One day format suits attractions operators
Attraction operators large and small from the UK and beyond travelled to the Oxford Centre in the English city of the same name for a one-day ”experience conference” on July 3. Park World joined them.
Two years ago we attended the same event. Then it was a room of round tables attended by less than a hundred people participating in a series of workshops. This time more than twice the space was used and a full seminar format adopted; there were even a few trade stands for the first time.
The event’s expansion reflects the growth of the company organising it, Vision XS. Headed by Tony Sefton, this team of consultants adopts a scientific approach to advising attractions operators how to improve the experience offered to their guests. A number of the delegates at the conference were Sefton’s clients, and the day doubled as a PR event for the company, albeit an entertaining one. An encouraging number of participants also stayed the night to join the Vision XS team for a fun evening of boating and dining by the River Thames.
Those that arrived early for the conference could enjoy a quick breakfast session examining the dos and don’ts of planning a new attraction before the day kicked off proper with presentations from various members of Vision XS explaining the right mix of experience, profit and learning, based on analysis of over 100 global attractions. In the UK, you might be interested to know, visitors appreciate animals, laughter and getting wet!
After coffee, operators of five different attractions – a theme park, farm park, play centre and two zoos – presented case studies. Steve Cook, CEO of Gold Reef City (pictured), had travelled from South Africa to participate in the conference and explained how he and his team transformed the Johannesburg park from an “ugly duckling” into a “beautiful swan.”
Previously there was a reluctance from guests to spend money inside the venue as they appreciated the rides, but little else. Now, by focusing on making the park the “number one destination for family fun” and improving things like show capacity, theming and the food & beverage offer, the park is receiving comments like “I didn’t get to do half of it, so will come back.” The park now even has enough confidence to sue a TV show that painted a negative picture of it.
Aware that the audience can get a little fatigued as the day wears on at events like this, a different format was adopted by the presenters of two afternoon sessions. Rosalind Johnson of A Different View (another consultant) hosted a quick-fire question and answer session with four suppliers, examining how clients could get their money’s worth from their services. A panel was given sound effects to agree or disagreed with the answers given. Taking part were Ray Hole of Ray Hole Architects, Barry Davies of Davies & Co, discussing planning; insurance broker Stef Puttnam of Jardine Lloyd Thompson and banker Phil Barker from Lloyds TSB.
Asked about one of the most stupid insurance claims he had seen, Stef Puttnam recalled the case of an individual claiming to be at an amusement park on the day of the “incident” in question solely by the colour of the wristband they were wearing. Even though the park could prove that in fact a different colour was used, the claimant still won.
Next, Vision XS’ Mark Abberley presented a whistle-stop tour of new products as a panel of operators gave their views. Rounding off the day was a live case study of the nearby Wallingford Museum, as the operators in the audience were invited to make suggestions about various aspects of the experience. This very practical session gave a flavour of what Vision XS does as a business, but for some perhaps it would have worked better as a more intimate session when there was more time to do it properly. As it was, the museum got some valuable free advice from some of its contemporaries!
“The day was well worth attending,” said Simon Dabell from the Blackgang Chine/Robin Hood parks on the Isle of White, “not only for the various interesting seminar topics but also for the opportunity to meet with old and new colleagues in the industry.”
Held just two weeks after the established TiLE Forum in Italy, this latest conference from Vision XS actually eclipsed it in terms of delegate numbers. The attendance was less international than TiLE, but what surely appealed to some delegates was the fact that it was only a one-day affair, requiring minimal time away from the office or their attractions. As many in attendance were from the UK, they could drive home at the end of it. Tony Sefton will be keen to build on the event’s success.