughout the experience and a drink from the Nyetimber Sky Bar afterwards.
Full safety briefing
Early on a Saturday morning, I arrived at the i360’s events entrance at 8 am. The early start allows the operator to complete the experience before the day’s flights begin at 11 am. This ensures that day to day operations aren’t impacted by this new addition.
Following introductions to the rest of the group, we donned our fetching boiler suits, bright red helmets, and safety harnesses. We also met our two expert guides for the climb, who made sure all our equipment was put on safely. The guides are actually engineers at the i360, meaning they know the attraction inside out, for a full ‘insider’ experience.
As we boarded the viewing pod and began our ascent, the engineers took us through a safety briefing. During this, they demonstrated the belay system that would act as a safety measure should anyone slip during the climb. The pod rose smoothly to 138 metres and glided to a stop. And it began to dawn on me just how high the BA i360 Tower Top Climb would take us.
Behind a nondescript panel in the centre of the tower lies a small ledge. This is next to the first vertical ladder of the climb and also, above a sheer drop. One by one, we climbed through the hatch into the tower and began our ascent.
Overcoming the fear on the BA i360 Tower Top Climb
The climb gives guests a chance to see this iconic attraction in a new light, as well as challenging them to brave a unique and sometimes hair-raising experience. The first ladder was the most demanding part of the climb and the longest of the series of four ladders. This part of the tour also gave us an unencumbered view straight down the middle of the tower.
This was followed by two shorter ladders. There was a sense of relief as we found ourselves now firmly standing on a metal grid, amongst some of the i360’s inner machinery. From here, the view downwards could be fully appreciated without the fear!
This was also a chance for the highly knowledgeable engineers to demonstrate some of the inner workings of the attraction. These guys know the tower inside out. They’re also made of strong stuff, having to do the full climb from the bottom as part of their maintenance duties. Apparently, the fastest of them can reach the top, all 162 metres, in nine minutes!
At this point, there was just one final ladder to tackle in order to complete the climb to the top of the i360 tower. Then, our group emerged into the daylight through a hatch in the top of the tower. Following this, we were attached to a safety rail before being invited to climb onto the raised platforms. Now we could take in our reward for the climb – a 360-degree view over the city and coastline.
We also had the chance to climb one final short ladder in the middle of the viewing platform. This allowed us to touch the highest point of the tower. There was also the opportunity to lean back away from the ladder and let go. This was, of course, done with support from one of the engineers and a safety harness.
Celebrating with local products
Once everyone had had their chance to climb up and touch the light at the top, and we’d had several photo opportunities, the descent began. But, for those feeling brave, there was still one last thrill on offer from the BA i360 Tower Top Climb. This took place on the final ladder, with its sheer drop below. Here, we could experience a ‘hands-off’ moment before stepping back into the pod.
One of our engineer guides demonstrated as he reached the bottom of the ladder. Connected to an extra safety harness, he leant back, removed his hands from the rungs, and hung over the drop. Then, he went one further and jumped backwards for a moment of no contact with the ladder. Half of the group opted to go for it. However, I was just grateful to be back on solid ground as I reached the ledge!
The experience wrapped up with a celebratory glass of Nyetimber sparkling wine in the viewing pod, as we congratulated ourselves. The i360 is passionate about supporting local businesses and makers. Nyetimber is just one example of this, coming from a nearby vineyard near Horsham, West Sussex. In the shop below, the attraction proudly sells a wide range of local products and foods, from chocolates to gin.
Brighton’s i360 and the experience economy
Throughout the experience, there are several photo opportunities, with images sent directly to guests afterwards. As well as giving them a way of remembering their day, this also leads to high-quality user-generated content on social media. Satisfied guests are an attraction’s biggest fans and best promoters. The authentic content they share on Instagram, Facebook and other channels is hugely valuable.
It’s no secret that the experience economy has been booming over the past few years. People are increasingly desiring memorable, shared experiences over the acquisition of more physical possessions. In fact, according to IAAPA’s Global Theme & Amusement Park Outlook, 53% of Millennials in the UK value experiences over possessions.
And it is this generation, along with the similarly experience-motivated Gen Z coming up behind it, that has more and more purchasing power. The Boston Consulting Group predicts that, on average, Millennials will increase their spending by more than 10% per capita in the next five years, while Gen Z consumers are predicted to boost their spending by 70% per capita in the same timeframe.
By offering its new Tower Climb experience, the BA i360 is tapping into this demand. It is catering to this new type of visitor who wants something new, something different, and ultimately something shareable.
Between the key photo opportunities during the tour (I know I immediately spammed all my WhatsApp groups with images of me grinning atop the tower) and the feeling of joining an exclusive club with insider knowledge of the iconic landmark, the i360 is surely onto a winner.
Images kind courtesy of the British Airways i360.