£5 to get in next season
Leading UK amusement park Pleasure Beach, Blackpool, is to impose a compulsory admission fee starting next season (2009), bringing to an end its reign as the “UK’s favourite free tourist attraction.”
Guests not purchasing an Unlimited Ride Wristband will be asked to buy a Freedom Pass for £5 ($10/E6.60), which will gain them entry into the park and five selected attractions inside.
Included as part of the deal will be the new Planet Rock stage show (which replaces the 4D theatre), Chinese Puzzle Maze, Noah’s Ark, Monorail and Pleasure Beach Express. According to a Pleasure Beach spokesperson, these attractions alone would cost £10.
In an interview with Park World last winter, Pleasure Beach managing director Amanda Thompson hinted that over a century of free park admission might soon be over, and the reasons why: “Everyone has a very inflated view of how well Pleasure Beach does when they look at the numbers we get, but what they forget is there is no gate price on the park, not everyone pays! The trouble is when something is free all the way along and you change that, everybody hates you for doing it.”
Introducing the Freedom Pass is certainly a bold move. When sister park Pleasureland in Southport introduced a £2.50 admission charge in 2005, visitor numbers number plunged 76% from 2.1 million to 500,000. A year later it closed down. With the bundled-in attractions, the Freedom Pass represents better value for money, and allows Pleasure Beach to soak up capacity on a handful of under utilised attractions.
Yet the move has provoked strong reactions from locals. A poll by the Blackpool Gazette attracted more than 500 votes, nearly 90% of which were against the charging plans.
Twenty-nine-year-old Rachel Dickens said: “The town is going downhill and traders are struggling already. People won’t come if they’ve got to pay an entrance fee. A lot of people wander into the park then go on the promenade and use shops and cafes. They’ll lose those customers.”
In response, one reader leaving a comment on the newspaper’s website had this to say: “Perhaps these ‘traders’ shouldn’t rely on other businesses to attract customers. The park has done more than its fair share over they years and others have benefited. It isn’t a charity, you can’t get into Alton Towers or Disneyland for nothing, so why should [Pleasure Beach] be any different.”
Another benefit could be that the entry fee will deter the unruly element that can plague Blackpool at weekends and after dark. If in the process that increases the park’s bottom line, the Thompsons could yet have the last laugh
Whatever happens, it seems certain Pleasure Beach will loose many of the guests – typically around 6 million annually – that have kept it at the top of attendance charts year after year.
Two beneficiaries could be the South Pier and Sandcastle waterpark across the road. Showman Peter Sedgwick runs a number of rides on the pier – which is free to enter – and has been known to do well on those nights that Pleasure Beach closes early. He is making further investments in 2008 and could have a good season in 2009 when the Pleasure Beach charges come in – if people still come to Blackpool in the same numbers.