blooloopLIVErpool, held on June 29th in Liverpool as part of the International Festival of Business was attended by 150 professionals from the attractions community in the UK and Europe.
With speakers from leading theme parks, museums and zoos the conference allowed delegates to network with and hear from those shaping the future of the attractions industry worldwide.
by Rachel Read
Thanks to a little help from our friends Up North who were keen to get involved and our sponsors and speakers, this year’s conference was the most memorable yet. Liverpool is a vibrant city of culture and well worth a visit not just for it’s own gems but also as a gateway to the North of the UK. The attractions there have a dynamism, spirit of collaboration and can-do attitude that is invigorating.
This year’s theme was the Future of the Attractions Industry with inspirational speakers from across the sector and beyond delivering a lively conference with some enjoyable additional activities (see report on visits to Chester Zoo, MattelPlay! Liverpool, Studio 2 and The Beatles Story).
Thank you to Lappset Creative who were our platinum sponsors.
Welcome: Richard Parry
We are enormously grateful for the support from the UKTI and honoured to have been chosen to provide the Experience Economy content for the International Festival of Business.
Richard Parry, Head, Experience Economy Team for the UKTI, welcomed guests to Liverpool with a two minute speech Sgt Peppered with Beatles song titles. (Richard was also responsible for the title of the conference.) Let’s start the Revolution here…
Our Keynote session set the tone for the day with an overview of trends and the market and then keynotes on the theme of The Future from industry leaders.
Charles Read, Blooloop – Key Trends
Charles Read, MD Blooloop, kicked off the conference with a look at key trends. Although the big news over the last 12 months seems to have been around VR technology, also important are the ever increasing influence of brands and IP as well as some more low tech initiatives particularly around interactors. The underlying theme is around deepening engagement with the visitor by creating unique, immersive experiences, and the conference programme reflected these ideas.
Philip Shepherd, Partner PwC – Market Overview
Philip Shepherd, Partner at PwC, gave an overview of the attractions market in the UK. Recently returned from several years in Dubai, Philip was able to provide delegates with an update on the vibrant attractions market in the Middle East as well as potential opportunities in Asia. The UK Government’s 2020 vision of 40 million visitors to the UK and £31.5bn in annual receipts will be achieved through the development of the emerging inbound markets like Asia and the Middle East; transport infrastructure improvements; expansion of hotel accommodation (of which peer-to-peer rentals like Airbnb are an important new trend) and maintaining existing tourism from Europe and the US.
Philip was keen to point out that Brexit will be at least two years in the future and in the meantime UK companies should take advantages of the opportunities – potentially significant for the UK tourism sector – that a weak pound offers.
Paul Moreton, Group Creative Director Merlin Entertainments – The Future of the Visitor Experience
Paul Moreton, Group Creative Director of Merlin Entertainments, gave a fascinating insight into the future of the attractions market as viewed by the world’s second largest attractions operator.
“Creating Memorable Moments” is the name of the game for Merlin. Increasingly visitors are looking for more than a passive experience and Merlin’s optimal solution are activities that are fun, physical and creative.
So what do visitors want?
- Switch off – people want to be able to get away from their phones and cut off the news
- Escapism – even kids are more stressed than ever before
- Togetherness – in a time-poor fractured society families crave opportunities to have shared fun experiences
- Immersion – it would be unthinkable to have a new ride without a story
- Millenials – demand leisure intertwined with technology, including ticketing
- Quality – wins out
- Experience – the most important takeaway – people want experiences!
How is Merlin evolving to meet these new demands and opportunities?
IP: Merlin’s deep relationship with part owners LEGO is something to be truly thankful for says Moreton. With new theme parks on the way, discovery centres and LEGO’s most popular brand Ninjago inspiring a ground-breaking new interactive dark ride developed by Triotech, these close ties offer plenty of opportunities to delight and entertain guests.
Immersion: Dreamworks tours like Shrek, co-created with Jeffrey Katzenberg, fuse promenade theatre with technology to create a truly immersive experience. Just opened is a Madame Tussauds Ghost Busters tour in New York.
Short Breaks: An overarching strategic theme for Merlin. All LEGOLAND theme parks will have hotels – they usually sell out as soon as they open. At Alton Towers there is the new Enchanted Village, Gardaland has a very heavily themed second hotel and Warwick Castle offers the chance to be a knight in a village or even a tower. With the hotel offering comes the need for a second day experience like a waterpark.
Escapism: Offerings are being extended to give kids the chance to go on a space mission or be an environmental ranger. Heavy theming and immersive experiences are important for new developments.
Technology to Enhance Storytelling: Not for the first time, or the last that day, did we hear that technology can provide the means to create new experiences but is best employed together with some rather more old fashioned technques and enhanced by IP. Galactica at Alton Towers is a VR ride but also incorporates IP and a story. The Derren Brown Ghost Train at Thorpe Park will be , says Moreton “unique and extraordinary”, combining VR, live action, 4D and motion to provide a 10 minute experience where guests will not know what’s real and what isn’t. Brown co-created the experience and his involvement in the creative journey is the blueprint for the future. We will increasingly see a move away from bolting IP onto a ride. “Those days are over, ” says Moreton, and this deep collaboration to create a unique experience will be the way forward.
Tracey McGeagh, Director of Marketing and Communications, National Museums Liverpool – Strategy for Audience Development
National Museums Liverpool welcome 8 million visitors a year to their 8 museusm and galleries, and 97% would recommend them to their friends. As free-to-visit institutions, Tracey McGeagh discussed “what’s not to like about free?” Well, smaller marketing budgets, a 25% reduction in funding since 2010 and visitors and the media don’t value a free offer as highly as a pay-to-attend exhibition.
Exhibitions like Mayas: revelation of an endless time at the World Museum are hugely important to audience growth, giving a marketable change and reason to visit now! In the future the Museums will look to put on fewer, bigger shows in partnerships.
Developing individual brand identities for each institution is a key strategic aim. Marketing also needs to be tailored; facebook is key to the World Museum, but a favourable Guardian review works better for the Lady Lever Art Gallery.
Working with colleagues in the City to develop a strong visitor economy for Liverpool is McGeagh’s top priority in these unpredictable times.
Michael Mack, CEO Europa-Park – Europa-Park: Past, Present and Future
Michael Mack‘s generation is the 8th involved in the family business. Starting back in 1780 as carriage manufacturers, the company has come a long way, opening Europa-Park in 1975 as a showcase for Mack Rides and now Mack Media, Mack Solutions and VR coaster.
But Europa-Park is “more than just a theme park, ” says Michael with high quality offerings for the whole family. Big developments underway include a Scandi-themed water park and hotel for 2018.
The family tries to “be disruptive”, although it’s not always a smooth path as the move into VR coasters has caused some “big fights with Dad”. Unusually Mack have chosen to create their own content and tech rather than buying in, and now market that expertise. Michael says that this 360º approach is in their DNA, and he has spearheaded the diversification into media creation, game design and VR technology. “If we don’t sell any more rides in the next ten years, my Dad was right!”
Since launching the world’s first VR coaster in September 2015, Mack Media have created a game and at the start of July 2016 the Coastiality App, which allows viewers to see a VR view of the coaster rides on their smart phones. Eventually visitors will be able to choose the media in advance for their unique VR coaster ride at the theme park.
Interesting times ahead.
Engaging an ever more sophisticated audience is increasingly challenging. It would have been easy to splice in a segment on the high tech advances coming to theme parks, but some of the most interesting trends that we have seen this year – although they may include high tech – actually draw on more basic instincts. A guide who is so passionate about an artifact that they can’t wait to share with you and games played with friends and family against the clock to save the world. Using the latest technology can be a means to unlock thrills as an audience spectacle. Engagement is all about emotion.
Nick Gray, Founder Museum Hack – Why I Hated Museums (but Learned to Love them)
Nick Gray, founder of Museum Hack, used to hate museums but fell in love with the Metropolitan Museum on a romantic date. This relationship has blossomed and led to him quitting his job in aircraft software to run renegade museum tours, now in New York City, San Francisco and Washington, DC.
This is certainly “not your Grandma’s museum tour”! Gray’s guides are chosen for their ability to communicate and passion, rather than background historical knowledge, and create their own scripts around 10 items they love in the museum.
What are Nick’s tips to capture the imagination? Including games in the tour makes them fun and interactive, and keeping the pace fast combats “gallery fatigue”. Sharing the gossip behind the piece is always a winner. Work out what matters to your audience. Particularly tricky visitors on corporate events are the “finance bros” who really don’t want to be there. Nick’s guides take them straight away to the most expensive item in the museum and explain why it’s so costly and it’s relevance. They know they’ve won them over when the bankers ask, “What else do you have that’s expensive?”
Social media has been really important for Nick. Some clever marketing includes running the top ten places to make out in museums. Also sharing of selfies with the objects. Trip Advisor now ranks Museum Hack tours number 9 of things to do in NYC.
Nick then explained to us why he loves his favourite object in the Met. Fragment of a Queen’s Face, carved in yellow jasper, is over 3000 years old. He says it makes him “feel something” and “communicates across time”.
A music video director told Nick after a tour that “this museum makes me want to be a better creator.”
Museum Hack-type experiences have their place in a selection of tour formats, sparking an interest in adults who believe that museums have nothing to offer them. That interest can then be indulged over a lifetime. We agree with you Nick. We think “museums are f***ing awesome” too.
Samrien Hussain and Ali Khan, founders of Tick Tock Unlock – The Escape Room Boom
For those who haven’t experienced an escape room these are themed rooms with puzzles and games that a team has to work together to solve within an hour to escape. These low tech attractions are a surprising new trend worldwide inspired by video games, with 160 escape rooms being opened in the UK over the last two years.
Samrien Hussain and Ali Khan launched their Tick Tock Unlock escape rooms business as part of the Bradford Kickstart Programme in Leeds in May 2014 and within six months it was the No.1 attraction in Yorkshire on Trip Advisor. They now have rooms in Leeds, Liverpool, Glasgow and Manchester and over 1300 5* reviews.
Sam and Ali’s predictions for the future are that after flooding the market with escape rooms of variable quality, consumer demand will push for a consolidation of higher quality experiences with more theming, brands and technology. AR and reactive technology applications have huge potential here.
Prof Brendan Walker – How to Thrill: The Science Behind the Screams
Prof Brendan Walker is the world’s first Thrill Engineer. By using scientific methods to measure an individual’s levels of arousal and pleasure, he calculates the thrill factor of a ride, and can extrapolate how to increase it. Brendan has worked with major theme park operators including Merlin and most recently he was seen testing out the Ultimate Abyss slide on Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas.
Brendan treads a line between engineering and art, stretching the imagination of how to thrill the individual and also create an entertaining spectacle.
An example of Brendan’s thought-provoking work via Aerial – a consultancy that specialises in the creation of tailored emotional experiences – is Breathless. This interactive ride experience inspired by Fragonard’s Swing. The painting from 1767 depicts a woman on a swing being pushed by a man who is unaware of her lover concealed in the bushes. In Breathless, wifi-enabled gas masks are worn so that each of the three protagonists takes it in turn to power the ride. The “riders” are drawn from a queue of audience members and cycle through the roles so that those taking part have the uncomfortable experience of controlling a stranger’s experience, observed by an audience.
Although an expert in the latest technology available to theme parks – his experiments include VR, motion platforms and neurological monitors – Brendan asserts that “used creatively simple technology can help guests become great performers and great performances are infectious.”
Our communications session was probably the most varied as we looked across the sector for examples of how to communicate difficult concepts. The session was an emotional rollercoaster after which we felt like we had been slapped, prodded, hugged and then tickled until we cried with laughter.
Subhadra Das, Curator UCL Teaching & Research Collections – Why Museums Matter
Subhadra Das is curator of two collections at University College London (UCL). She told us about the unique challenges of curating and lecturing on The Galton Collection. As well as being the inventor of the weather map, forensic finger printing and a noted statistician, Francis Galton – “the most important scientist that you’ve never heard of” – is now infamous for his work on eugenics.
He coined the term ‘eugenics’ to describe the science and idea of breeding human ‘stock’ to give ‘the more suitable races or strains of blood a better chance of prevailing speedily over the less suitable’. His studies in heredity led to work in anthropometrics — the measurement of human features which Galton considered indicators of human ability and behaviour.
The idea that we can “breed better people” has an even more sinister side of course – that we can “wipe out less good people”.
Subhadra warned us from the start that “it’s going to get dark and it’s going to get heavy.”
It did indeed, but in a challenging and engaging presentation she explained how she teaches students about the collection and why that is relevant to the world today.
This is why museums matter – so that we learn from the past.
Sharon Redrobe, CEO Twycross Zoo – Conservation Communication
Sharon Redrobe describes her younger self as having pink hair and “piercings in places you can’t see”. She also hated zoos.
Dr. Redrobe grew up to be a Vet Specialist in Zoo and Wildlife Medicine, who has worked exclusively with exotic species for over 20 years. She is now also Veterinary Advisor for the European-wide Great Ape breeding groups (GATAG) and Ape Action Africa, a Cameroon-based ape sanctuary and a Zoo Inspector in England and Wales.
As CEO of Twycross Zoo it was easy to see from Sharon’s passionate and compelling presentation why she’s recently been named as the Institute of Directors (IoD) West Midlands Director of the Year Award in the ‘Not For Profit’ category.
Putting the case for conservation through zoos beyond argument she gave a rousing presentation which explained her conversion to zoo advocate, and why it is so important to make sure that zoos find their voice to “inform the public and don’t leave the debate to others” to answer the “middle class angst” about animals in captivity. She says there is “too much navel gazing in zoos” which are “exceptionally poor at communicating outside the community”.
Social media is very important with Sharon becoming a self-confessed “media tart” in order to get the message across: “It’s not just shovelling poo you know.”
Twycross Zoo is now a “conservation organisation that runs a zoo” with one of the most diverse collections of monkeys and apes in Europe.
Under Redrobe’s leadership Twycross Zoo has embarked on a £55m masterplan which will double visitor numbers in 20 years. With little cash to fund her vision, Sharon began with a more modest investment in a nice cafe, paths and a waterplay feature. This first step was a means to an end and the Zoo has gone from a making a £1m loss on £10m turnover, to being in surplus for the last three years with increasing visitor numbers and revenues. The investments in improving animal habitats will be funded by taking a pragmatic approach to lower cost, revenue generating projects.
“You don’t have to sell your soul and become a theme park. You can stay true to your principles and make money.”
Ron Allen, SVP Commerical Silvergate Media – Science for Pre-schoolers with the Octonauts
Ron Allen‘s world of pre-school underwater adventure marked a diversion into calmer waters. The Octonauts are HUGE. Described as “Hello Kitty meets Star Trek underwater” the action adventure cartoon series aims to “explore, rescue and protect” with every episode. Thanks to a partnership with NOAA, Octonauts incorporates real marine environments, animals and scientific concepts like symbiosis. The show is translated into many languages and enjoys a worldwide following.
The secret of the success of the Octonauts is that it provides “content that parents trust”.
Next steps could include branded waterparks and semi-permanent attractions with Lappset Creative. Still untapped is the huge fan base in China, Korea and Russia. On demand viewing figures for China alone are a whopping 2.7bn and rising on local web TV channels!
Robin Ince, Comedian and Co-presenter of Radio 4’s The Infinite Monkey Cage on Blooming, Buzzing Confusion
Robin Ince, comedian and co-presenter of BBC Radio4’s Infinite Monkey Cage, gave a brilliant lecture on the importance of science communication that had the room in stitches as he moved from the piglet squid to gravitational waves. The Infinite Monkey Cage is a popular BBC Radio 4 science comedy programme that deals with diverse scientific topics such as the concept of infinity, discussions about dark matter and the nature of reality which Robin co-hosts with Prof Brian Cox.
Robin’s highly memorable impression of the two Brians (Cox and Blessed) discussing why we have not yet had a manned space mission to Mars and Blessed’s ambitions to become an astronaut – “Why can’t I fly through Jupiter, it’s a f***ing gas planet” – was a particular highlight.
It is no longer appropriate for adults in the modern world to say that they don’t understand science or maths. Robin says that what he tries to do is to excite people enough about a scientific idea that they will be curious and confident enough to want to go on and find out more.
Chaired by Juliana Delaney, CEO Continuum Attractions, with Jamie Christon, MD Chester Zoo, Nick Thompson, Deputy Managing Director Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Allan Leech, CEO Heritage GB and Claire McColgan MBE, Director of Culture Liverpool City Council, this session was a lively debate around the UK Government’s Northern Powerhouse initiative and inevitably the implications of Brexit on the attractions industry in the UK.
In a unique opportunity to hear from industry leaders, the panel highlighted the need for better transport links in the North to realise the potential of the region. VAT cuts would be a help to free up cash for investment. Liverpool was cited as being a city with a commitment and drive to developing the entertainment, arts and leisure. The lack of interest from the Media on news outside London and poor funding for England’s tourism marketing was a frustration.
As far as Brexit goes, for now it’s business as usual…
Islands at Chester Zoo, Mattel Play! Liverpool and the party at Studio 2 Parr Street
Also thank you to Heritage GB for giving us a chance to explore Mattel Play! Liverpool.
Our party, courtesy of Lappset Creative, at Studio 2 Parr St with fab Made in Liverpool Beatles tribiute band was hugely enjoyable.
Full details of the extra-curricular activities on our very own Magical Mystery Tour can be found here.
Thanks to our event app sponsors WhiteWater.
Our friends at Picsolve provided some great images which can be viewed and downloaded from www.picsolve.com/bloolooplive (login with email: email@example.com and password: live2016).
In addition we have our facebook gallery here.
Video from Katapult to follow.
Pop Up Museum
We included a competition in this year’s conference inspired by the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History’s Pop Up Museum initiative where communities can curate their own “museum”. Our theme this year was “Smile”.
Our winner, Danielle Tanton from DHX Brands, won with this image which she says, “makes me happy because it reminds me why I’m in this business; to make kids smile!”
We couldn’t have put it better ourselves.
Thank you to everyone who attended. Until next year …