May 7 was a big day in the UK, as almost two-thirds of the population turned out to vote in the general election. For a select bunch of attractions professionals gathered in London, the choice was clear: vote blooloop.
After last year’s inaugural event at the headquarters of UKTI (United Kingdom Trade & Investment), blooloopLIVE was back for one day only and around 170 industry operators, suppliers and opinion formers joined the party, some even eschewing the chance to vote for their favoured political party in the process. People power!
By Owen Ralph
The polling stations had barely been open an hour as delegates from the UK, but also the USA, Canada, Netherlands, Spain, Finland, Germany, France, Poland and Ireland, started arriving at the UKTI building, close to Westminster and the Houses of Parliament.
“I know you must be fed up of it all – the e-mails, the canvassing and the unsolicited phone calls, ” observed blooloop managing director Charlie Read, “but I promise I will stop calling you about the conference now.”
The programme was split into four sessions, which we’ll cover one by one below. Lending their support to the proceedings were Gold sponsors WhiteWater West, InfoComm, Access Gamma and Electrosonic and silver sponsors Interspectral, Environmental Street Furniture, Green4Solutions and Pufferfish. Gateway Ticketing, for who delegates could blame any of their misdemeanours later in the evening were platinum (and party) sponsors.
Here’s a taste of what the day’s speakers had to say. You can also hear and see them soon in exclusive video by Katapult and look at photos of the day and evening from Picsolve (access at picsolve.com/bloolooplive, email:firstname.lastname@example.org, password: live2015.)
No stranger to addressing his industry peers (or even NASA and The Oscars), distinguished BRC Imagination Arts founder and chairman Bob Rogers (bellow right) shared with us seven of his keys to creating a successful attraction, because “this stuff is not easy.” With his permission, we share them again here:
1) Start with the heart. Understand how your attraction will reach the hearts of the audience.
2) Know your goals. How will the experience change the audience; how should they feel, what should they know, when they exit? What is the delta that your experience has to deliver?
3) Make sure there’s a theme – one unifying theme.
4) Create, through design, an emotional journey.
5) Engage the audiences’ senses, in as many ways as possible: sight, sound, music, smell, touch and taste if possible. Also engage their emotions; make them laugh or cry. Or both!
6) Quality and delivery matter. Make sure that the engagement is intuitive and wherever possible add some magic.
7) Be alive. Give the audience something to do and reward them, give them something to celebrate.
Magic and celebrations, huh? These are certainly successful for one particular attraction operator we can think of, but Bob had a bunch of other keys in his pocket too. If there’s one we should all remember though, he concluded, it’s heart.
Kieran Stanley, CEO of Berlin-based dan pearlman experience architecture, posed the question, “Are we turning brands into experiences or turning experiences into brands?” as he highlighted a number of next generation zoo projects including Islands at Chester Zoo, England (opening this July), and his earlier work at Zoo Hannover.
“We didn’t realise we were creating a brand at the time, ” he continued, discussing the latter’s themed Yukon Bay area. Yet the immersive themed environment was so well received by the German zoo’s guests that, like Islands looks destined to be it’s become an attraction within an attraction.
A change in the way children’s television is commissioned (budgets went out of the window) forced Aardman Animation to seek new revenue streams and now the UK animation studio has found fresh outlets for some of its much-loved characters within the parks and attractions sector, revealed head of rights and brand development Sean Clarke. Whilst Wallace & Gromit may sit perfectly at home at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Shaun the Sheep, as well as starring at Land’s End (or “Lamb’s End” – geddit?) in Cornwall, has been on a tour of Chinese shopping malls, launching his Asian assault in the Year of the Sheep. Coincidence? Yes. Marketing opportunity? Absolutely.
Kati Price, head of digital media at The Victoria & Albert Museum, kicked off this session by reminding us, as Bob Rogers had, that it’s all about story. But just to put digital media into historical context, as you’d expect someone from a museum to do, she observed, “It’s not so different from when people were living in caves and painting pictures.” Decide on the storytelling before the tech, urged Kati. Then consider how technology can add value, make sure your audience is aware it exists, understands it, wants it and can use it, and that it works.
An audience of around 10 million (6.7 million on site in London) isn’t enough for Chris Michaels at The British Museum, oh no. The head of digital & publishing at the UK’s busiest visitor attraction has a bold goal – to share the museum with the world (it was also the goal of the museum’s founders). To reach the 7.3 billion+ people this will require, Chris intends to change the information infrastructure of the museum to embrace mobile, social and big data. “People are curating the present all the time anyway [via mobile and other technology], ” he observed. “Unless we are able to give them the tools to do that in our museum, we loose them.”
“Hello my name is Adam Clarke and I play Minecraft for a living”. Turns out he also does it to bring the works of one of the world’s most famous art galleries to life. [For those of you who know about Minecraft Adam’s next project is a starring role in YouTube’s new educational channel WonderQuest with Stampy Cat!] The digital producer from The Common People has also been working with Tate multimedia producer Tony Guillan on a project called Tate Worlds, which uses the popular Minecraft game/app (a bit like digital Lego) to recreate the environment that several paintings at the Tate portray.
Earlier Kati Price had shown us a picture of a bunch of school kids staring at their phones in front of one of the world’s most famous paintings at the Rijksmuseum. They probably weren’t all engaging with content from the museum, she mused. Initiatives such as Tate Worlds and some of those Chris Michaels is exploring at the British Museum might just mean a few more of them do.
In London, Manchester and Edinburgh, and soon a city near you, a pilot project called Talking Statues uses mobile technology to encourage us to look up, not down. Participants simply swipe a QR code or go online using a short URL (web address) and then, using their mobile as a telephone (whoever thought of that!), receive a “call” from the personality depicted in the statue. Colette Hillier (above), creative director at the non profit arts organisation Sing London, spoke enthusiastically about the project, which has already signed up actors including Patrick Stewart, Timothy West, Hugh Bonneville and many more to provide the statues’ voices.
After lunch, David Schneider showed three pie charts outlining different work: life balances. The last, perhaps only slightly exaggerated, had both life and work usurped by Twitter, accounting for about 90% of his time. The comedian and Guardian columnist, who has developed a second career in social media, offered some tops tips in appropriately punchy style. “Be short, be human. Be a short human? Be a jockey!”
Those using Twitter to support and develop their brand should also be topical, creative, funny and use pictures/video (see right “How grapes are made”). Don’t be afraid to enter into online banter with rival brands (“branter!”), you’ll both benefit from the traffic.
Tea Colaianni is group HR Director for Merlin Entertainments. Her walk through of ‘The Merlin Way’ provided some insight into the staff engagement programme that makes this highly efficient organisation- the world’s second biggest attractions operator – tick. Telling was the importance placed on the company’s brands. Tea was honest enough to admit that an earlier set of values devised by the company wasn’t quite right, and so the language had been simplified to reflect the way in which its 22, 000+ employees actually speak. The modern Merlin hates politics (with a small ‘p’), does what it says, and watches every penny, she added. And those are surely some of the reasons it recently earned itself a place in the FTSE 100 and has been ranked as 15th of the Sunday Times Best Big Companies to Work For 2015.
Former Redcoat, Drew Stevens-King, Butlin’s culture and development manager, shared with us a brief history of the holiday centre operator which is now ranked 7th on the Sunday Times Best Big Companies to Work For 2015 listing. Along with the rest of the Bourne Leisure group, Butlin’s has somewhat refined its offering in recent years but remains true to Billy Butlin’s founding mission of “Our true intent is all for your delight”. Some additional facts and figures were provided by colleague Jamie Thompson, entertainments experience manager for Bourne, who revealed that Butlin’s three UK sites entertain around 1.5 million guests a year, including about 500, 000 day visits. Around a third of its business comes from block bookings for music weekends.
Natural history filmmaker, diver and author Doug Allan has enjoyed some of the ultimate “immersive experiences” in his career. His presentation, which deviated somewhat from the programme but was so compelling no one cared, detailed the great lengths he has gone to in order to capture stunning images and footage of wildlife, mostly at the coldest parts of our planet (see video below).
One story he shared did highlight the difference between tactics and strategy. While once diving among whales, a whale calf inadvertently struck his wife with its tail. She was clearly hurt, and as a result let go of the camera containing lots of valuable footage. As it was sinking into the depths and his wife was flailing around near the surface, Doug had a critical split second choice to make. And now he lives happily… with his camera. Oh, and by the way, ice hotels are so last century. Doug has slept in (and built) a salt hotel.
With her current role as director of public programmes at Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, and former time at the Eden Project, Gay Coley (header image) is also in touch with nature. She took us on an unplugged tour of her career, highs and lows. A stunning start back in 2001 at the Eden Project and attendance peak of 2 million was followed by a tough 2012, marred by a loss of funding and a change in stakeholders.
Thankfully the Cornwall tourist attraction still enjoys a lot of goodwill and worldwide recognition thanks to the support of, among others, James Bond. Gay’s current goals at Kew include shedding its “slightly stuffy, over-intellectualised” image, which she started to do last autumn with the Intoxication season (the “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” of plants).
“How do I follow polar bear cubs?” asked Continuum CEO Juliana Delaney, referring back to Doug Allan’s cute animal videos. The woman that oversees English attractions as diverse as The Spinnaker Tower, Coronation Street The Tour and The Canterbury Tales, noted that her company’s motto is “make money, have fun.” However, once it was more the other way round. Now not only is Continuum in much better shape financially, it’s also just spun off its portfolio into three more focused operating divisions: heritage, ‘icon’ and ‘explore’ attractions. Juliana left us with a poignant quote from Churchill: “However beautiful the strategy, occasionally you have to look at the results”.
Charlie kept his closing comments brief, mindful of the fact we all had a party to get to. Last year’s shindig at Davy’s of St James was so enjoyable that both it and live band JJ Rosa were booked again for the evening event. Networking, drinking and dancing continued until late, as outside in the ‘real world’ the votes began to be counted in the general election.
For Charlie, and his right hand woman Rachel, the only thing to count was the cost of the bar bill. Sure, it wasn’t cheap, but as the attractions industry maxim goes, it was “worth it just to see all those happy smiling faces.”
And On to Asia…
So after another successful blooloopLIVE event, the thoughts of many turned to Hong Kong, where on June 15th the first blooloopLIVE Asia will be held.
By an extraordinairy coincidence, The IAAPA Asian Expo starts the very next day in the exact same city. If it is anything like the London version it is not to be missed!