Meetings in the theme parks

Butlin’s Events

Butlin’s has been in the hospitality business since Billy Butlin opened his first resort in 1936. A big name still, but one connected with experiences 70s-style in many people’s minds.

The brand has been investing heavily in promoting a new orientation to the meetings market and last year owners Bourne Leisure recruited ex-Center Parcs man Simon Jones as National Sales Manager for Butlin’s Events.

Event wins in the retail, banking and pharmaceutical sectors have followed, with John Lewis, Hasbro and ActiVision all hosting successful events at a Butlins Resort over the past year.

Jones’ team is on track to boost revenues 20 per cent by the end of this financial year.

The Shoreline Conference Centre at Bognor, opened in 2005, underwent a £180k makeover, providing a dividing wall, four HDMI projectors and a quality sound system. It can host 550 delegates. Three hotels,
Ocean, Wave and Shoreline, back up the offer with 550 rooms and 29 apartments, all of which can be booked exclusively for events during the off-peak season.

“The Bognor Regis resort is excellently situated for companies in London and the Southern counties. We have a large on-site hotel capacity alongside the conference facilities, which lends itself well to large-scale events where organisers need everything in one place. We wanted to ensure those facilities were continuing to evolve with the UK market, and the renovation signalled our intent to be at the forefront of the venues considered by organisers in 2013,” says Jones.

Butlin’s Minehead resort can host large events with a capacity of 6,500 people and, like Skegness and Bognor, can host teambuilding, with activities including zip wire, high ropes, treasure hunts and archery.

Jones says the resorts work particularly well for corporates wanting excitement with their events. The many bars and restaurants, include celebrity chef (Brian) Turner’s at Bognor.

Time to junk the stereotype, perhaps, and give Butlin’s a try if your team is young and up for something different. You’ll be surprised at what you get for your money.

LEGOLAND Windsor

The LEGOLAND Windsor Resort Hotel is a fully LEGO themed destination built in March 2012 and equipped for hosting conferences and events. It has built a broad range of corporate clients and Jens Andersen, Hotel Director, tells CN: “We are proving an unexpected surprise to corporate guests. They walk into the lobby and think ‘wow, this is full on’ and then they come into the adjoining LEGO Suite which is our corporate-only space and think: ‘We can do business here and have some fun’.”

Conference planners can still tailor their events to involve the LEGO theme, from creative team training sessions or dinner in the Knight’s Kingdom Castle, to a forced march by Stormtroopers to the LEGO Star Wars Gallery for cocktails with Darth Vader.

LEGOLAND Windsor is the second most visited theme park in the UK after Alton Towers with 2m visitors in 2012. The fun of the park spills over into offers of personalised model making workshops and exclusive ‘dine and ride’ evening park experiences.

Over 90 companies, including Heinz, Kraft, O2 and Microsoft have used the events facilities.

“The values that LEGO stands for, the environment they have built in the hotel and the facilities, staff and activities they provided were excellent,” said Microsoft’s spokesperson. “The hotel rooms were the talk of the event and the team were flexible about how we wanted to use the facilities.”

With family fun a key element of the brief, Leeds-based events agency Tebays, turned to LEGOLAND for its week-long media launch event for the new Fiat 500L.

“LEGOLAND is all about family fun and fitted well with the product positioning. The venue had never been used for an automotive event, so it was something different for the press,” said Tess Roscoe, Director at Tebays.

One hundred automotive journalists attended the launch which was high impact from the start, ensured by a line up of colourful Fiat 500Ls outside the hotel underneath ‘Ollie’ the smoke-breathing dragon.

Product presentations and interaction with senior Fiat personnel was then made over pre-dinner drinks in the interactive Skyline bar before moving through LEGOLAND to Knights Kingdom and dinner in the centrepiece Royal Castle.

Guests were treated to a show including a 10-minute sword fight by the Knights of Warwick Castle, which is a sister Merlin Entertainments attraction.

The next day journalists went for their Fiat 500L test drives around Windsor.

“We were delighted with the event and the subsequent coverage. People loved being in such a different, fun environment,” said Roscoe.

There are 150 bedrooms at the hotel, all themed: Pirate, Kingdom or Adventure. There is direct access to the Park. Up to 320 delegates can be accommodated in the Creator Suite and there are three syndicate rooms – Duck, Wheel and Brick, for eight to 36 people each. There are also breakout spaces, plus executive lounge.

Alton Towers Resort

“Events are constantly evolving to be more appealing and are seen as an opportunity for organisers to push the boundaries,” says Business Development Manager at Alton Towers Resort, Ellie Jones. “Having a theme park as part of your venue obviously sets you aside from the majority of venues, but it also allows you to be really creative when it comes to event theming, menus, entertainment, accommodation and teambuilding activities.”

Alton Towers has seen a steady increase in corporate bookings over the last few years, according to Jones, and by the beginning of July had exceeded its targets for 2013.

The resort has eight syndicate rooms on offer for 16 to 60 delegates and five event spaces available for 200 to 1,284 delegates when two of the spaces are combined.

The Backlot Concert Area can host live events for up to 14,500 people, while The Front Lawns in the theme park provide space for a large marquee to be erected for 1,000 guests for dinner or 3,000 guests for a corporate family fun day.

Exclusive theme park hire is available, as well as exclusive use of The Alton Towers Hotel and Splash Landing Hotel. On site teambuilding activities include Extraordinary Golf and the Alton Towers Challenge which incorporates physical and mental challenges.

Recent upgrades at the resort include a new Wi-Fi connection from The Cloud to enhance wireless coverage and recently refurbished Moon Voyager themed bedrooms in The Alton Towers Hotel, while in May this year Alton Towers unveiled the world’s first 14-loop rollercoaster, The Smiler.

Jones says that theme parks and other similar venues have created an entirely new category for event venues, and coming up against dedicated event and conference venues on a daily basis means standards need to be high. “We can’t just rely on the rides, attractions and entertainment to wow guests. The customer experience needs to be spot on all round from the facilities to the customer service and value for money.”

Homebase held its Peak 12 Awards at the resort last year, which included an awards ceremony and entry into the park the following day. “We wanted the event to be more than just an awards ceremony and holding the event at Alton Towers Resort allowed us to do this,” said Retail Planning Manager for Homebase, Matthew Pierce.

Thorpe Park

Thorpe Park in Surrey styles itself as the ‘Thrill Capital’ and offers rides including Stealth, Colossus and SAW.

Corporates keen to tap into the adrenaline rush can bring conferences, product launches, receptions, awards dinner and parties are encouraged to do so by the corporate motto: ‘Business for the thrill of it’.  Recent high profile clients at Thorpe Park have included Microsoft, Nissan and eBay.

Thorpe Park offers an immersive experience for delegates. All packages, from icebreakers to conferences and evening events, include the opportunity to take on the Park’s signature rides.

This year saw the launch of ‘Platinum and Gold Ride & Dine packages’ and the ‘Chocolate Coaster Challenge’ a new teambuilding activity created with Hartleys Events.

Private hospitality space Lake View offers 940sqm of adaptable space. A blank canvas, Lake View can be dressed to theme or brand, and boasts an integrated sound system and flexible lighting including colour wash of walls and spot lighting for tables and is popular for award ceremonies and dinners.

Three syndicate spaces can be created with the use of removable walls and a decked patio area is available for alfresco dining. Whole park hire means organisers can bring branded flags, banners and temporary fixtures.

Lake View can accommodate 800 guests for receptions, 450 for meetings and 500 for awards dinners.

The newest addition at Thorpe Park is ‘Crash Pad’, the world’s first fully serviced portable hotel to operate at a major leisure attraction. Opened in March, it provides 58 climate controlled rooms sleeping up to four people with one double bed and two bunks. Each room includes an en-suite wetroom, flat screen television, Wi-Fi and a safe.

Jennifer Connery, Corporate Sales Manager at Thorpe Park, said: “Our packages have been designed to offer guests an unforgettable experience as they can take on our world class rides as part of their evening event entertainment. The packages provide the perfect solution for companies who are keen to host a unique, super exclusive event that won’t blow the budget.”

This was first published in the September issue of CN. Any comments? E-mail conferencenews@mashmedia.net

Paul Colston

Author

Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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