Two major tourist attractions based on iconic beers have benefited from an imaginative reinterpretation courtesy of BRC Imagination Arts: the Heineken Experience in Amsterdam, and Dublin’s Guinness Storehouse.
The Heineken Experience: The Brewing of a Story
The Heineken Experience was redesigned and renovated in 2008.
Dirk Lubbers (right) says, “Normally, when you re-open immediately after a renovation, it is in the first year that you will get the most visitors. The strange thing is, in 2009 we had 350, 000 visitors. In 2013 we achieved 608, 375 – almost double. The basic thing we changed in 2008 was that we had a storyline.”
Bart Dohmen, of BRC Imagination Art, explains, “The old Heineken Experience was doing basically very well in terms of visitor satisfaction and numbers. The main issue was that when the visitors left the building they had no greater emotional connection with Heineken than before they entered. The Heineken board wanted to change that, and that’s why they ran an international competition.”
History and Engagement
BRC Imagination Arts won the competition, and the creative process began as together with Heineken, BRC Imagination Arts put together a narrative which contrived both to encompass the history of the product, and to engage with the modern world.
The tour takes as its baseline the slogan “Heineken: born in Amsterdam and raised by the World.”
There are four floors of multimedia exhibits, brewing artefacts, a tasting bar and a ride.
There are interactive elements, but Bart Dohmen (below right) is adamant that the core of the success is the storyline which connects with the audience. An emotional connection is forged through a powerful narrative and the success of the experience is not dependent on the sophistication of the technology or the scenery that is used..
The Heineken Experience is located in what was, until 1988, a functioning brewery. The tour combines an exploration of the beer’s heritage with the brand’s present 21st century global aspirations. The tour is immersive, encouraging visitors to experience the brand for themselves – they see, touch, and smell the raw ingredients, the brew in progress and , in the futuristic Star Bar, taste the finished beer. There is also an effects ‘ride’, the ‘Brew U’, an adapted motion base by Rexroth Bosch, reinterpreted from the Heineken Experience’s former incarnation.
BRC Makes the Connection a Personal One
But the technology doesn’t detract from the essential storyline. The connection with Heineken is a personal one as visitors are drawn into the story.
Bart Dohmen says, “Writing a storyline is one thing, but bringing that storyline to a real audience in a way that means they experience and become connected with it themselves – that’s another, different thing entirely.”
He reiterates Dirk Lubbers’ point. Since the re-opening, visitor numbers have nevertheless risen by 101%. This is despite the fact the ticket price has almost doubled and there is more competition now in Amsterdam. Visitor numbers increase annually and the new target is 650, 000.
Lubbers puts this significant rise in visitor numbers down to the strong ‘story’ created in conjunction with BRC. Also to other subtle changes that keep the tour fresh so visitors return. He points out that these regular alterations – a camera that takes snapshots of visitors; innovative snacks in the bar – also keep the tour interesting for the staff – who are a major asset.
“We have great staff – they are young. The same age as our visitors, and people want to identify with them. They are friendly – and they are also sincere.”
Staff motivation and team building is a significant factor. We record Visitor numbers daily and these are compared with the previous year. At the end of a certain period of increased numbers, staff celebrate with a team trip to a brewery.
There is a core staff of 30, mostly students, each working 1-2 days a week – a staff that changes every 4 years, but knows the visitor demographics in detail: the typical visitor is aged 25, and most likely to be American, followed by British, then Italian, Brazilian, Spanish, French and – finally – Dutch.
The Guinness Storehouse
“We were approached by Guinness Storehouse following our work with the Heineken Experience, ” says Bart Dohmen. “It was already Ireland’s number one (paid) attraction.”
Much of BRC’s work on the Guinness Storehouse has already been achieved.
Paul Carty (right), Managing Director of Guinness Storehouse explains. “In 2010, we approached BRC to help create a future vision for our visitor experience. We felt that they had the necessary experience and expertise of working with other leading global brand attractions. We also felt they could help us to improve the way we bring the Guinness story to life.
“Our visitor journey seemed a bit disjointed. That we needed to create new experiences that were more interactive and engaging. That each experience was provided at the correct stage in the visitor journey. These meetings gave us a clear vision for the future of Guinness Storehouse.”
Helping Guinness Storehouse maintain its position as Ireland’s leading visitor attraction was a key aim of the collaboration with BRC. We hoped to ‘emotionalise’ the visitor’s journey with a better sequenced and story-driven journey; provide a sensory experience socialised with widely accessible technology; refresh the existing exhibits to communicate Guinness brand values and simultaneously entertain guests more efficiently, and to create a implementation strategy that would avoid closing down the Storehouse to visitors.
A Successful Transformation
Following the engagement with BRC, Guinness Storehouse committed to a €10 million reinvestment. It also started a gradual renovation strategy which has led, to date, in the complete and successful transformation of three of the seven floors. New additions include the ‘Guinness & Food Experience’: two new restaurants (‘Gilroy’s Restaurant’ and the ‘Brewers Dining Hall’) showcasing the marriage of Guinness variants with different food ingredients, and offering take-home recipe cards, and ‘Arthur’s Bar’, which supplements Gravity Bar during peak periods and offers a welcoming space for visitors to enjoy the different Guinness variants on offer. The Connoisseur bar is ‘the first and most exclusive beer tasting experience in the world’, according to Paul Carty.
The Guinness Global hub had two interactive and immersive experiences added. These were ‘Global Guinness’ and ‘The Guinness Academy”.
A Unique Digital Experience
Paul Carty adds, “The Guinness Academy has enabled four times as many visitors than previously to learn how to pour their own pint of Guinness. It also gives them the chance to share their experience through interactive iPads.”
There is a unique digital experience where visitors can leave a message on a digital wall or via visitor guest books. This gives them the opportunity to keep the conversation going with Guinness via social media after their visit.
The ‘Arthur Guinness Gallery’ uses state of the art technology to connect visitors with the history of the brand. It tells the story of Arthur Guinness and his legacy through a series of interactive portraits. These come to life as visitors approach. ‘The Tasting Rooms’ on the second floor, provide an “emotional journey” for visitors. The Tasting Rooms heighten the senses, familiarising visitors with the aromas and flavour profiles and thus appreciate the distinctive taste of the iconic stout.
250 years of History
The new retail store has has over €1 million invested in it. This has a larger floor space and includes a unique glassware engraving service as well as a wider product range exclusive to Guinness Storehouse visitors.
The Guinness Archive is a reading room where visitors can research over 250 years of Guinness history. In there iPads connect them with a new digital archive containing details of over 20, 000 employees dating back to the 1870s.
Here, again, the emphasis is on the narrative and a personal connection with the product and its past.
To date, the results of Guinness Storehouse’s collaboration with BRC and their reinvestment are already impressive. There were a record number of visitors in 2013 since the opening with over 1.15 million visitors; four times as many visitors participating in the ‘Perfect Pint’ experience after the introduction of the new Guinness Academy; the new ‘Connoisseur Experience’ is exceeding expectations in terms of participation to date. Furthermore, visitors have posted over 65 thousand messages have on the Digital wall in the first twelve months. The flagship retail store has sold over a million pieces of merchandise in a year.
In conclusion, the measurable results of BRC’s involvement with both the Heineken Experience and Guinness Storehouse have been positive and impressive.
Both attractions were successful in their own right. But subtle changes, intelligent reinvestment and BRC’s imposition of a meaningful narrative have lifted their visitor numbers and overall productivity to a new level.
I’ll drink to that…
Images: kind courtesy Guiness Storehouse, The Heineken Experience and BRC Imagination Arts