Podcast

Attraction partnerships and rivalries with Dominic Jones

In this Skip the Queue podcast episode I speak with Dominic Jones, CEO of The Mary Rose Museum, and Director of Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

Dominic Jones was recruited to the Mary Rose in 2019 ago as Chief Operating Officer, and became CEO in 2021.  He brings an excellent background in commercial visitor attractions (Disney, Merlin) and creative visitor experience development.

During his time at the Mary Rose, he has already driven an excellent commercial and operational performance and worked closely with previous Chief Executive to create the new Portsmouth Historic Dockyard joint venture with the National Museum of the Royal Navy, which launched successfully in August 2020.

 

“What can we do together? What, collaboratively, can we do?” We came up with three things. We can sell tickets together, we could run a visitor centre together, so that’s #1, the visitor side. We could market the destination together, and we could do strategic operations like events.”

What will you learn from this podcast?

  • Going from a ride operator to running the entire show at Thorpe Park
  • The amazing impact of the joint venture between the Mary Rose Museum and The National Museum of the Royal Navy
  • Dominic’s top tips for any attractions looking to start and improve their partnership arrangements
  • How rivals can end up being the best of friends

To listen to the full podcast, search Skip The Queue on iTunes, Google Podcasts and Spotify to subscribe. You can find links to every episode and more at www.rubbercheese.com/podcast.

You can also read the full transcript below.

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The interview

Your host, Kelly Molson

Our guest, Dominic Jones

 

Kelly Molson: Dominic. Welcome to Skip the Queue. Thanks for coming on.

Dominic Jones: Thanks for having me. I’m looking forward to it, I think.

Kelly Molson: You are looking forward to it. You don’t need to think about it. Can we just point out, I know, listeners, you can’t see this, but if you’re watching this on YouTube, can we just see, you’ve got a lovely little, “I love Skip the Queue” graphic in the background there. Look at that.

Dominic Jones: Yeah, I think it’s important to get across that I do love Skip the Queue and it’s important to get that across before the icebreaker questions, I think, just in case you had a couple and you were thinking, “Oh, I’m going to be a bit tough.” And then, so I did that and I tweeted this morning how excited I am about your forthcoming website attraction questionnaire, so that’s a double. That’s a double positive, right?

Kelly Molson: Thank you. Thank you. Don’t worry, listeners. I’ve got a special little recording so you understand what we’re talking about that will be coming out in the next week or so, so you’ll find out more about that soon.

Dominic Jones: And I bought you a rubber for your rubber collection. Can you see that? Mary Rose rubber?

Kelly Molson: Wow. Look at that.

Dominic Jones: You may or may not get that depending on how the icebreakers go, so that’s my third attempt.

Kelly Molson: Gosh, I’ve never been bribed for a good icebreaker question.

Dominic Jones: It’s not bribery. It’s a nice gift. It’s a nice gift.

Kelly Molson: Right, well, let’s get cracking on the icebreaker questions, shall we? I think I’ve been quite kind to you. Tell us something that you are really great at cooking.

Dominic Jones: I really like cooking. I actually find cooking really relaxing, so on a Friday or Saturday, I often cook at home, so it depends, really. I quite like making my own recipes, so just using what we’ve got in the house. So for example, scallops with chorizo, or if you’re doing a steak, might do it with some sort of watercress and various cheese, or just sort of experimenting. I really like sort of seeing what we’ve got, putting it together and making it work. I think it’s important, when you’re cooking, to drink some wine as well.

Kelly Molson: Oh, I agree.

Dominic Jones: So cooking with wine is something I enjoy doing.

Kelly Molson: We can be friends, Dominic.

Dominic Jones: There we go.

Kelly Molson: Absolutely, we can be friends. Also, really great choices of food there. I would definitely eat both of those. You’d be really good on Ready Steady Cook, then. That would’ve been your show.

Dominic Jones: Yeah. Do you know what? I used to… So I once applied for a game show, which I didn’t get on, I was very disappointed, but Ready Steady Cook was one I think I could have done. Because it’s not hard, is it? Most things go with things, and it’s also about having the confidence to carry it off and knowing… The only time it went wrong was I wanted to cook for my girlfriend, who’s now my wife, a lemon pasta dish and it tasted awful and it had lemon rind in it and stuff, so… But apart from that, it’s always worked out.

Kelly Molson: Well, I mean, you must have done all right. She married you.

Dominic Jones: Yeah.

Kelly Molson:: She married you in the end.

Dominic Jones: True.

Kelly Molson: All right. Well, our next one, I’ve gone topical for this. If you were the captain of a pirate ship…

Dominic Jones: Yeah?

Kelly Molson: What would be the name of your ship?

Dominic Jones: That’s a good one. Oh. I do like pirates. I think, because I’m Welsh and because I’d want to be a pirate who… A bit like sort of the Warrior in the Dockyard, which isn’t a pirate ship, by the way, but when it came in, people normally surrendered, I want to be a scary pirate that people would think, “Oh, don’t…” Maybe, like, Smoking Dragon or something like that. And then we’d light smoke as we came in so people are like, “Oh, here’s the Smoking Dragon.”

Kelly Molson: Yeah, I like that. And there’d be a big dragon’s head on the front with flame and smoke coming out of it.

Dominic Jones: And people… Because a lot of pirates were Welsh. I don’t know whether you know this, but a lot of pirates were Welsh.

Kelly Molson: I didn’t know that.

Dominic Jones: Yeah, it’s massive.

Kelly Molson: Wow.

Dominic Jones: Massive.

Kelly Molson: Okay. All right. This is great. That’s an excellent answer.

Dominic Jones: I have to say, these are slightly biased questions because I was listening to a few of your podcasts recently and, like, you had someone from the zoo, “Oh, what’s your favourite animal?” Or you had someone from IAAPA, “What’s your favourite ride?” And I’m getting a “name a pirate ship”? Know what I mean?

Kelly Molson: All right, what’s your favourite boat?

Dominic Jones: No, only joking. I’m not going to answer that. I’m not going to answer that.

Kelly Molson: All right, but what is your favourite smell? That’s my last question.

Dominic Jones: Genuinely, we’re looking at smell now for the museum, because smell is so important, it’s something that can make a difference. When I was at Madame Tussauds Amsterdam, we used smell, as well, as part of the experience, because it just creates that emotive moment. I do like cookie dough and cookies and the smell of that sort of baking which you get pumped in in Disney parks. I quite like the smell of red wine.

Kelly Molson: Yeah. Yep.

Dominic Jones: Yeah, so I think it’s food or drink smells I like, but yeah. Good question.

Kelly Molson: Good answer. We are at Unpopular Opinion Point. What have you got to share with us?

Dominic Jones: This is a hard one because I’ve decided to go work on this and I did have some really cool ones about lager and N-Dubz and stuff, but I decided to go with work because one of the things that through my whole career, anyone who knows me will know is I get really frustrated when people blame the weather, so I think you shouldn’t blame the weather for anything because what happens is when someone blames the weather when the weather’s…

So I’ve worked in theme parks and in museums and aquariums, indoor and outdoor attractions, and you probably know that when it’s bad weather, it’s great for indoor attractions, when it’s good weather, it’s good for the theme parks, right?

So you get people that, when it’s good weather in theme parks or bad weather in museums, they say, “Oh, our marketing and our everything we’re doing is brilliant because the visitors are coming.” And as soon as it’s the bad weather or the good weather, depending on what you are, then it’s all about the weather. So, “Our visitors are down because the weather was good.”

If you’re in an indoor attraction and it really, really irritates me, and it’s one of those things, they’re mutually exclusive, you can only blame the weather if you give the weather credit when it’s good, and it’s one of those things, if things are good, I always think you should look outside the window and think, “Right, what’s the reason for that?” And then if things are bad, you should look inside your organisation. It’s one of my pet hates, but probably doesn’t work for the podcast, so I should probably go with the lager or N-Dubz one, but anyway, there we go. But it is important, right? I think it’s a good one.

Kelly Molson: It is important. No, I think, yeah, that is important. It’s really interesting. I’ve never really thought about that before. We need to give the weather more credit.

Dominic Jones: Well, you need to give the weather credit if you’re going to use it to blame. For me, it’s a constant. It’s something… And these days, weather forecasts are 10, 14 days out, so you should be able to plan.

Kelly Molson: Yeah. Okay. Good. All right.

Dominic Jones: I’ll get off my high horse now. Yeah.

Kelly Molson:: Listeners, let us know how you feel, so let us know if you want to know about that N-Dubz one as well. I’m intrigued. Right, Dominic, I want you to tell us about your background because we met up recently, didn’t we, at the M+H exhibition? And you were very humble about coming on the podcast and you said, “Oh, I’m not going to have anything… You’ve had really interesting people on and I’m not that interesting.” You are really interesting and you’ve had such an incredible background. Tell us a little bit about it and how you got to where you are now.

Dominic Jones: Well, I’m not sure about that. I do like listening to your podcast and you have some amazing guests and 9 times out of 10, I normally think, after listening to them, “Right, I’m going to either do something that they’ve suggested.” Or I follow them on LinkedIn or Twitter and think, “Right, let’s learn from them.” Because I think you should always learn from other people, but so my career is a lot of luck, a lot of opportunity and a lot of chats.

When I was growing up, I wanted to be a leisure centre manager. You know? Like you probably won’t remember The Brittas Empire, but that was my dream. That was my dream, much to my mum’s disappointment. And so that was all I ever wanted, so I went to college and did a leisure studies course, a HND, and there was a placement in PGL Adventure, which is like an adventure park, and I was a Multi Activity Instructor. Absolutely loved it.

But then I sort of realised, actually, there’s a whole world out there and decided I wanted to work in theme parks, so I applied to work at Disney and didn’t get it the first time. I was very cocky, I was the wrong sort of person for Disney, but I went back three times and eventually got it and I did a placement in Disney and it was the best thing I ever did and it changed my life. It’s one of the few jobs that I’ve left and thought, “My life will never be the same again.” So good. So I did that and I got my master’s degree. I didn’t get the doctorate because I went on spring break, but hey, I was young…

Kelly Molson: Well, spring break, though.

Dominic Jones: Exactly. I was young. And then sort of went to Thorpe Park and was a Ride Operator. I remember my friends and some of their family were saying, “That’s a real waste of…” Because I went to, in between Disney, went to university in Swansea, and they said, “It’s a real waste of university, operating a teacup for £3.50 an hour.” Or whatever it was at the time. But I loved it and for me, it was… I thought, “If you want to become a manager or you want to become, eventually, a General Manager or a Director of a theme park, it’s really important to know how these things work.”

So I loved it, and just in case you ever get to operate the teacups, it’s not too complicated, there’s a red and green button, the red is to stop and the green is to start. I mean, it was five hours of training, but I finally mastered it and you can’t actually make it go faster, so when you’re there on the microphone and say, “Do you want to go faster?” You can’t, it goes faster anyway, but I loved it and then very quickly rose through the ranks, so I became a Ride Supervisor, Team Leader, Area Team Leader, Coordinator, went to Chessington, worked there just at the time when Tussauds had bought Thorpe Park, so it was a real great time for career opportunities.

Then I went to Madame Tussauds, was the Customer Service Manager there and helped create the first contact centre, if you like, call centre, where we sold tickets for things like Rock Circus, which is no longer in existence, but Rock Circus, the London Eye, Madam Tussauds, the Planetarium and that became the Merlin Contact Centre in the future, and then I started applying for loads of jobs, more General Manager jobs, and didn’t get them and realised that I needed to get some marketing and sales experience.

So I left and went to work for Virgin and then I was there for nearly 10 years and absolutely loved it and instead of getting the sales and marketing, well, I got the sales experience, I ended up becoming Vice President of Europe, the Middle East and Africa for the logistics side of the business, and then also, so we opened up Kenya, had some amazing life experiences, we saw the whole world and then was Regional Vice President Sales in Hong Kong for Asia Pacific, so great time.

Dominic Jones: And then my wife became pregnant, obviously, I was involved in that, and it made me realise that I probably couldn’t do a job where I was traveling 24/7. I mean, for a while, I did literally consider, which makes me sound like a bad person, “I could call in from Skype and things like that.” And my wife was like, “Come on.” So we went back to Wales and it was really hard to find a job that would allow me to be at home and be around so I actually thought, “Well, originally, when I went to Virgin, I wanted to have marketing experience.”

So I actually went to Thorpe Park and the marketing team and looked after the partnerships and promotions, did some really cool things, the Ministry of Sound nightclub deal was there, did some stuff with Lionsgate. A really good time doing the “buy one, get one free” things, the partnerships and events, got some good bands together on the stage that hadn’t been on stage with the Wideboys and the [inaudible 00:11:55] boys if you know your dance music, it was massive.

Anyway, so I did that for a bit and then got an opportunity to go back to Wales, which is where my wife’s family is from. I’m from North Wales, she’s from South Wales, so I got a chance to run Oakwood Theme Park, which I absolutely loved and probably would’ve been there forever if an opportunity hadn’t come up with Merlin and Merlin, it was to look after the rest of Europe and the rest of Europe was basically anything in their midway, so Madam Tussauds, Dungeons, Lego Discovery Centre, Sea Life, that wasn’t in the UK or Germany, so it was like Istanbul, Helsinki, Paris Blankenberge in Belgium, Spain. I mean, it was brilliant and I did that for a few years.

Then I went and ran Thorpe Park for a few years, which absolutely loved because that was where I started as a teacup operator and I remember, there was a guy there, good friend of mine, he said, “I remember, when you were on the teacups, you said, ‘One day, I’m going to come back and run the place.'” And I did, so amazing. And then, in that time, I had three kids and really was commuting from Christchurch, so decided to change careers again and come into the heritage world and came as the COO of the Mary Rose, which I did for two years, and then, during the pandemic, became the CEO, so quick sort of… Yeah. But lots of luck and right place, right time, all those sort of things, but that’s good, right? That’s most people’s career.

Kelly Molson: Whoa. That is amazing. I mean, you’ve been to so many different places. I love that you went full-circle at Thorpe Park as well. What an incredible story, to have gone in there as an operator and then end up running the place. That is amazing.

Dominic Jones: Yeah, I loved that. And actually, all the jobs I’ve had have really become part of our story. I was talking to someone yesterday about the Mary Rose and they were talking about what they were going to do next but how the Mary Rose had been a massive part of their story and I said, “That’s the beautiful thing about work and careers and life. Whatever you do, it becomes part of your story and you’re part of their story.” So whether it’s Thorpe Park, whether it’s when I opened up, for Virgin Atlantic, the Nairobi route for logistics and the Hamlin, it was amazing and I’ve been to Kenya probably more times than I’ve been to Birmingham, you know? So that’s part of my story, and when I leave the Mary Rose, I hope isn’t any time soon, this will always be… It’ll be my favourite Tudor warship. I mean, it’s probably the only Tudor warship, but also my favourite one, so yeah.

Kelly Molson: That was the answer to my question, as well. “What’s your favourite ship?”

Dominic Jones: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: Wow. I’m blown away by your career. I just think you’ve had such a phenomenal journey to get to where you are now. There’s something that I want to talk to you about today and that’s about your joint venture that you have with the Mary Rose and the National Museum of the Royal Navy. I just want to read out a tweet that I saw because this is what sparked this conversation, so this is a tweet that went out on the Mary Rose Twitter account.

It says, “We are very pleased to share that Portsmouth Historic Dockyard saw a 150% rise in visitor numbers in 2021, reported by ALVA today. The significant rise in visitors demonstrates the effectiveness of the joint venture between Mary Rose and the National Museum of the Royal Navy in our first year.”

I am very intrigued by this because this has been kind of a constant throughout most of the podcast conversations that we have is about how collaborative the sector is, but this is really specific about two attractions collaborating together to bring more visitors in. I would love you to tell us about this.

Dominic Jones: Well, yeah, the end result’s fantastic. 150% increase in visitors. It really feels joined up. My son’s school is coming in today so I was in the visitor centre and I was waiting to see what time he was coming in because he obviously wouldn’t tell me the time he’s actually in, so I was looking around the visitor centre and I couldn’t be prouder, when you see the mixture of Victory and Warrior and Mary Rose, and how far we’ve come since we started, but if you go back in history, the Mary Rose used to be part of Portsmouth Historic Dockyard and there was one ticket and there was a separate company called Portsmouth Historic Dockyard that ran it, and lots of trusts, at that time, there were lots of trusts that fed into it, and then, for whatever reason, some of these trusts went independent.

 And so when I joined the Mary Rose, we were separate. We had a separate ticket, visitor centre, if you like, so imagine, I guess, like a… You know when you’re on holiday and there’s people trying to get you to go on boat rides or they’re trying to get you to come into their restaurant? And literally, we were competing, so when a visitor was outside, there’d be the Mary Rose saying, “Hey, come and see Henry VIII’s warship, the biggest Tudor collection in the world.” I mean, it’s amazing. And then the people next door, “Hey, come and see the Victory and the Warrior.”

And it just was really difficult for the customers, and for whatever reason, we weren’t together and we had these two separate companies, so for quite a while, when I started, along with Helen, who was the CEO and Dominic and a gentleman called John in NMRN, we had meetings to see if we could get closer and to get a deal, and then I think Matthew joined, as well, from NMRN, and eventually we kind of got to an agreement.

It was about, “What can we do together? What, collaboratively, can we do?” We came up with three things. We can sell tickets together, we could run a visitor centre together, so that’s #1, the visitor side. We could market the destination together, and we could do strategic operations like events. So we then looked away and came across a deal, and for us, it was important that the two parties, so Mary Rose and the National Museum of the Royal Navy had a 50/50 parity of decision so it wasn’t a one-sided joint venture and it was really… There’s lots of talent in both organisations, so I’ve always admired what the National Museum of the Royal Navy have done over the years and how they’ve told history and how they bring it to life, and obviously, I love the Mary Rose.

Dominic Jones: And so when we put us together, it was just a real opportunity, that synergy. You know when people say “one and one and you get three”, but it was exactly like that and it worked really well, so we share marketing, so marketing costs, we share, we share marketing resource, so Mary Rose marketing people work along with NMRN marketing people. We do some things independently so our trusts are independent, our conservation, our research and all that sort of stuff, that’s just Mary Rose and NMRN is just that, although we are working on some projects together, but in terms of the visitor, we have one visitor centre, we have one ticket you can buy, lots of options, we could talk about that, some amazing pricing we did which allowed us to do that.

Because when you’re competing against each other, you almost are encouraged to discount more, so we had, at times, the National Museum of the Royal Navy who were saying Portsmouth Historic Dockyard then might have a deal on Groupon, we might have a deal on Wowcher and you’d just be discounting, discounting, discounting, and you wouldn’t be really getting across the real value for the customer, so yeah, it was really hard, and I remember, we would really fight for every single visitor because, for us, 84% of our money comes from tickets, so I remember, we’d get Henry VIII down the front, out the front, we’d have him talking to the visitors, saying, “Oh”, you know, and with people talking in French and he’d go up in French and say, “Well, I was the king of France. Why are you going to Victory? Come to Mary Rose.” But he wouldn’t be taking them away from Victory, because that would be bad, but he would be saying, “Go to both.” And we’d always be positive about NMRN, but we’d also want people to come to Mary Rose because that was how we were going to survive.

Kelly Molson: Just going back to those times, then, was it more like a rivalry than anything?

Dominic Jones: Yeah, it was really hard.

Kelly Molson: So it was really difficult?

Dominic Jones: It was really hard. I mean, we all respected each other, but it was really hard. It was like one of those ferry terminals or restaurants on holiday. I mean, I remember, we would flyer, like circus marketing, bumping into the brand, resort domination, we called it. We would be literally, when it was sunny because you can’t blame the weather, when it was sunny, we’d be on the beach with Mary Rose leaflets saying, “Hey, get out the cool, we’re air-conditioned, come to the Mary Rose.”

We were literally in all the restaurants, we had colour-in sheets, “Come to…”, it was all about getting everyone to come and actually, we quickly realized that the NMRN was spending so much money on getting people to Portsmouth that we needed to make sure when they’re in Portsmouth, they came to the Mary Rose and we did.

I mean, I look back on it now, we had adverts that had, because we’d been very lucky with Tripadvisor, five stars, I mean I would’ve dreamed of that at Thorpe Park, but five stars constantly so we’d have posters that say, “You’ve just missed the best thing to do in Portsmouth.” And then another one. “Turn around.” You know, like when you go to Camden Town and there’s a McDonald’s, a Burger King and then outside the Burger King, there’s a sign. “Why are you going to Burger King? Go to McDonald’s.” It was like that, so it wasn’t great.

Kelly Molson: It’s quite intense, as well, isn’t it, for the visitor?

Dominic Jones: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: That’s a lot of pressure.

Dominic Jones: Well, it is and I would do it and I would literally go down and leave, because you’ve got to leave from the front, and I would put my Mary Rose coat, which I’ve still got here, and I’d be down the scenic and we’d be… And I remember coaches would turn up and one of the ladies who was fantastic with us, Sandra, she’s now one of our Visitor Experience Managers, but she’d jump on the couch and say, “Have you booked your tickets? Where are you going? Can I tell you about the Mary Rose?”

And she’d bring whole coaches in. It was hard and it was really… I went to sleep every night easy, because it was so tiring and it wasn’t sustainable and we did need to get a deal, and actually, the National Museum of the Royal Navy and the Mary Rose always treated each other with respect, but it was like the Battle of Victory Gate and that’s not the way to behave and that’s not the long-term way to run a business.

So what was really great was we’ve got a deal, we got the ability to sell tickets together and we got the ability to work together and there’s some really super talented people in the National Museum of the Royal Navy and in Mary Rose and we did some great things, so when we reopened after COVID, we did this really cool video where we had Henry VIII and we had some of their characters from Warrior and some of their actors all visiting each other’s attractions in the lift, wearing face masks, getting hand sanitiser, and it just feels joined up.

I mean, I’ve done lots of partnerships in my career. At Merlin, we had a Sea Life in Helsinki, which was a joint venture with a theme park called Linnanmaki. If you ever get to interview this lady who ran Linnanmaki, or she might the CEO there, she was amazing, but we had this joint venture. See, it’s really hard in a joint venture because, especially if it’s a 50/50 parity decision one, you’ve got to get agreement and that means that you work really hard on doing the right thing.

What’s quite nice is if we were on our own, we probably would’ve done marketing campaigns and other things which were okay, but because we end up working together and we’ve got to make sure we get that joint agreement, the results is always way better. It’s brilliant. And the customers benefit, because it’s one entrance, it’s one ticket, there’s a lot more value in it, so yeah, it’s been really successful.

Kelly Molson: I hadn’t realised quite how intertwined the organisations were in terms of decision-making and marketing, like you say, and sharing all of those resources. You talked a little bit about the visitor centre. Did you have to change the infrastructure and stuff? Did you have to build new buildings and all of that and agree on that?

Dominic Jones: Well, no, they had a big visitor centre because, I mean, they’ve got a lot more footprint, more attractions, they’ve got the Warrior, they’ve got M.33, they’ve got a Submarine Museum over in Victory and we’ve got the Mary Rose, which is amazing. And so we had a building called Porter’s Lodge, which was here and then there’s the gate, and then they had their visitor center and their visitor center was perfect, so we moved in there, but we agreed to make it look and feel like it was Mary Rose and National Museum of the Royal Navy, so we spent a bit of money on the look and feel of it, so that was good and same with the brand and the marketing and making it feel like it was something new, but yeah, so there was a bit of that.

I mean, in terms of infrastructure, we went with their ticketing system because it made more sense because it would be a bigger cost for them to change. We went with some of the Mary Rose’s media buying because, at the time, we were buying media cheaper and better. And actually, now, we’re in the process of going to tenders together, so the digital agency, we’ve done together, the PR agency, we’ve done together and it’s great because it’s a bigger portfolio and you get different views, and I always think the best way to run any business, so, for example, the Mary Rose or Thorpe Park or wherever it is, to talk to your customers, to talk to your staff and then, obviously, to talk to the manage experts. And we get that in spades, because we’ve also got our staff and our customers and our volunteers, but we’ve got NMRN staff and customers and volunteers and together, we are getting some really cool ideas and things we can do, so it’s working well. As you can see, 150% increase in the first year.

Kelly Molson: I mean, I’ve read it with my own eyes.

Dominic Jones: And I hope you saw, NMRN, they did a little nice fist bump reply, and it just is in the spirit of it. We are working together and I think that’s so important.

Kelly Molson: It is massively important. You mentioned something about pricing earlier, and we’ve spoken about this before, but you said that you did something interesting that you’d implemented that allowed you to grow the yield and the revenue as well. Was this something that you did jointly too?

Dominic Jones: Yeah, it was. So we had to come up with a new pricing structure because we were doing something new, so they had, what was it called? Full Navy Ticket, which was for all of their attractions and we had an annual ticket, so when we merged, we had to come up with a new pricing structure and it’s a good opportunity to change, and 84% of our business, our revenue comes from tickets, theirs is about, I think, 80% or so, I can’t remember, so it’s still important to them as well. So we had to get the pricing right and it allowed us to really think about what’s the best value for the customer and what’s the best thing to do that stops us having to discount heavily?

So we created a… It’s like a decoy pricing model, like supermarkets have been doing it for years, so if you buy one attraction, it’s a really bad ticket. I mean, still, a few people buy them, it’s a really bad ticket, so it was… I mean, it used to be £18. We put the price up to £24. It used to be, if you bought one ticket, you could visit that attraction all year. You can only visit it once. So we made it a really unattractive ticket, so that’s your lower decoy, so the idea of that is you only buy that if all you really want to do is go to the Mary Rose or all you want to go is go to the Victory and if you’ve just come to see one of those things, that’s the sort of money you would pay, it’s very competitively priced with other things on the South Coast, so that’s what we did.

 And then we created a Three-Attraction Ticket or Three-Ship Ticket, which was slightly more money, so that went up to £39, which was the biggest sort of sting, about a £15 increase, big, big jump. And that was an annual ticket. That was, you could pick your three attractions and visit them all year. And then we did, “But for £5 more, you could have an Ultimate Explorer and have everything including the…” And that sort of, so you’ve got the lower decoy, which is the single attraction, then you’ve got the medium decoy, which is three ships, but then you go, “Well, for £5 more, you could do everything.”

Dominic Jones: And 80% of people do the Ultimate Explorer and they do everything, and it’s so good value. I mean, it’s less than the price of a football game and football game, 50% of the time, you’re disappointed, and you don’t get long, do you? It is incredible value and you get to go to all the attractions, you get out on the water, it’s brilliant. So we’ve got that. And then we were going to put in an upper decoy, now, an upper decoy is a premium, really expensive ticket, so for example, we might, “We have, at Mary Rose, you can go into the ship for £300 and have a private experience.” And we were going to put that in, but actually, because the decoy system worked so well, we didn’t need that so we’ve just kept it as Single Attraction Ticket, Three-Attraction Ticket and Ultimate Explorer and it’s working really, really well.

 So yeah, that’s our pricing. And because of that, we don’t have to discount because we put all the value and loaded the value in, actually, we don’t have to discount. And then, when we do discount, we want to reach the right people, so, for example, we do, between the months of November and February, we do a Loyal and Local campaign where we go out to Portsmouth and Southampton regions and we say, “Bring a bill in and you can get a considerable discount.” All year round, we do a discount for people who’ve got a Portsmouth leisure card, so anyone who’s on Universal Credit, so they get 50% off.

And we do some other really cool community engagement stuff between us with schools and stuff like that, and then if we do do a discount, so discounts are still important, so there’s some amazing partners out there, GetYourGuide, Picnic, lots of the providers that really support businesses, Virgin, Ticketdays, all that sort of stuff. But we do it at the right level, so we’ve got like a playground, so whereas before, we might have been competing against each other, thinking, “Oh, we need to discount by 40% or 50% and then give them extra commission so they push it.” We now do it at a really fair level, so there is a bit of a discount, but it’s not much.

And then for the consumer, we want the cheapest, best-value ticket to always be on our website. And we used a couple companies, so we used a company called, they were called Brand Incrementum, they’re now called Magic Little Giants, we use them, we use some insight into what previous businesses have done before, but we copied the American Six Flags website model. If you ever want a quick lesson in pricing, just go to Six Flags. Their website is that… I mean, you’re into websites, right?

Kelly Molson: I am.

Dominic Jones: It’s the best website for pricing. I love it and I check it nearly every month. It makes me laugh, how focused they are on decoy pricing and how in-your-face they are, but how you don’t know it as a consumer unless you know. It’s amazing. It drives my family mad. I love it. Anyway. Yeah.

Kelly Molson: This decoy pricing, I’ve never heard that phrase, I’ve never heard that used in pricing before. This is all new to me.

Dominic Jones: It’s like supermarkets when you get… And I remember, we’ve got a local supermarket near us and the guy did, “buy one bottle of wine, get one wine free”. And then he had, “or buy one wine for £7 or buy two for £7”. We were always going to buy two for £7 or two for £8. It’s all that sort of trying to encourage behaviour, but he didn’t quite get it because recently, I went in, it was like, “buy one, pay for one” and I was like, “Isn’t that… That’s the same as normal, yeah?” “Yeah.” But he’s a nice guy so I bought one. Well, that’s my problem.

But no, it’s the same way supermarkets have been doing, where they try with the club card to get you to purchase things, or they’re trying to do that, and all we’re trying to do is encourage everyone to go for that Ultimate Explorer, which is the best value. It’s almost like you can imagine it on the website, it’s got a sign saying, “Pick me.” So even to the extent we still don’t, this day, discount our Single Attraction Ticket on our website. We don’t give any discount for it and then we give a £5 discount on the three attractions and £5 on Ultimate Explorer. But yeah, loving the pricing.

Kelly Molson: Love this. This is such great insight. Thank you for sharing. This partnership is really intriguing to me because I think it seems like the perfect setup, right? Because you’re literally neighbours in the same area, you could make this work really well. What advice would you give to other attractions that are thinking about partnering with other attractions? Like what would be your top tips for people to make this work well?

Dominic Jones: I mean, it’s really hard. You’ve got to think about because often people see it as competitors, but you’ve got to think in terms of getting the customers or the guests or the consumers, whatever you call them, giving them the best value, and during the lockdown, when we were being interviewed and stuff, we’d always say, “Come visit the Mary Rose or come visit…” Once we did the joint venture, “Come visit the Historic Dockyard. But also, if you can’t come visit, go visit your local museum, go visit anyone.” It’s important to share that, and I think there are always benefits of working together, you’re always stronger together.

When I was at Oakwood Theme Park in Wales, amazing theme park, you’re in West Wales and we were thinking, “Well, how do we reach further and advertise more?” And actually, we ended up working with a farm, which was a stunning farm that had rides and animals called Folly Farm down the road and we worked, then, with Manor House Wildlife Park and Heatherton, and you actually work together and you can work together and I’d always say, “Try it on something.” So try it whether it’s an event or try it whether it’s a destination marketing campaign.

I mean, we’re working with the people of Portsmouth, so with… “The people of Portsmouth”, that sounds a bit grand. We’re working with attractions in Portsmouth on trying to get people into Portsmouth, so we do something with Portsmouth Council where the Spinnaker Tower and D-Day Museum and Mary Rose and National Museum of the Royal Navy and now Portsmouth Historical Dockyard, together, we advertise in London because actually, advertising in London individually is really expensive, but if you do it collaboratively.

There’s lots of ways to do stuff collaboratively and find another angle. So we’ve got other people on our site that we’re not partners with at the moment, so the Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust, amazing people who run some of the small boats that we did the Gunboat Race with the D-Day veterans on the weekend. Fantastic. So yesterday, we had a really great Volunteers’ Tea Party to celebrate the end of volunteer and we had the volunteers from the Property Trust, we had the volunteers from the NMRN, the volunteers from the Mary Rose, there’s always some synergy and I would say, in any way, find it.

Dominic Jones: Everywhere I’ve worked, I’ve tried to get partnerships with local businesses, with other theme parks, with other attractions, because, actually, it’s your stronger together, and if you’re going, especially, after a local market, because you’ve always got to love your locals, that’s the most important thing. If they see that you actually are the sort of people that work with each other, it makes them almost more proud of you. You remember the Game Makers in the London Olympics in 2012 and how amazing they were and how they did that sort of course where everyone was recommending all this stuff to you, that’s kind of what you want, but I would find some common ground, whatever it is.

 Whether it’s lobbying, we found common ground at Thorpe Park with other attractions to lobby the government for things, for VAT to level… Or whether it’s in Oakwood, trying to get some advertising to get people from Bristol to cross the bridge to come into Wales or whether it’s, I’m trying to think, in Amsterdam, we worked, so Madame Tussauds Amsterdam and Dungeons, which I was responsible for, we worked with Heineken because they had this amazing experience and with Tours & Tickets, so we’d make sure that if anyone came to Amsterdam, they came to our attractions. It’s those sort of partnerships, finding the common ground and making it work.

And don’t be scared of it, because you are always bigger and better together and customers have so much choice, so working together delivers amazing results. I would never want to go back to not being part of a partnership with the National Museum of the Royal Navy and I would love it if we could do more. We are keen to do more with other attractions in the South to get people to come to the South Coast, to come to Hampshire. But yeah, I would definitely do…

And also, you get bigger buying power, so say, for example, Merlin are really strong, so they don’t necessarily need those with other partners because they can do a campaign in the press, Sun, Days Go Out and you’ve got all the Merlin attractions, but if you’re individual attractions, you can’t, so if you do a partnership with your competitors, you can then suddenly say, “Right, well, we want to do a Days Out campaign in the press between all these independent attractions.”

I mean, it’s brilliant. I love it and I love, also, this industry, how collaborative especially the heritage side is. You can say, “Oh, I was thinking about doing this. What do you think?” Or, “What do you think about that?” And everyone will share and everyone is almost willing you to be successful. It’s crazy, right? It’s one of the best industries in the world. If you were in, I don’t know, the restaurant business, you wouldn’t be doing that, would you? Or another… It’s so good. Anyway, hopefully, that answers your question.

Kelly Molson: Oh, absolutely.

Dominic Jones: I get very passionate about it. I’m so sorry. I love it.

Kelly Molson: I’m so glad that you do because it answered my question perfectly and I think you’ve given so much value to listeners today in terms of all of the things that you’ve done, I couldn’t have asked for a better response. Thank you. It’s a big year for the Mary Rose, isn’t it? And I think it would be very right that we talk about that. So it’s your 40th year celebration this year, isn’t it?

Dominic Jones: Yeah, 40 years since the raising, so 1982, October. I am obviously older than you so I remember watching it on Blue Peter as a child and it was the world’s first underwater live broadcast. It was watched by over 60 million people worldwide. I mean, it was amazing of its time and so yeah, 40 years, and because of that, we’ve now got the world’s biggest Tudor collection of everyday life, there’s nowhere else in the world you can get closer to Tudor and we’ve got the biggest maritime salvation, so we’ve got a lot of plans to celebrate.

Unfortunately, the pandemic got in the way. During the pandemic, I’m not going to lie, it was horrific. There were times when we were drawing a list of who we were going to give the keys to, got really, really bad and it got dark for everyone and every museum, every attraction, every business, I’m not trying to say, “Oh, poor us.” Everyone had that tough time.

But it meant that actually investing, we were going to do another building, we were going to do a whole museum dedicated to the raising and actually, probably one of the best things that came out of it is we didn’t because we got the joint venture, which is brilliant, our trading improved, we had a fantastic summer and then we were like, “Right, we should really do something for the 40th anniversary, but we can’t afford taking another lease of another building or building another building, so what can we do?” And we managed to come up with a few plans, so the first thing we’re doing is we’re doing a TV documentary, which is going to be brilliant, coming out in October. Honestly, I’ve seen, they started some of the filming and the pre [inaudible 00:37:39], it’s going to be brilliant.

Kelly Molson: Oh, that’s so exciting.

Dominic Jones: I can’t give too much away because we’ve had to sign something, but it’s going to be great. And actually, we even had, because we’re responsible for the wreck site, so we had Chris and Alex who helped raise the Mary Rose, our Head of Interpretation, Head of Research, amazing people, they were out diving the other day because we’re still responsible for the wreck site and it just gives you goosebumps. I saw the footage and oh, it’s amazing. So we got that. We’re also building a 4D experience.

 So when we reopened last summer, we opened with this thing called 1545, which was an immersive experience and we wanted to get across the Mary Rose didn’t sink on its maiden voyage, it was Henry VIII’s ship that he, when he came to the throne, he commissioned two ships, the Mary Rose was one of them, it fought in lots of battles, it had a long life and then sank defending Britain in a battle, by the way, the French who were invading was twice the size of the Spanish Armada, but because history’s written by the winners, we don’t hear that.

But amazing, so we did this amazing, immersive experience. We got Dame Judi Dench to do the voice and you feel like you’re going to get sunk. Well, the ship does sink and you go under and then you go into the museum and it’s so good and we were like, “We want to do something for the end. We want to have a finale that says…” Because the thing about our museum, it’s authentic. There’s 19,700 artifacts. You can’t get that anywhere else. I mean, it’s just brilliant. Anyway, so we thought, “How are we going to end this?” And the thing we don’t do justice to is the finding, the raising, the excavation, all the divers, there was 500 volunteer divers. From the 1960s, people were looking for it.

I mean, Alexander McKee, who found it, was on the news and people would say… It was like an Indiana Jones movie, they were saying, “Oh, he’s never going to find it.” And other people were looking, the Navy were looking and there was a bit in Indiana Jones where they got the map the wrong way around and all of that. Brilliant. So they found the Mary Rose and then they got Margaret Rule who was this amazing lady who had, when she went to university, I think she didn’t get a place at university at first because she was a woman and this is amazing, today’s day story, and she didn’t dive, she was an archeologist. And then she said, “I’m going to dive.” Taught herself to dive and without her, this museum, the Mary Rose wouldn’t be here, so Alexander McKee, Margaret Rule, two amazing people, both of them…

Kelly Molson: What a woman.

Dominic Jones: Yeah, what a woman, but both of them, both of them, without them, we wouldn’t be here. So we want to tell their story, but also, we want to put the guests and the visitors to what it’s like to dive, so with a mixture of real-life filming, footage from these 500 volunteer divers, outtakes from the Chronicle programs that are on the BBC, including, if we can get it to look right, even His Royal Highness, Prince Charles diving. It is stunning.

So we’re going to take the guests on a bit of a pre-show with the history, then they’re going to get into the 4D theater and it’d be like you were boarding a red, going out to the wreck site, there’ll be a dive briefing, you’ll have the wind in your hair, the seats will be buzzing, but I’m hoping it’s this good. I better ring the people after this [inaudible 00:40:38].

Kelly Molson: You’re really building it up, Dominic.

Dominic Jones: Yeah. Well, it better deliver. No, they’re brilliant. Figment are amazing. They’re so good. So you get in there and then you dive and then you go down and you see what it’s like to be under the water. The Royal Engineers were involved, the divers were involved and then you’ll be there when the Mary Rose is raised, we’re even going to recreate the moment where it… Oh, it’ll be brilliant.

So in answer to your question, we’re doing a documentary and a 4D experience, and we’ve got anniversary lectures so if you’re around in October, come and get involved. We’ve got a lot of people, from historians to divers to… Just talking about the relevance of the Mary Rose and the history of it, and also the diving, and we’ve got a new coffee table book coming out, so we’ve got lots and lots and lots going on.

Kelly Molson: Oh, my goodness. It’s all going on.

Dominic Jones: And if we’d have done it the old way, if we’d have done it with a new museum and a new building, I don’t think it would’ve been as good. I mean, I joined the Divers’ Legacy group, so about 150 of the divers, on a Zoom call a few weeks ago and it’s just, it takes you… These people, who, some of them are retired now or bear in mind this was 40, 50 years ago and hearing their stories and it’s living history and it’s so important that we tell these stories and capture them now, because in 50 years, they won’t be here, and part of our responsibility, our charity objectives, if you like, is to tell the story and forever, and I think that bit of the story’s missing, so if that’s one thing that we do while I’m at the Mary Rose, I’ll be really proud.

Kelly Molson: Ah, that is wonderful. And it is [inaudible 00:42:12].

Dominic Jones: You have to come, right? You’re going to have to come.

Kelly Molson: Well, this is the question. When do I need to come to experience everything that you’ve just sold to me? Because I am sold.

Dominic Jones: Yeah. You probably want to come after our anniversary, because we’re hoping to launch all this around that time, which is in October, which is, now, this is an interesting one because this was a good conversation with our trustees and our board. “Do you want to launch something in the off-peak period? Don’t you want to launch it at Easter or the summer or…” And my view is we should launch it because it’s the right thing to do and we’re launching this in October because it’s a legacy, we want the divers there, we want as many of them there as possible and it’s going to be at the Mary Rose forever. This is the ending to the Mary Rose Museum. So it’s not like we’re launching something for Easter or summer, so we are going to launch it in October, so I’ll let you know the details, come and get involved.

Kelly Molson: All right, absolutely. I am there. If it’s as good as what you’ve just described, then it’s going to be one amazing day out.

Dominic Jones: It’d be better. And then, and final thing, sorry, which we’re not doing, but I wanted to do is we’ve still got some of the Mary Rose down in the ocean, so one day, I’d like to bring that back up. I don’t think I’ll be here to do that because it’s probably be in 15 years’ time or something because we need to raise a lot of money and do that, but we want to bring the rest of her back up or whatever’s left down there back up, and that’s quite exciting because our story continues. We still do research.

We did this fantastic piece of research on skeletons, on human remains. It’s a really cool diversity story. Out of the eight skeletons, one was Spanish, one was Venetian, two were North African, second generation, not slaves, a real diversity story in Tudor England. Amazing. Maybe the Victorians whitewashed history. Who knows? But what a great story. And we keep learning and we’ve got this amazing team of curatorial staff and all of our staff, from the maintenance to the visitor staff to the volunteers and every day, we learn something new, so [inaudible 00:44:03] we want to do. And then, at some point… Have you seen The Dig on Netflix?

Kelly Molson: Yes. Yes.

Dominic Jones: Great film.

Kelly Molson: So good.

Dominic Jones: Great film, but I want to write to Netflix to do The Dive. Can you imagine? This story about human endeavor with the Mary Rose? It’d be amazing, so we’d like to do that as well at some point, but we just don’t have enough hours in the day, right?

Kelly Molson: No. Just add it onto that long list of stuff.

Dominic Jones: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: Wow. Thank you.

Dominic Jones: So if you know anyone in Netflix, let us know, or if anyone from Netflix is listening, get in touch, we want to do that. It’d be cool.

Kelly Molson: I would love it.

Dominic Jones: I’ve already casted.

Kelly Molson: If someone from Netflix was listening, that would be incredible. Who have you casted?

Dominic Jones: Well, so local, because you’ve got to get local, so for Margaret Rule, I reckon Kate Winslet, she’d do a good job. Great actress. I mean, we’ve already got Dame Judi Dench, so the same sort of caliber in our 1545 experience, and then also another local who could bring the Alexander McKee, Kenneth Branagh, but to be honest with you, Netflix can do all of that, because let’s be honest, I’m not going to make movies, am I? I’m running a museum. But I just think it’d be really cool. It’d be really cool.

Kelly Molson: I don’t think there’s anything that you couldn’t do, Dominic, to be honest, after this podcast, so who knows?

Dominic Jones: It’d be really cool. Yeah, who knows?

Kelly Molson: All right, last question for you, a book that you love that you’d recommend to our listeners?

Dominic Jones: I love this question and I really struggled, so I went back and thought about a work example, because I think that’s probably more useful, so in all of my career, I’ve come across lots of people who talk about strategy and I have my own view on what strategy is, but there are lots of books you can read about strategy and there’s only one book, in my opinion, that is worth reading and it’s this, Good Strategy/Bad Strategy. Hopefully, it’s still in print. It is the only book to read on strategy. It’s the best book I’ve… And without this book, I don’t think I would’ve been able to do half the stuff that I’ve done, because it’s all about how you formulate your decisions, how you make your decisions, what the outcome is, it’s about execution, it’s about everything that, for me, you need to be successful, so I recommend this book. Really good book.

Kelly Molson: Good Strategy/Bad Strategy. I have not read that book, but I feel like that’s going to go…

Dominic Jones: You should read it.

Kelly Molson: Yeah, that’s going to go top of my pile. All right, listeners, if you want to win a copy of this book, as ever, if you just go over to our Twitter account and you retweet this podcast announcement with the words, “I want Dominic’s book.” And then you will be in with a chance of winning it. Oh, my goodness. I have had such a good time listening to you today. Thank you so much for coming on and sharing. It’s been so valuable. Yeah, that’s blown me away today. I’m very excited about coming to visit and thank you for sharing the insight into your partnerships.

Dominic Jones: Yeah. Absolute pleasure. And thanks for being kind with the icebreakers, you’re going to get the rubber, that’s going to your collection.

Kelly Molson: Oh, yay. A rubber rubber.

Dominic Jones: Because I was really upset that you’ve got a rubber collection without the Mary Rose. That actually hurt my feelings. It hurt my feelings.

Kelly Molson: Well, I’m sorry, I’ve never actually visited the Mary Rose.

Dominic Jones: Well, we’re going to put that right.

Kelly Molson: We are going to change this, aren’t we? So yeah, I’m sorry. I will come and get my rubber in-person, then. Don’t post it to me. I’ll come and get it in-person when I come and visit.

Dominic Jones: Yeah, let’s do that. Thank you. Keep it up.

 

Do you know someone we should be talking to?

Do you know someone fascinating we should be talking to?

If so, email us at info@rubbercheese.com – we’ll get back to you shortly.

Paul Wright.
Author:
Kelly Molson Managing Director

Host of the popular Skip the Queue Podcast, for people working in or working with visitor attractions, she regularly delivers workshops and presentations on the sector at various national conferences and universities including The Visitor Attractions Conference, ASVA and Anglia Ruskin University.

Read more about me

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