Podcast

How to create truly unique visitor attractions with Robbie Jones

In this Skip the Queue podcast episode, I speak with Robbie Jones, Insights Analyst Lead at Katapult.

“The guest experience audit helps to unlock the insights, helps to give us the ammunition we need to improve the attraction”

Robbie Jones is Insights Analyst Lead at Katapult. He works on providing data-driven audience and market trends, as well as operational insights, to assist the design team in creating immersive, commercially-successful experiences. Robbie has over 10 years’ experience in the leisure and tourism industry and has worked with iconic brands, theme parks, family entertainment centres, museums and visitor attractions around the world. He is a dedicated Board Member of his local art and cinema centre, Derby QUAD.

 

Katapult designs themed attractions and experiences that amaze and engage visitors globally. Our work is enjoyed by 50 million visitors, at 81 attractions, in 18 different countries, every year. As well as increasing guest experience, we thrive on helping you generate more income, more fans and bring the vision for your attraction to life. Legoland, Sea Life, Twycross Zoo, Alton Towers.

 

What will you learn from this podcast?

  • How to create a unique visitor attraction
  • What you need to know before you start
  • What the leisure and attractions market look like post covid

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.

Robbie Jones Blog large Skip the Queue 

The interview

Your host, Kelly Molson

Our guest, Robbie Jones

 

Kelly Molson: We’re back, I hope you’ve all had really busy summers full of lovely visitors. I’d really like to know how it’s been for you. So feel free to get in touch. You can always email me at kelly@rubbercheese.com. Can you believe this is season four of Skip the Queue Podcast? I cannot believe that we’ve been running for so long now. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for sticking around and for supporting us. 

We have a whole season full of really brilliant guests booked in, and I know that you’re going to absolutely love them. We’ll be covering topics on innovation, pricing, filming, and even aromas. Yeah, you heard me right, all the smelly stuff. But we are kicking off in style with the team at Katapult. 

Kelly Molson: Robbie.

Robbie Jones: Hello. Hello.

Kelly Molson: Welcome to Skip the Queue. I’m really excited to have you on today. Thank you for joining me for the first episode of season four.

Robbie Jones: I know. What an honour, what an honour. I can’t believe that I’ve been chosen first.

Kelly Molson: You’re the chosen one. Well, you say it’s an honour now, but you might not appreciate it after I’ve got you with these icebreaker questions.

Robbie Jones: All good.

Kelly Molson: I’ve actually got some new ones this season. So I’ve been asking our lovely former guests and our Twitter followers to send me in some new ones because I felt like the old ones were getting a bit tired. So I’m going to whack you with some of the new ones and see how we get on.

Robbie Jones: Okay. Here goes.

Kelly Molson: I have to say, this is one of my favourite ones.

Robbie Jones: Okay.

Kelly Molson: It might date us slightly as well. You can only save one of the Muppets, which one do you choose and why?

Robbie Jones: I think Kermit.

Kelly Molson: Okay.

Robbie Jones: He’s just iconic, isn’t he? My first memory of Kermit is when they did their version of A Christmas Carol. The thought of Kermit doing that was amazing. So it’s got to be Kermit, it’s got to be Kermit.

Kelly Molson: Yeah, he’s a classic. He’s a classic, isn’t he? He’s quite legendary. All right. Good. Okay, good answer. Next one. If you could enter the Olympics for anything, what would you be Olympic level at? And we are not just talking sports here. This could be baking, moaning. What are you saying?

Robbie Jones: I think I see myself as a bit of a jack of all, a master of none. Maybe I’m a decathlete, something like that, where I’m good at a few things but I’m not amazing at one big thing.

Kelly Molson: When we go back to sports day at school, what was the thing that you would do at sports day?

Robbie Jones: It was probably the long distance running. I seem to do a lot of cross country, we used to call it in our school, which went from tarmac to a muddy path in about five minutes. So I don’t know how cross country that was. But yeah, long distance running. I can’t stand it now. I can’t stand the noise of breathing, heavy breathing as I struggle up a hill. That’s just not a sound anybody wants to listen to.

Kelly Molson: Oh, you really make me laugh. So the only thing I can think about when I’m running is breathing and now all I’m going to hear is myself breathing and think about Robbie and not wanting to do it. Okay, final one.

Robbie Jones: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: What movie can you rewatch over and over and over again? And how many times have you watched this movie that you’re about to tell me?

Robbie Jones: So I think for an absolute nostalgia, it’d have to be Dumb and Dumber because the amount of bonding that me and my younger brother have done over that film is just immense. I think we reference it every time we speak to one another, it’s just become part of our psyche, part of our relationship. So we’ve probably watched it dozens of times between us, but it gets referenced at least three times a week.

Kelly Molson: Oh, it’s a great film.

Robbie Jones: Jim Carrey, brilliant.

Kelly Molson: He’s great, isn’t he? Are you going to do… So if we do the song, Mock-

Robbie Jones: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: … ing-

Robbie Jones: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: … bird.

Robbie Jones: I can’t believe I’m doing this. I can’t believe I’m doing it.

Kelly Molson: This is the level that the show has gotten to, folks. This is what we got up to on our summer break. And I love that film and my friends were really obsessed with Ace Ventura films as well, Jim Carrey.

Robbie Jones: Yes.

Kelly Molson: Cannot beat.

Robbie Jones: Yeah, comedy icon. Amazing. I love him to pieces.

Kelly Molson: Robbie, I can’t believe I just made you do that. I’m so sorry. I’ve lost it now. Right. Unpopular opinion. What’ve you got for us?

Robbie Jones: Right. I don’t think eating chocolate and fruit should go together. It’s not right. I’ll draw a line, fruit and nut in terms of a chocolate bar, dried fruits, I’m okay with. But when it’s fresh, juicy things like grapes and strawberries going with chocolate, I just can’t stand it at all.

Kelly Molson: Oh, what? Not a little fondue at a wedding? A little chocolate fondue? No?

Robbie Jones: No, just no. You wouldn’t mix milk with water and drink it. And that’s kind of what I feel like when I’m eating chocolate and fruit together. So yeah, whoever has got the largest fondue rental company, please stop because I don’t like it.

Kelly Molson: Wow. Okay. I feel like that’s quite controversial. The milk and water thing actually turned my stomach. When you said that, I was like, “Oh, no, you wouldn’t, would you?”

Robbie Jones: There you go. Again, the next time you eat a fondue, just think of me and start gagging probably as I would.

Kelly Molson: Wow. What a note to start the podcast on. We’ve really taken this to a whole new level today, haven’t we? Excellent. Right, Robbie, you are the lead insights analyst at Katapult. And I want to come back in a minute to talk about what your job entails, but first Katapult itself. So a little story for you. So years ago, you know when you were at school and you’d have to pick work experience? My granddad had a business and his next door neighbour’s business made props for films.

Robbie Jones: Nice.

Kelly Molson: So I bagged myself work experience at this place and I got to make loads, I just got to make some weird stuff that then ended up in films. And I remember going to the cinema, watching the film going, “I made that Hessian box there. I sewed that. Whoa, that was really good.” If I could go back now and go, “No, this is where I want to go and do work experience,” I would choose Katapult without a doubt because you do incredible things. Tell the listeners what Katapult does, it’s so cool.

Robbie Jones: Yeah, sure. So we design themed attractions and experiences. We do it the world over and it could be as something as small as a little popup street food courtyard that we did a couple of years ago right to a large scale, full theme park design and everything in between. And it is, it’s great, it’s really, really fun.

We get to work with some amazing clients, some amazing brands and IPs where the design team are just in their element. They’re able to work with brands like LEGO that they’ve grown up playing with since they was small boys and girls. So it’s fantastic for us all to carry on being a kid really, in essence, being creative, being surrounded by colour and fun and entertainment.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of hard work that goes into it. A lot of extended hours, red-eye flights across the world. But it’s amazing. It’s amazing to be a part of and design some pretty amazing things that are either coming soon or already open. So yeah, we do a lot and we’re very thankful.

Kelly Molson: It’s so exciting. I feel like you played it down a little bit there as well. You were like, “Yeah, we design attractions and experiences.” I was like, “Yeah, you do. It’s really exciting.” What do you do specifically there? Lead insights and analyst is your job title.

Robbie Jones: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: So you are kind of the data that sits behind that, the research that sits behind it.

Robbie Jones: Yeah, absolutely. So I think something that we’ve been in the industry for over 20 years now and gradually that we’ve seen that actually it’s really good to make sure you’ve got some sort of insights, believe it or not, to make a very good decision. And it was something that was kind of lacking within the industry.

There was lots of big thinking, feasibility reports, people telling you what the commercial outcomes would be to improve a visitor attraction or even to open a new attraction. But no one was really saying, “Well, hold on a minute, who is it that you’re trying to get through the doors and what is it that they actually want? And have they actually got the money to spend that you are charging for?”

And that’s the bit of the insights gap that I, and we at Katapult, fill. We understand the sheer importance of having that insights. We can’t just design something from scratch, full stop, regardless of whether we are working with an IP or not. You’ve got to have an idea of who are the people coming through the door.

So that sheer responsibility lays flat on my shoulders to make sure that whatever the design team designs next, it is fully in lined, not just commercially, but from a guest point of view as well that they are going to love it from the moment they walk in. So yeah, pretty big responsibility. But it’s fantastic to set the design team up to let them creative minds go wild.

Kelly Molson: It is fascinating what you do. And I think that it’s really similar to probably the bit that I do in our business, because my role is to understand what the client’s challenges is. And so you are asking all of the questions around, “Well, who’s your consumer? What do they spend? Where do they do? Where do they go? What do they read?” Et cetera, et cetera. And then you translate. The designers, they get to do the fun bit. But I think that the research bit is the fun bit, to be honest. They would probably argue with me. So how do you start that process? What are the kind of things that you’re asking?

Robbie Jones: Well, I guess it depends on the client, depends on the project. But the way we typically start for existing visitor attractions is we kind of do a mystery shop, or we call it a guest experience audit. But we don’t just go around and have fun, that’s the second part of the day.

The first part of the day is thinking about if you’ve got signs telling interpretation and you’re a museum, are they at the right height for kids to read it? If it is, is it the right level of language required for a five, six, seven year old to be able to read it? And everything in between. It’s is the staff levels good? Are there plenty of vegetarian options within the cafe facilities?

All of these things where we want to make sure every touchpoint that every guest that comes through is satisfied and our audit goes in, it pulls out the good stuff, but more importantly for the operators, it pulls out the stuff where they could probably do a little bit better. It’s the things that are probably mentioned more than often on TripAdvisor.

Robbie Jones: And so it gives us the chance to go, “Right, yes, we did find these issues. These need solving as soon as possible so let’s get to work. Let’s get to work in figuring out what we can do.” And sort of 75% of the time, those things that we highlight, they can pretty much be done by the attraction themselves. It’s only the other 25% where we go, “Right, your guests aren’t staying for four hours and you want them to stay for four hours.

They’re only staying for two. What can we do to make the experience last twice as long? What can we do to keep them there and engaged and immersed for double the amount of time that they are before?” And that’s obviously when we get the design team’s creative juices flowing and start to think about what can we do to improve the attraction.

So yeah, in a roundabout way, the guest experience audit helps to unlock the insights, helps to give us the ammunition we need to improve the attraction, and also look to work on some bigger projects for the clients as well. So yeah, that’s a roundabout way in terms of how we do it with the audit.

Kelly Molson: I love that. So from your perspective, it’s not just about creating new, it’s not just about adding on. It’s about looking at it from a holistic perspective. Where are you already? How are you performing? Okay, well, look, this is doing really well. That’s great. These things need to improve.

And then, okay, so now let’s look at the new stuff. Because I guess there’s always that excitement about, “New, new, new, new,” isn’t there? Oh, a new attraction, a new, I don’t know, show that you’re going to put on within it. And that’s what gets everyone excited. Sometimes they forget to take that step back and go, “But what needs to improve with what we already have?”

Robbie Jones: Yeah, absolutely. And the greatest assets that visitor attractions have probably got are sat there already, they just need discovering. And what we tend to find is if it’s not something tangible, like a ride needs improving or an experiential walking trail needs improving, it falls down to the narrative or the storytelling of the attraction.

That seems to be the thing that we are coming across at the moment, which probably leaves a little bit left to be desired. People don’t explain their stories enough. Why are they unique? Why are they telling us this story when you go into a museum? Or why has this art centre got this curation of art?

People aren’t very good at telling stories that guests want to listen to. So you’re right. It’s not always about the new, it’s about the existing, but extrapolating what’s good about that experience in the first place.

Kelly Molson: You wrote a really good article that I read a couple of weeks ago called Creating Unique Visitor Destinations in a Crowded Market. So I’m going to put a link to this in the show notes, but it’s on Katapult’s website as well.

You said that attractions need to capitalise on what is unique about them. And that’s not just from the perspective of, “Hey, we’ve got this mascot,” or, “this is how we’re going to put it around the site.” Is the location unique? Is the food offering that you have based on that location? What is it about you that really stands out that guests can’t get anywhere else and they’re not going to get the same story anywhere else? I thought that was such a great way of looking at the uniqueness of each attraction.

Robbie Jones: Yeah, and I think there’s always going to be a place for attractions that have got the fastest thing, the tallest thing, the biggest thing. That does a lot to pull a crowd. But when it comes to trying to fight your corner, if you’re medium or smaller size visitor attraction, you’ve got to pull on your unique.

There’s a finite source of money and time so you’re going have to try and get your visitors and your guests a slightly different way. The article came from an issue that was within two strands of the industry. The first being museums and art galleries that were struggling from a values perspective to say, “We can’t take this donation because it doesn’t fit in with our values.” Or museums having to give away certain artefacts back to countries because of the connotations of it being stolen in what is in today’s society.

So they’re under huge pressure to say, “Well, what is our story? What is our narrative?” And for places like that, it is very much rooted in the locality. What is your city about? What is your region about? And curating around that.

The second strand is around experiences that have got a blueprint and are looking to create dozens of the same attraction all around the world. Again, there is absolutely a place for that in this world. We’ve got countless clients who do the same thing. But where there needs to be a differentiation is how the local market impacts what that attraction is.

You can’t just say, “We’re going to have an indoor attraction that’s going to have a soft play and a cafe and that’s kind of it. And then we’re going to put it throughout 40 different countries around the world.” It’s not going to wash. You can’t just put a badge on the front of that indoor attraction and say, “Welcome to Tokyo. Welcome to Orlando.” It’s just not going to work. It’s not going to wash. It is not unique enough.

Robbie Jones: So for those attractions, it’s about, “Yes, you’ve got a blue blueprint, but what can you do differently based on the people, the profile, the guests that are going to come through that door to make it slightly tweaked in terms of things that they might not have from a local competitor point of view?” Or just making sure that you replicate their stories within the attraction.

I’ve seen some really good stuff that Crayola have done in the US where they’re starting to onboard local artists for their entertainment centres. That’s amazing. You could be in the US, go to the two different Crayolas and have a different experience. So being able to create that unique experience is twofold, but it’s one that everyone’s got to look at quite a bit now.

Kelly Molson: So one of the things I thought was quite interesting is the scale of the projects that you work on at Katapult. So for example, I think you mentioned earlier, the Derby Market Place project, which is a popup marketplace, and then you’ve worked with organisations like the SEA LIFE London Aquarium. They’re really different experiences. Do you look at the same approach when you are working with that kind of scale of client?

Robbie Jones: Yeah, absolutely. I think with those two examples, there was a very clear commercial goal for both of them. For SEA LIFE it was about adding an experience that makes the ticket price value for money, but it’s also there to increase photographic and merchandise sales as well. So there was a very clear understanding of what the commercial goal was.

For Derby Market Place, that was actually a popup courtyard that was set up in 2020 just after the first lockdown of the pandemic in the UK. Derby is our home city and we was approached by the city council to do something that will support the local businesses because there was obviously restaurants, cafes going bust because they simply couldn’t do a takeaway service or they didn’t have the outdoor catering. So for that, we created a courtyard.

So as a result, they both had commercial goals and we both started them pretty much the same way, which is, “Right. Well, who is it that’s going to come through the door?” Who is it? What do they want? Is it a family of four? Is it a couple? How much money have they got? What sort of experience are they used to? How long are they going to stay? What information are they going to want?

All of this information that I guess sometimes we take for granted in the attractions industry, feed it into the design and ultimately come up with exactly what we did for the marketplace and SEA LIFE. So yeah, I think by and large, we kind of stick along the same path, very much insights driven design. We do the insights, we design it based on that, and then we hope it reaches the commercial goal.

Kelly Molson: So you mentioned Crayola a minute ago. That is a brilliant example of really using the locality to make that attraction individual. What other great examples of really truly unique attractions can you think of?

Robbie Jones: Well, I think I mentioned it in the article you’ve already mentioned. But Meow Wolf, particularly the first one in Santa Fe, that is an absolute benchmark that I use in terms of how you use local talents, local immersion to help make Santa Fe a destination in it’s own right.

It’s amazing how much one attraction can pivot the way that a region is seen, a city is seen, and turns it into a place that people are staying overnight for two or three nights to just to go to Meow Wolf. So definitely that, in terms of creating a destination.

But I do want to pull out another example as well, and it’s not necessarily unique as such, but it’s the feeling is unique, and that is Paultons Park. So for those that have been to Paultons, Peppa Pig World is there, which is a massive pull. They’ve got some great rides, they’ve got some really good food and beverage outlets, a good smattering of live performances.

But what makes the park stand out is how immaculate it is when it comes to public realm. The gardens are fantastic, the landscaping’s amazing. You’d be hard troubled to find a piece of litter on the floor. And the staff are so incredibly attentive with attention to detail that actually, when I’ve gone a few times now, it’s the one thing that always stands out to me.

And it’s the benchmark for just cleanliness. You could be forgiven for being in a communist China, it’s very clean and orderly and focused. But actually when we think about visiting a theme park, we want it to be glossy and clean and not a bother in the world. And it’s little things like that, for me, that have made Paultons an absolute benchmark as well for us.

Kelly Molson: Because I always think back to Disney about that and no litter, beautiful gardens and that, for me, is the level. I haven’t had the pleasure of Paultons Park yet. I think I’ve got a couple more years and then it’ll be on the list.

Robbie Jones: Yeah, absolutely. You’ll find out just much you can spend in that store with Peppa Pig.

Kelly Molson: Oh God. Yeah, I can imagine. Let’s talk about summer and let’s talk about what the attractions market looks like at the moment. So I know that you’ve had an incredibly busy summer and as we are recording this, we’re still at the tail end of it. So I can imagine that you are looking forward to a little bit of a rest-

Robbie Jones: Yes, definitely.

Kelly Molson: … come September-October time. How is the attractions market looking at the moment to you post-COVID? Because we’ve moved on, so to speak, from COVID or the majority of people have moved on from it, but I think it’s really difficult with attractions because we are still seeing a slight decline in visitor numbers, but there’s obviously other factors going on at the moment in terms of the energy crisis and things like that. So what’s your view of the leisure and attractions market at the moment?

Robbie Jones: I think post-COVID, if we think about the start of the year, I think it was incredibly buoyant. I think attractions have seen the opportunity to invest now. The staycation market has absolutely boomed during the times when international travel around the world was banned. So it means that there’s been a strong staycation market, which is really, really good.

I think for the UK in particular, it’s making sure, and this isn’t just the attractions industry, I think this goes across the whole staycation market of the UK, don’t get so greedy. There’s a lot of… I understand that demand is high and you want to capitalise on it. But if we want to keep the UK as a staycation destination, you can’t be charging silly prices compared to what they could probably do as an all inclusive for 10 days in Mallorca, as an average in terms of what the family’s going to do. You’ve got to offer some sort of value for money.

And the cost of living is the big thing now. I think that’s what we are seeing. COVID is there in the background and it’s obviously affected things, but the cost of living is the one that’s really starting to bite a little bit more now. And I think it’s because although we saw a lot of drop in wealth during the COVID pandemic, actually the cost of living now is probably a harder time for a lot of people because the savings have already been taken up by making sure they’ve got income coming in or topping up furlough or whatever it was.

So yeah, the cost of living is the big thing. People aren’t going to go out and spend, I don’t know, 200, 300 quids on a day at a theme park. I can’t see it happening. If they do, they’ll have to forgo something else and I think that’s something that’s going to be in the minds-eye of visitor attractions.

And I think we’re starting to see a homogenised view of what we mean by leisure and attractions. Shopping centres now want to get in on the act and have lots of entertainment. You’ve got places like Butlins and Pontins in the UK, so typical caravan hotel resorts that have built live entertainment and experiences around them.

They are in direct competition with theme parks and visitor attractions because they’re offering entertainment. So the more experiences are spread throughout our sphere of what we can and can’t do, the less money there is to go around.

So even more of a need for people to be a little bit more unique and think about it’s not just what’s going to get me to this theme park, it’s why would they choose the theme park over X, Y, and Z. And as they always say, option Z could be sitting at home and watching Netflix. You’ve you’ve got to do something to get people off the sofa.

Kelly Molson: I’d not considered the option Z could be Butlins or Pontins though. That has just blown my mind because the whole way through the pandemic, we’ve been saying, “Your competition is Netflix, it’s Disney+.” But I hadn’t even considered that now people are looking at how they spend that excess cash and how they spend their holiday time. Butlins is a competitor for Alton Towers.

Robbie Jones: Yeah, in that comparison, absolutely. It’s just that they’ve gone about things in opposite directions. Butlins went from accommodation to experiences and Alton Towers, vice versa, but they are very, very much competitors these days.

And if you had £500 as a family to spend for a weekend, where would you go? And actually you look at the offers of both of those examples and depends on what sort of family you are and what sort of things you like to do. It might be a hard decision to make, but ultimately it’ll be the one, it won’t be the both.

Kelly Molson: Yeah, absolutely. Okay. So you said that you have seen attractions investing in new rides and experiences to capitalise on that staycation. What do you think attractions should be doing right now based on what we’ve just discussed, this competitive state that you are in?

Robbie Jones: It sounds really cliche, but I think just have a long term view on things. I can say this from doing insights here at Katapult, but when we are looking at data and trends and audiences, we are not just looking over the last 12 months. We’re looking five or 10 years in the past and five and 10 years in the future to get a really good outlook in terms of, “Well, what do we think people are going to do?”

Obviously you can’t always guess what’s going to happen. I think the last few years have taught us that. But you can have some sort of a vision in terms of where you want to go. Where do visitor attractions want to be in 10 years time? I’d love to know how many attractions know that answer.

If they know it, then that’s fantastic because they’ll be gradually building towards that. But what we’ve seen from our side at Katapult is that we’ve gone to a lot of visitor attractions around the world that are doing a fantastic job at iterating, whether they’ve got a theme park or museum or whatever it is, but it’s all bundled together in a big mound of plasticine with lots of different colours attached and different shapes.

And it does a job, but it doesn’t feel like the same place. And if we’re treating that as the elixir of the visitor attraction, then that you need to get to the point of, “Well, what is your 10 year goal?” If you know that, you know what you’re going towards. And I’d certainly focus on that, if you’ve got a little bit of spare time.

Kelly Molson: Yeah, they’re not busy at the minute. It’s just been through summer. They should be resting now, the summer’s done. That’s really hard though, isn’t it? So an example of that locally, to me, so I live near a vineyard, there’s a lovely vineyard, about 15 minute walk from my house called Saffron Grange. Just give them a little plug because it is phenomenal.

They’ve been selling their wines since 2019. However, the vineyards were planted like 11 years before that. And so they have had to have the vision of whatever they were planting and however they were designing that plot of land that they have. It’s phenomenal the things they had to think about.

What trees they would plant, because that’s how high they would grow that would shield those vineyards from the wind and those vineyards from the frost. And just the granular level of planting that’s had to go into that place to make the wine and the grapes now to be at the best they possibly can, it blows my mind.

But it’s the same thing at a visitor attraction. You’ve got to have that vision to go, “Well, this is my idea and this is how we’re going to develop it over that time.” But you’ve got the factor of not really knowing what your customers are going to want at that point.

With the vineyard, at least they know relatively, other than wind and rain influences and weather that you can’t predict, they kind of know how those vines are going to grow and what they’re going to get at the end of it. With an attraction, you’ve got multiple different audiences with multiple different opinions on what they want and what their needs are, throw in a global pandemic. Just how do you even do that? I can’t comprehend how you do that.

Robbie Jones: I think we get caught up sometimes in thinking that a 10 year vision or a goal, or whatever you want to call it, has to be numerical or it has to be very definitive in terms we want to be the number one theme park in the world. Those sorts of things, you are almost hamstrung by.

But what about if you said that you wanted your visitor attraction to be the most inspiring creative place for kids under 10? That is a vision. That is a vision that you can build towards. And if things change, whether it’s your audience or your local competitors or whatever it is, you can still build towards that vision because that’s what you believe in.

It’s about having a sense of what your values are as a business or as an attraction, standing by them, making that vision a reality by saying, “All right, we’re going to do this because we believe in it.” And that, again, ties really nicely back into what creates a unique attraction. It’s your values. And I think it’s the same for every business. We’re seeing it a lot more now in the wider business community where people are making a choice over values instead of cost.

Although the cost of living is obviously exacerbating that slightly. But people are making choices on green energy instead of fossil fuels, for example. So visitor attractions are only going to go the same way. So it’s a big one. Yeah, you’re right. 10 years. If you don’t know your 10 year vision, then you don’t know how to get there over the next 10 years.

Kelly Molson: I love that.

Robbie Jones: So, it is sorted.

Kelly Molson: Yeah, so just put that to the top of the list, attractions. Yeah. Now I guess that’s a really good place to be now, isn’t it? You’ve just gone through that really, really hectic summer period. Now, the run up to Christmas, bar a few events and things that’ll happen, it’s a time for planning for next year.

So now is a really good time to be able to take that step back and go, “Okay, well, what is our vision? Do we need to revisit our values and vision?” And then that will make the planning for 2023 a hell of a lot clearer. Okay. One last question on this, because what if attractions are already doing really well at the moment? Because we’ve got attractions, outdoor attractions that have been smashing it.

Robbie Jones: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: So what if your attractions are at capacity, what then do you do? So you are looking at things like planning, the expansions, things like that. What can they do?

Robbie Jones: I think there’s one of two route that are seeming quite popular at the minute. I think one is to, if you look at places like Gravity and Puttshack and a few others that have escaped my mind, by almost franchising, if you think you’ve got a concept that is completely unique and can be spread throughout the UK, Europe, worldwide, then now’s the opportunity to look at it. It needs some careful consideration.

As we said before, you can’t just copy and paste. But if you think you’ve got something pretty amazing, then go for it. Well, why not open a second or a third or a fourth? You’ve proven it can work, so try it. It’s worth a go.

And the second thing, and this is something where I think the bigger museums during the pandemic have really led the chase on this, so I think it was one of the museums in London, I can’t remember what, but they introduced lates, Museum Lates where they did silent discos around the exhibits.

This is a perfect time to try completely different things. If you’ve got an out of season or you’ve got low throughput days or weeks or weekends, then what can you do to bring in another audience? Let’s try and fill up your throughput and your dwell time of your attraction 100% of the year round. If you can do that, then you’re making more from the asset that’s already making your money. So try it out.

Find new guest profiles, find new groups of audiences that might want to visit, and consider doing something very special for them. And you never know. If it works out, then you’ve got an extra revenue stream that you didn’t think you had. So they’d be my preference, if I was in that fortunate position, to go down one of those two routes.

Kelly Molson: Great advice. Thank you. We’re going to put all of Robbie’s contact details, et cetera, all in the show notes. So if you fancy a chat with him, you want to find out a little bit more about what Katapult do, you want to book yourselves one of those… Oh God, I’ve forgotten the words. One of the-

Robbie Jones: Audit.

Kelly Molson: Audit, audit, audit is the word. If you’d like to book one of those audits. So you can do that. I would love to know about a book though, Robbie. So we always offer up a guest’s book choice as a prize and it’s can be something that you love, it can be something that’s helped shape your career in some way. What do you have for us today?

Robbie Jones: Gosh, can I pick two?

Kelly Molson: It’s double my marketing spend, but why not? What’s the first one?

Robbie Jones: Oh, good, fantastic. So I think one that’s a personal one is by Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises. It’s a lovely in depth read about the twenties and thirties where cafe culture was rife and artists and poets were making adventurous trips to France and Spain to soak up the culture. And it’s a wonderful, wonderful story that really makes me want to live 90 years from now and really enjoy it. I think that’s the first part.

The second part is that Ernest Hemingway used to be a journalist so his descriptions of the characters are very matter of fact and I think that’s seeped into my audience profiling that I do as part of my job. I like the matter of fact, I like the facts that make the people real, and then start to tell the story of what we think they’re going to do in an attraction. So I think Ernest Hemingway has certainly had an influence on me.

And then the second book is called Superforecasting, which is by Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner. Now this, it came to prominence a little bit when Dominic Cummins was advisor to Boris Johnson in his ill-fated stay at 10 Downing Street, and it speaks about the art and science of prediction and getting things right. And I read it from end to end. I completely soaked this book up. It’s a little bit courty in places so you’ve got to take a bit of pinch of salt.

But it’s good at kind of teaching you to say, “Right, can you be a super forecaster?” And funny enough, I think it was February or March this year, they put out a bold statement that Vladimir Putin was not going to enter Ukraine under any circumstances, at least for the next six to nine months and then I think it was about two weeks later and he invaded.

So I think that example of the book, it kind of comes with a moral, I think, which is you can super forecast or try and super forecast as much as you want, but you’ve got absolute no way of deciding what’s going to work. There’s a difference between a good and a bad decision and a good and a bad outcome. And I think that’s what that book’s taught me.

Kelly Molson: Yeah, that example did not sell that book for me at all. However, that sounds great. That sounds like a really good book. You’ve absolutely blown my marketing budget again, which everybody always does.

Robbie Jones: So sorry.

Kelly Molson: No, I love the example of Ernest Hemingway and I love how it’s infiltrated the way that you do your work as well. I haven’t read either of those books so they’re going to go on my list. And actually, listeners, we do compile a list of all of the books that all of our guests suggest and you can find that over on the Rubber Cheese website, rubbercheese.com, go to the insights, it’s in there.

Robbie, thank you. As ever, if you want to win Robbie’s books, if you go over to our Twitter account and you retweet this show announcement with the words, “I want Robbie’s books,” then you will be in with a chance of winning both of them. I’ve loved our little chat. Thank you. Thank you for indulging in my little song.

Robbie Jones: Oh gosh. I’m just glad that you didn’t get me to do the scene where he’s peeing into a bottle in Dumb and Dumber. Very well.

Kelly Molson: I don’t think that would’ve worked very well on the podcast. Do you?

Robbie Jones: No, no. I’m sure you can add some trickle sounds in.

Kelly Molson: Yeah.

Robbie Jones: If you wanted to.

Kelly Molson: Let’s end there, shall we? It’s been a pleasure. Thank you, Robbie.

Robbie Jones: Thank you so much.

 

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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