The big attraction

The UK’s theme parks and attractions are gearing up for a summer of corporate fun. CN takes a whirl around a and checks out the offers…

Alton Towers serves up Galactica

Alton Towers reports a growing conference and events business during a difficult period for the theme park following the disaster on the Smiler ride in 2015.

“Year to date we are seeing a growth in conference business as more companies are looking to hold events that not only include a business element but also include fun component to reward their hardworking teams,” says Karen Johnson, conference manager at the Staffordshire resort.

The venue is geared up to cover a spectrum of events,  from day meetings for 10 delegates to a takeover of one of the resort hotels and even private hire of the entire theme park for over 6,000 guests is possible.

The corporate offer was bolstered this spring with the launch of Galactica the world’s first rollercoaster with fully dedicated virtual reality, and the opening of the UK’s first Rollercoaster Restaurant tocorporate hire. Food is delivered from the kitchen to plate via 400m of twisting rollercoaster tracks.

“Whenever Alton Towers launch a new addition to the resort and theme park for leisure customers, we always ensure that this can be incorporated into our meetings and events offering,” says Johnson.

The resort has released a series of summer dates for its ‘Keys to the Park’ programme, whereby a company can have free reign across the site for a day.

It is all very well increasing facilities and attractions, but in order to cater for overnight events, as Johnson is first to admit, the accommodation needs to grow, too.

The Enchanted Village lodges and Treehouses within the corporate accommodation portfolio, as well as The Alton Towers Hotel and Splash Landings Hotel, give a total of 516 rooms for corporate overnight stays at the resort.

Companies do not come to Alton Towers to sit in boardrooms, and usually go to have fun and reward their delegates.

Meetings are held on the site, but organisers seem to put the accent on ‘breaking out’ of these indoor functions, bringing into play the whole gamut of the theme park: Waterpark, Enchanted Forest Tree Tops Quest high ropes course, Extraordinary Golf course and the on site spa.

“There’s nothing worse than a room of dozing delegates so we do try and get people outdoors and active to keep them alert and motivated on their corporate away days,” says Johnson.

Getting client interest in the first place is key to converting leads, and Johnson says the most important tool is familiarisation events. “There’s nothing better than actually getting people to the resort to see if for themselves,” Johnson believes.

Future projects include launching the Scarefest Halloween leisure offering for conferences and a plan to release a number of new teambuilding and ice-breaker packages linked to the new attractions.

Johnson says the biggest challenge is creating a unique offering as there are so many different venues that offer event space. “We are lucky that we have so many unique facilities to work with, and that we are constantly introducing new attractions and concepts to keep us fresh and exciting in the events sphere.”

Corporate fun and glamping at Drayton Manor

In the West Midlands, Drayton Manor Park offers 280 acres of parkland, a four-star on site hotel and has the potential for full park buyouts for 15,000 people. The park has Europe’s first stand-up rollercoaster, Shockwave, Air Race, which takes riders on an aerial adventure and the drop-tower Apocalypse.

Conference and events manager Melissa Topley says events business is growing and that a new extension to the on site four-star hotel dining area planned for 2017 will see an increase in capacity. The hotel has several meeting rooms, including executive boardrooms and the Tower Suite, which can hold up to 500 people.

Corporate Fun days is a popular offer, says Topley, as are weddings, with the Staffordshire countryside offering an attractive backdrop.

Another drawcard at Drayton Manor Park is Thomas Land™, while small festivals are being drawn in thanks partly to on site ‘glamping’ facilities. 

ArcelorMittal goes into event orbit

While not exactly a theme park, the ArcelorMittal Orbit is uniquely themed and situated in London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Importantly, it is pitching hard for events business.

The ArcelorMittal Orbit is the UK’s tallest sculpture – so events take place in a piece of artwork.

It hosts a minimum of one event each week, with daytime conferences hosted at the East Twenty Hospitality Suite at the Podium next door to the ArcelorMittal Orbit itself.

Clients can then ascend the ArcelorMittal Orbit for a reception or dinner adding a ‘wow’ factor to their event.

From June 2016 event organisers will have the added option of private hire of the world’s highest and longest tunnel slide (178m).

A spokesperson tells CN the attraction’s most popular events are product launches, dinners and receptions, although music nights have been hosted at the venue as well.

The venue is not open to the public in the evening, so only those attending an event get to see this unique view of London at night time.

Once the slide is open, an abseiling experience will be available to book out for corporate teambuilding days or charity events.

Merlin at the movies

Theme park owner Merlin has unveiled a new events space and attraction in London: ‘Movies at Madame Tussauds’.

The space can accommodate up to 80 guests for seated dinners and 120 for standing events, with 1970’s inspired Singapore Sling and Harvey Wallbanger cocktails in the Marvel movie zone, alongside franchise favourites Captain America and Iron Man.

Samantha Burton, senior events manager at Merlin Events London, says: “It’s fantastic to see our new event space come to life. Movies at Madame Tussauds celebrates some of the most memorable characters in sci-fi history and will bring a whole new immersive element to our event offering.”

Merlin Events London has also been bringing in corporate organisers to see for themselves at a series of Fun Days.

At London’s County Hall, invited guests recently joined the Merlin events team for an afternoon of tea and Pimms reception, before experiencing attractions including the Coca-Cola London Eye, Shrek’s Adventure! London, SEA LIFE London Aquarium and the London Dungeon.  After the excitement of the attractions, guests returned to the Riverside Rooms for a BBQ.

Burton described the special packages on offer as “a great way for employers to not only host their event in central London, but incentivise their staff with our attractions”.

Double-digit growth in events at Thorpe Park

Since 2012, Events at Thorpe Park Resort has seen double digit growth year-on-year. Offering 1,000sqm, the Lake View venue is one of the largest unique event spaces in the home counties.

And new for this year is the use of the DOME venue for evening events of up to 1,400 pax.

Recent new attractions on park include the interactive ‘I’m A Celebrity’ Maze and 4D Angry Bird’s cinema and there are multiple venues on the resort for corporate clients to ‘take over’ for large scale events. And Derren Brown’s Ghost Train represents one of Thorpe Park Resort’s largest investments to date.

The park’s Corporate BBQ Thrill Days can involve live actors from the mazes, giant games in the venue and menus including a Brazilian Churrasco option or Urban Food Stalls from around the world. Bookings are reportedly up this year with several events for over 1,000 pax + set for June and July.

Evening ‘Ride & Dines’ also include BBQ, drinks and a party package until 1.00am.

Thorpe Park tells CN 2015 saw the return of company reward and recognition programmes with events ranging from 50-5,000 pax throughout the season. The team claims the Thorpe Park USP is “providing the ultimate company playground”.

One challenge the team flags is the perception that theme park event catering is all fast food to go with the fast rides. Some would also say the prices are also sometimes a bit ‘fast’.

“For corporate hospitality it’s critical that we deliver exceptional food that our clients would experience in a quality hotel or conference centre environment,” a Thorpe Park spokesman tells CN and highlights the appointment of Vanilla Bean as its catering partner; a local company that supports local artisan produce.

If fun incentives are no longer dirty words in our events lexicon, why not tear up the ROI form and look to a return on thrills and spills?

Paul Colston

Author

Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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