Low attendance, high quality
Taking time out at the start of the summer is always difficult for attractions operators, but those that did were rewarded with quality debate and discussion, good company and beautiful surroundings at this year’s TiLE Forum, the first in Italy.
Owen Ralph reports from Lake Como.
The rebranded version of what used to be simply TiLE (Trends in Leisure and Entertainment) was a slimline version of its predecessor, taking in two days instead of three, and with a much smaller exhibition area than previously.
Held within the grounds of Villa Erba (pictured) in Cernobbio on Wednesday and Thursday, June 20 and 21, the event was preceded on Tuesday night with a party in the villa itself, sponsored by Jack Rouse Associates. Networking is what it’s all about at TiLE, and there were plenty of opportunities on this occasion. Whether it was the coffee breaks, lunch breaks or Wednesday night’s evening cruise, few strayed far from the lake or its renowned restaurants and meeting places.
Conference chairman Paul Carty from the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin presided over a programme that discussed issues relevant to brand centres like his own, but also amusement parks, museums, science centres, zoos, aquariums and a wide range of other leisure outlets – such is the reputation of this event as a melting pot for attractions operators.
Session one examined the changing dynamics of the leisure industry and the world around it. Would you, for example, ever think that someone could be involved in creating an attraction that intentionally turns guests away? Mark Leslie of Martello Media in Ireland described the Cliffs of Moher Exhibition Centre as a “visitor deflector” existing in part to educate those tourists that visit the cliffs to go somewhere a little less obvious and overcrowded.
After lunch, Lesley Morisetti of Economics Research Associates (ERA) chaired a session on business models for success. Statistics are ERA’s stock-in-trade and Lesley provided some illuminating figures, including the high costs involved in creating a succesful new attraction in a mature market.
Mixing with Merlin
In explaining his company’s rapid growth, brand development director for Merlin Entertainments Chris Scurrah noted that, “maybe three of four years ago leisure and entertainment was seen as unattractive to the private equity industry, but that has changed.”
Chris highlighted Merlin’s strategy of developing and steadily rolling out established brands, and explained how it is fusing its newer acquisitions with its established “midway attraction” format. Opening a Sea Life Centre at Legoland Billund, for example, was a cost-effective way of adding something new to this well-known Danish park and less risky than developing a second gate attraction from scratch. At the same time the Legoland brand itself has been adapted to fit the midway model, as witnessed by the first Legoland Discovery Centre in Berlin, which will not be the last.
The Guinness Storehouse is Ireland’s most popular paid-for visitor attraction, but Paul Carty’s colleague Johnny Cosgrove revealed that it began life as a “corporate orphan – stick it in the corner over there.” Now with a clear sense of vision – to convert every visitor into a Guinness ambassador – it has become the brewer’s “least expensive advert.” Although making money is not the prime reason for the Storehouse’s existence, Paul picked up the theme the following day and offered a warning to those attractions that exist purely on subsidy: “You need to generate an income and the reason is reinvestment.”
Thursday’s proceedings kicked off with Kevin Murphy and Blair Parkin’s look at new technology, fast becoming something of a TiLE tradition. Representing Visual Acuity and Electrosonic respectively, Blair and Kevin delivered an entertaining session as always. However, warned Kevin, “Technology has always been the deliverer of a story, but that is changing as technology itself becomes the story and we need to watch that.”
“Have you had enough of 3D?” was the question asked in the next session, with Parkin and Murphy contributing again. Guest speaker Phil Streather of Principal Large Format, producer of Bugs! 3D, highlighted the degree to which the medium is escaping outside parks and attraction and into the mainstream. As of April 2007, for example, there were 581 regular movie theatres equipped for 3D. An increasing number of films, including the new Harry Potter picture, are incorporating 3D sequences and a select handful of producers, notably producer James Cameron, are using nothing else.
Setting the Future
Attractions setting the future was the theme for the penultimate session at TiLE 2007 and a particularly interesting presentation came from David Vatcher of KumbaK Coasters, outlining the vision for the Port Aventura resort in Spain, in place of its technical services director Vincenç Veses, who suffered an unfortunate incident en-route. What started life as a single theme park in 1989 is now home also to a waterpark and three hotels. Next year, however, it will also boast 2,500 homes, a golf course and four more hotels. A resort indeed.
In summing up, TiLE committee member Steve Simons of Event Communication praised the single room format that the conference has adopted for the past couple of years. Previously there were often two sessions running concurrently, and while this may have presented better value for delegates’ money, there were inevitable clashes in content. “Before, I always felt I’d missed the good one,” highlighted Steve.
Unfortunately too many people missed the entire programme this year. While the quality wasn’t in any doubt, attendance was disappointing and, whereas the event usually picks up a slightly different crowd each time according to its location, Italian participation in the conference was poor, and non-existent among the trade stands.
The latter need not be an issue as the exhibition has been on the wane here for a number of years. Renaming it the ‘Innovations & Networking Gallery’ proved to be over-ambitious and it effectively became a coffee area instead, which is what it should have been for a long time anyway. There’s other events if you want to spend all day looking around exhibition stands and the six companies that took part this year may well have been able to see every delegate thanks to the event’s intimacy.
The challenge now is to get the numbers up for 2008 and in closing the conference Paul Carty made a passionate appeal for delegates to spread the word and bring at least one extra colleague or associate with them in 2008. If you’re not sure why you should join them, read below.
‘An amazing venue’
TiLE Forum 2007 conference chairman Paul Carty described Villa Erba as “an amazing venue” – and how right he was. Should the event return there in 2008, perhaps organiser Andrich International could do a better job of promoting packages to travellers too lazy to find out where the town of Cernobbio is. In case you wondering, it’s easily accessible from Milan and the lakeside views alone make it worth tagging on a few extra days if you can justify the time away. Go on, delegate…