Improving the lives of Scottish children – The Real Mary King’s Close supports Cash for Kids as its Charity Partner

The ghostly story of the young girl Annie and her lost doll is just one of the many stories shared at leading Edinburgh visitor attraction The Real Mary King’s Close, and is the main reason why the attraction has chosen to support Cash for Kids in 2020.

In the 1990s, a Japanese psychic visited the attraction and told of feeling the ‘presence’ of a child’s unhappy ghost, whom she pacified with a real toy doll. Since then, visitors to the Close have brought hundreds of gifts for Annie, mainly toys, sweets, letters, children’s jewellery, and money.

Whilst the attraction has temporarily closed as part of the preventative measures against the spread of COVID-19, prior to closing their doors the team at The Real Mary King’s Close added up the donations in Annie’s Room, and presented a cheque for £2,000 to the Cash for Kids Charity this week.

Paul Nixon, General Manager, says

“We’re delighted to be working with Cash for Kids this year, a charity benefitting children in and around Edinburgh, the Lothians, Fife and Falkirk. We’ve an abundance of fascinating stories that relate to the very people who lived and walked these streets, most notably the story of the child Annie, and it felt very fitting to choose Cash for Kids, a charity we can not only fundraise for, but also engage with on a deeper level.

“Being able to present an initial sum of money at the beginning of a new campaign has been extremely joyful, and we know it will be used to help children in need right now during this challenging time.”

The partnership runs for one year from March 2020. The Real Mary King’s Close is part of a group of eight attractions run by tourism specialists Continuum Attractions, whose commitment is to create engaging experiences with purpose for visitors to enjoy. Charity partnerships have been a core part of the organisation for over ten years, with the Group raising over £100,000 during that time. The driving vision for these partnerships is to create people-focused, interactive opportunities that bring staff teams together to have a positive impact on society.

Ian Robertson, Corporate Fundraising Manager, Cash for Kids, says

“What an amazing way to start the new campaign, a donation of this size is fantastic. We’re so pleased to have The Real Mary King’s Close on board as a charity partner, and the positive feedback so far has been great. Our aim is to respond to the needs of children, and this is a really important time to work together, as we all feel the impact of the current climate. We’re definitely looking forward to developing this relationship over the year ahead.”

To find out more and support online: www.forth1.com/appeal

International Women’s Day: women from the past inspire women in the future

Our successful visitor business is created around the stories of some formidable women from the past, as we tell the tales of interesting and path-carving characters from the 17th century onwards in a number of our attractions. Landowners in Edinburgh, chocolate entrepreneurs in York and political campaigners in Oxford, these women built their successful independent businesses and environments from scratch, and it’s interesting to reflect on International Women’s Day on what we have learnt from the telling of these stories.

Whether it’s 17th century businesswoman and landowner Mary King, namesake of The Real Mary King’s Close in Edinburgh, or 18th century Mary Tuke, recognised as the ‘mother of York’s chocolate industry’, whose tale is told at York’s Chocolate Story, we learn that these women worked to be the very best that they could be. There’s little discussion or documentation of them competing to be better than their male counterparts, despite living and functioning in what were male-dominant societies. They went about their daily lives and built their fruitful careers by concentrating on their own best choices and decisions.

Move to current day, and a similar comparison can be made at Continuum Attractions, a company led by women in senior posts, all striving to do their very own best – a successful group of women in an industry which allows room for gender neutrality, thus attracting purposeful women to thrive. Collectively, the females leading Continuum credit the tourism and hospitality industry for allowing them, and women in general, a nurtured and supported space in which to do well. It’s an industry where gender has largely gone under the radar and where competition between male and female is less of a focus. Perhaps that is the very lesson to learn, that if we all just focused on being the best we can be, like those women before us, there might be less of a conversation around the need for gender equality.

A Polite Reassurance For Our Attraction Guests regarding Covid-19 (Coronavirus)

The safety and wellbeing of you, our guests, and our team is our priority and we will take all necessary precautions to ensure everyone’s continued welfare.

As you plan your visit to us we want to assure you that we are actively monitoring the situation with regards to Covid-19 (Coronavirus) and are reviewing and following the guidelines of Public Health England.  The advice from the health authorities has not changed, so our attractions are operating as normal and standard terms and conditions on bookings continue to apply.

So firstly, we will welcome all our guests with a warm smile, rather than a handshake!

During your visit, we wish to reassure you that we are taking all possible steps to minimise risk, including the implementation of enhanced cleaning regimes.

We ask you to observe high standards of personal hygiene. There are simple things you can do to help prevent the spread of the virus, including:

  • Covering your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze
  • Putting used tissues in the bin immediately
  • Washing your hands with soap and hot water regularly, or using hand sanitiser gel
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean.

We have placed additional hand sanitisers at the entrance and in convenient locations for guests, and we politely ask that you use them regularly.

We want to welcome everyone to our attractions with a warm smile and the reassurance that we have your health in mind, so you can enjoy time with your friends and family.

Investment for the future; Juliana Delaney responds to big numbers for tourism in Britain in 2020

Investment for the future

Juliana Delaney responds to big numbers for tourism in Britain in 2020

Crunching the numbers

“It has been a big month of big numbers from our national tourism agencies, VisitBritain and Visit England, not only highlighting that Britons ‘staycationing’ this year is on the rise and will add £27bn to the UK economy, but also that visitors spent £951m in Britain last year and that this is expected to also increase.

“These figures and their projected positive impact make me feel excited, encouraged, energised…and ever-more focused on the importance of staying relevant. It’s certainly not the moment for attractions to rest on their laurels with the security that visitors will come. We are operating in an increasingly broad competitive field, where screens big and small compete for people’s time, and where even a trip to the cinema is referred to as ‘light exercise’ (University College London research).

Climate disruption

“With climate change and weather disruption top of the news agenda, there is added insecurity of what the weather will do, in addition to the unknown real impact of Brexit, which undoubtedly will affect us negatively from the European visitor.”

Investing for the future

“The only matter we can be assured about is that we need to continue to invest in our offering and in our people. And we need to work collaboratively with others, such as our local tourism bodies, other attractions, accommodation providers and national organisations, to ensure that we can create the biggest impact possible not just for ourselves, but for our regions and all those who live, work and visit them.”

Already this year, we confirmed £100k investment in new interpretation of The Plague and Queen Mary exhibitions in Edinburgh, significant investment in York’s Chocolate Story to enhance the guest experience and increase our fresh chocolate production, and the unveiling of a new ‘Giant’ attraction at the sustainability focused Greenwood Family Park in Wales.

“We’ve set aside substantial budget for staff training, building on the mental health awareness campaign from 2019, where we worked together with St John’s Ambulance to train personnel at each of our eight sites as mental health first aiders. We’re prepped to embrace the challenges of 2020, we’re also braced for the highs and lows that will naturally come as part of the ride.”

That was Juliana Delaney, our Chief Executive commenting on the latest tourism news.

From the history of chocolate to dining in the sky, Continuum Attractions continues to innovate & grow in 2020

‘Giant’ family-fun with a sustainable focus in Wales, chocolate Masterclasses in York and The Plague in Edinburgh, 2020 will again be a big year for Continuum Attractions, as we continue to invest in our nine award-winning attractions, our people, and our vision to create compelling new reasons to visit.

Highlights for 2020 include:

Yorkshire – York’s Chocolate Story

  • February – Launch of new late-night tours with prosecco and expert Chocolatiers

North Wales – Greenwood Family Park

  • Spring – Investment in and launch of Giant Quest, a new addition to the sustainability-focused family park, which will include climbing routes across different levels, bouncing nets, a tower and slide.

Chief Executive Juliana Delaney says;

“I’m incredibly proud of our attractions, which contribute a great deal to the UK tourism offer. We bring the attractions together under a vision of purpose; whether that’s imaginatively bringing ‘hidden’ stories to life at The Real Mary King’s Close in Edinburgh, preserving the fabric and history of Oxford Castle & Prison, encouraging a love for everything sustainable at Greenwood Family Park in Wales, or sharing the history and love of chocolate in York, the Group goes from strength to strength in proving that it can effectively run and lead engaging and successful attractions, with motivated and experienced people at the helm and using emerging digital technology.”


The story doesn’t end here…

Find out more about our other innovative attraction businessess  with our attraction case studies or see more recent news from across our attractions on our blog page.

Hankies at the ready, the plague returns to Edinburgh for the first time in over 370 years

It has been a bumper year for our award-winning Edinburgh visitor attraction, The Real Mary King’s Closeas over a quarter of a million people visited, the attraction won a handful of awards, and we announce plans for new investment in 2020.

Must-do attraction

Right in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town and underneath the streets of the bustling Royal Mile, The Real Mary King’s Close has long been included on the ‘must-do’ list of any Edinburgh visit and is working hard to keep that the case in the coming year.

A great year!

“It has been a great year for The Real Mary King’s Close, as we ended the year with awards, including winner of ‘Best for Big Kids in Scotland’ said Paul Nixon, General Manager.

‘In 2019 we launched a new gin tasting tour and our family-friendly tours, and we’ve plenty of new ways to try and ensure we retain an important spot on peoples’ wish-list for any Edinburgh visit.’

Planned investment

There is a planned investment of over £100K in several key areas of the attraction this spring, including an extension to The Plague story and a reinterpretation of Mary Queen of Scots’ visit. Digital technology will form a large part of the reinterpretation, working with set designers and talented Guest Experience Managers to create a highly appealing and quality experience for visitors.

The Plague Room at The Real Mary king's Close - a Plague Doctor in long black hidden cloak and 'beak' tends to his boil-covered patient
Visitors to the Close already visit the popular Plague room where they discover Dr Rae, boils and ‘miasmas’

Full details will be announced in early 2020, with new photography and assets available.

The story doesn’t end here…

Find out more about our history with The Real Mary King’s Close in our case study here or see more recent news from across our attractions on our blog page.

Double Silver at The Beautiful South Awards

We are truly celebrating the season of awards here at Continuum Attractions – with another win for two of our beautiful attractions in the Tourism South East ‘Beautiful South Awards.’

The Clouds Café at 105m high on the second viewing deck of Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth received silver for ‘Café/Tearoom of the Year’, whilst Oxford Castle & Prison is celebrating a silver for ‘Small Visitor Attraction of the Year’.

“We’re heading towards our best year yet for celebrating successes as these beautiful accolades come swiftly on the heels of our hat trick of recognition” says Juliana Delaney, our Chief Executive, referring to our triple win at the British Travel Awards last month.

“We’re thrilled that both attractions are able to celebrate this recognition for the contribution they make to the tourism offering in the south and we’re very proud of the teams working behind the scenes to ensure the best quality, innovative and purposeful visitor experiences.”

Organised by Tourism South East, the Beautiful South Awards recognise and celebrate the achievements for businesses and professionals in the tourism industry over 18 months. This year saw 40% more entries across 23 categories, with an awards ceremony held at the Grand Brighton on the 10th December, and was hosted by Simon Calder, travel journalist and broadcaster.

Oxford Castle & Prison collect their award: Laurie Byrne, Marketing Manager; Chris Abbot, General Manager; Olivia Scammel, PR Manager

The story doesn’t end here…

Why not visit one of our  attractions and see for yourself how we create award-winning visitor experiences, take your pick here.

Or, if you’re looking for attraction expertise to turn your idea or attraction into an award-winner, why not find out more about collaborating with us?

 

An awards hatrick for our attractions!

We were delighted to receive British Travel Awards at two of our leading visitor attractions this week.

York’s Chocolate Story claimed Silver in the Best Leisure Attraction and Bronze in the Best Heritage Attraction, whilst Emirates Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth took home Bronze in the Best Leisure Attraction.

Our CEO, Juliana Delaney comments;

This is a fantastic way to approach the end of the year and we’re delighted with the recognition of two of our attractions, by the visiting public themselves.

“York Chocolate Story has gone from strength to strength this year and has seen the history and heritage of chocolate presented and explained in the most creative ways. Its recognition is well deserved for the team who work relentlessly to connect people with the stories and many benefits of chocolate. And Emirates Spinnaker Tower has truly established itself as a ‘must see’ on the south coast, from Afternoon Tea to abseiling, it stands as a beacon for the sector. This is a great achievement for everyone involved.”

The British Travel Awards are the largest consumer awards in the UK. Over 400,000 Brits cast over 860,000 votes for every category of travel, and a gala dinner was held in London this week, attended by over 1,000 people from the travel industry.

The story doesn’t end here…

Why not visit one of our  attractions and see for yourself how we create award-winning visitor experiences, take your pick here.

Or, if you’re looking for attraction expertise to turn your idea or attraction into an award-winner, why not find out more about collaborating with us?

 

 

24 years and counting: an interview with Monique White

In 1995 Forrest Gump won 6 Oscars, Microsoft launched Windows 95 and Alan Shearer won the Premier League’s ‘Golden Boot’ award. But over at Continuum Attractions (or Heritage Projects as we were known then) far more important things were afoot, as a determined, creative cat-lover called Monique stepped through our doors for her first day in her new admin assistant role.

Fast forward to 2019 and Monique, now Marketing Services Manager, is celebrating her 24th anniversary with the company. As part of the dynamic central marketing team, Monique works closely with the marketeers across our UK-wide attractions, liaising with designers, co-ordinating print needs (what she doesn’t know about leaflets isn’t worth knowing!) and using her extensive skills and experience to lead diverse projects.

“Monique is a vital member of the marketing team”

Head of Marketing Jules Ozbek explains.

Monique visits the Punishment Cells at Oxford Castle (by choice, we hasten to add)

“It’s a real pleasure to work with her. Super reliable and great in a crisis, we don’t know what we’d do without her 24 years of knowledge and experience – or her outstanding organisational skills”

Having found a few minutes to talk to me whilst co-ordinating a major office refurbishment at our York support office, Monique tells us why she enjoys working for Continuum:

“No one day is the same.  You’re like Dr Who with your very own TARDIS – one minute you could be dealing with the team down on the South Coast before flying up to 17th century Edinburgh!”

But what’s the best thing about her job?

“I get to work with an amazing group of people day in day out – from all corners of the country – now what’s not to like about that?”

New starters to the company often see Monique several times before meeting her, due to her model-like status, regularly stepping up and jumping in front of the camera when the photo-shoot she’s running needs an extra body.

“I’ve been an extra in so many TV ads and photoshoots – from a Medieval Maid for The Canterbury Tales to the face of our latest campaign for Spinnaker Tower – my inner diva comes to the fore!”

Over 24 years, Monique has seen many changes to her role, the company and the team, including being involved in the launch of lots of new attractions:

“There’s been some really exciting projects over the last 24 years – every project is exciting but particular highlights include opening The Real Mary King’s Close in Edinburgh. Being one of the very first visitors to walk down on to the Close… I can still feel my reaction of amazement – real people lived, breathed and walked on these streets – how amazing to be part of that!

“More recently, Coronation Street The Tour – everyone loves a bit of ‘Corrie’ and I got the opportunity to be part of the team that gave visitors the chance to walk down the famous cobbles on the original Granada Studios set before it was sadly demolished.  Who wouldn’t want to get behind the scenes and have a sneaky try on of Deidre Barlow’s actual glasses – but shush that’s a secret!”

Monique is currently beavering away on our annual Attraction of the Year award ceremony event – pulling together the last minute table plans, name cards and menus. Every year, the event showcases one of our attractions from the portfolio, and this year it’s York’s Chocolate Story complete with beautiful Black Magic themed invitations.

Monique is currently organising our Attraction of The Year awards ceremony event

“Some other projects I’m working on at the moment include working with the wonderful team in Wales at our newest attraction GreenWood Family Park on producing some amazing, fun and creative collateral – everything from signage and site maps to leaflets and labelling”

Monique also ran (and starred in) the new WOW campaign we have at Emirates Spinnaker Tower, pushing that out to our audiences in online ads, print and signage.  In her own words:

“It’s a good job I’m good at spinning plates…and eating scones!”

Monique starred in our new WOW campaign for Spinnaker Tower

We hope she continues spinning plates and ‘WOW’ing our teams for a long time to come!


Here at Continuum Attractions, we pride ourselves on putting our team first.

With an impressive benefit package, competitive pay, a focus on team wellbeing- and as part of one of the most exciting and challenging industries – we’re delighted  that so many of our team choose to stay with us for many years. But when our team are ready for pastures new, we wish them well (and sometimes shed a few tears!) and are delighted to welcome fresh new faces into the Continuum family.

If you want to be part of our culture, having fun and making money (in that order!) check out our latest job vacancies.

Who knows, in 24 years’ time, maybe YOU could be the star of your own anniversary blog post… or whichever futuristic format we prefer in 2043!

Spotlight on guest experience: creating memories just for them

Meet Ollie Peace

Ollie works at Emmerdale Studio Experience as Guest Experience Manager (yes, cuddling up on the Dingle’s sofa with ex-cast member Alfie really is part of his job)! It’s not all about canine cuddles though, Ollie works hard to create a fantastic experience that fans of Emmerdale will love, by understanding exactly what they want, and making that happen…

“It’s 10am and I’m in the pub.

Not just any pub, either. It’s only Yorkshire’s favourite pub – The Woolpack, at The Emmerdale Studio Experience in Leeds.

I’ve actually just got off the phone with a top-secret special guest and confirmed their appearance for a special Halloween event we’re planning. Just your standard morning.

It’s safe to say however, that no two days are alike in my job. And that’s what I love about doing what I do.

The very heart of what I do is always the guest, and the memories they create when they’re with us. Having previously worked for Disney, I learnt that creating a great visitor attraction is understanding and knowing what the people want, and creating it just for them.

The Emmerdale Studio Experience gives guests a unique insight into the entire production process of the nation’s favourite soap (I can say that, because it is – Emmerdale won Best Soap at this year’s National Television Awards!). When I stepped into the role of Guest Experience Manager here, my personal goal was to deliver a more immersive and authentic tour for the fans, getting them that little bit closer to the characters, places and stories they know and love.

Let’s be clear, you won’t meet Cain Dingle when you come to The Emmerdale Studio Experience (soz!), BUT you can see (and touch – if that’s your thing) his actual costume taken straight from his clothes rail, along with the costumes of other fan favourites, such as Robert, Aaron (#RobRon), Val Pollard and the dearly departed Edna Birch.

I want to deliver fresh and exciting new content as well as remain true to the show’s roots, and ultimately that has been about building and nurturing a strong relationship with the teams at ITV who deliver six episodes of Emmerdale each and every week.

Working directly with the show’s producers, art directors, costume, makeup and props teams has not only been crucial in delivering the authentic elements from Emmerdale into the Studio Experience, but has also been incredibly rewarding on a personal level. What never ceases to amaze me is the passion and dedication that every member of the team working on Emmerdale demonstrates, day in and day out. And it really shows!

Within the past few weeks, we created two pop-up exhibits showcasing the costumes and props from two of this year’s biggest storylines – RobRon’s second wedding, and the masquerade ball during which super ‘soap bitch’ Kim Tate made a comeback.

Running for a limited time only, each of these exhibits offers Emmerdale fans a unique opportunity to immerse themselves further into their favourite soap and get up close to actual costumes and props used during these popular episodes.

For me, it’s not enough to simply have our guides talk about the storylines and characters – I want our guests to be able to see the dress worn by Kim Tate as she was pushed from the balcony in Home Farm, the suit that Joe Tate was wearing during his final moments on screen, and to clock the details in the props that were created just for Robert & Aaron’s wedding episode. All the while, learning about how all the different departments work together to create some of TV’s most incredible drama.

And it’s working alongside the team on Emmerdale that I’m able to bring our guests closer than ever to their favourite soap.

I’m confident that even non-fans leave the attraction in awe of all the work that’s done behind the scenes to bring Emmerdale onto the nation’s screens six times a week. It’s sometimes so easy to forget that behind the camera is an entire production team made up of close to 400 people working across departments such as costume, make-up, lighting, sound, editing, props, press, and digital.

And once you’ve had your fill of masquerade balls, helicopter crashes and cellar floods, guests finally get to give their feet a rest in our incredibly detailed replica set of The Woolpack.

Emmerdale recently celebrated its 46th anniversary, and it really is going from strength to strength, leading the way in serial drama. If I can do it any justice in giving the fans what they want from their visit to The Emmerdale Studio Experience, then I reckon I’ve done a decent job!”


The story doesn’t end here…

At Continuum Attractions, we employ passionate, dedicated team members who understand the importance of the guest experience and go above and beyond to make that happen. Want to be part of that? Take a look at our latest job vacancies.

If you’re looking for attraction expertise for a future project, why not find out more about collaborating with us or find out how we worked with The Void to  bring their hyper-reality experience to life in the UK… in just 8 weeks!

Spotlight on Retail: More than a job, more than a guest… more than a shop?

Meet Erica Lee.

Erica has worked at Continuum Attractions as Group Retail Manager for the last five years, heading up the retail experiences across all our attractions.  With sites as far apart as Edinburgh and Portsmouth, the job involves a fair amount of travelling, though Erica still gets time to pursue varied interests including gardening, pottery and baking – her Christmas gingerbread houses are legendary!

Read on for top tips and insights into the world of retail, plus find out what Erica thinks is the most important factor in creating an outstanding retail experience…

So Erica, what does your job of Group Retail Manager entail?

“Part of working across the group is standardising policies and processes, and providing a level of consistency across our operation. I spend a lot of my time looking for efficiencies, cost savings, and opportunities to share best practice and great ideas across the attractions. But hand in hand with this consistency, is the importance of making sure that each of our nine shops has a distinct identity and is an integral part of each brand’s experience.

How do you go about making that happen?

“Well, it all starts with product selection. Before a new product comes through our doors, we ask two questions; Who is it for? Is it on brand? This can mean tough decisions about our product mix. It means we say no a lot. It might be popular, even a potential best seller, but if it’s not right for our brand, it’s not right for us. This pushes us to innovate, to be creative, and to find great products that delight, inspire, and have that all important ‘ooh factor’.

What are your favourite products across the attractions?

  • Unicorn soft toys at The Real Mary King’s Close. Unicorns are Scotland’s national creature and its great when we can find a way to make retail trends work with our brand stories.
  • Our salted caramel chocolate bar at York’s Chocolate Story – its made in house and is soooo yummy!
  • Mead at The Canterbury Tales because we can use it to interact with our guests by sampling it. It’s also made by a great local Kentish supplier.

But finding the right product is just the start of it?

“Exactly. At Continuum, storytelling is at the heart of everything we do, and the retail experience is an integral part of this. When our guests emerge from one of our tours, views or experiences, the transition to the shop should be seamless. The retail space, often the final part of our guest’s journey with us, is so much more than just a shop. It’s the final room, the lasting memory, a space to experience just a little bit more, and to transition back to the real world. It’s an opportunity for our guests to take away a piece of the story they’ve just lived, something to remind them of their time with us, something with a story of its own that our guests can treasure and share.

How do you make a retail space into part of the experience?

“The theming, layout and presentation of the shop have a crucial part to play, in both showcasing our products in the best possible way, and in giving our guests a place to experience and interact with our brand. We love shops that our guests want to stay in, explore, take photos of, and point of sale that speaks to them with the right tone of voice, and tells them that brilliant fact about why they should buy the product.

So what’s the most important thing – is it the product selection or the retail space itself?

“Actually, neither. The final and most important part of the puzzle is the team. At The Canterbury Tales, our guests exit the final show room, and are greeted in the market place by our costumed shop team with samples of traditional mead to refresh those that are weary from their pilgrimage! What better way to ease them from Chaucer’s Medieval England into a retail space where they want to stay, sample our product range, and engage with our brilliant team who are only too happy to share their knowledge. Whether it leads to a sale or not, our guests continue their learning here, and that’s down to a team that live and breathe their brand.”

Finally, what are your top tips for attractions wanting to enhance their retail offering?

  •  Engage your team – they should be your product experts
  • Understand your brand – involve your marketing teams in all relevant aspects
  • Look through your guest’s eyes – walk the full attraction journey regularly to check the transition into the shop space, not just the shop itself.

The story doesn’t end here…

Look out for a future post where we talk to Chris Peel, Group Food and Beverage Manager, about food and drink across the attractions. Follow us on Twitter @Continuum_Group to stay up to date with our latest news and blog posts.

If you’re looking for attraction expertise for a future project, why not find out more about collaborating with us or find out how we worked with The Void to  bring their hyper-reality experience to life in the UK… in just 8 weeks!

Stepping into the void: an interview with our Attractions Director

Kev Smith, Attractions Director at Continuum Attractions… kitted up to discover The VOID.

At Continuum Attractions, we’ve really enjoyed operating Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire at The VOID in London, which comes to and end on June 19th. We talked to Kev Smith, Attractions Director for Continuum Attractions to find out more about the start of the journey…

So Kev, how did it all start?

We were first approached by The VOID in August 2017. A relatively new virtual reality start up business in the USA, they were already developing two projects at Disney Springs and Disney Anaheim in North America  but wanted to deliver a ‘pop up’ experience based around Star Wars, in conjunction with Disney and ILMxKLAB. The VOID wanted to open an experience in London before Christmas, to coincide with the release of the new Star Wars film, The Last Jedi.  However, they needed an experienced and successful operator in the UK to make this a reality.

What happened after the initial call?

The VOID took the time to come over to the UK and look at potential venues, as well as visiting our offices in York to gain a greater understanding of how our business was structured. We were also able to show them one of our experiences, York’s Chocolate Story and demonstrate the quality and care that we put in to our operations.

Sounds promising…

It was… but then September came and went. These things take a lot of time and The VOID were clearly looking at all potential opportunities to ensure they had the right partner on board to meet their requirements and shoulder a high degree of responsibility.

Two further weeks passed and we were getting towards the end of October when I received a call stating that The VOIDhad been very impressed with our business and our operations and would like to work with us to get the experience based at Westfield shopping centre in London opened by mid-December.

That’s fantastic!

We were delighted, but the date came as a slight surprise as we had assumed that there had been delays and that an opening would have been pushed back, but no, mid-December was the deadline.

So it was a quick turnaround?

Very… we had just 8 weeks left until opening! We booked some flights and went for a visit to The VOID’s head office in Lindon, Salt Lake City –  a necessity to gain a full insight in to the development of the experience, its technology, its functionality and their people.

Was that quite time consuming when you were working to such a tight deadline?

It takes time to get to Utah, of course, but that first week visiting the offices proved pivotal in the development of the project as we were able to come back to the UK with as full an understanding of the experience as possible. Approximately six weeks remained for us to get the facility open!

What else needed doing in those 6 weeks?

Well, luckily all of the design work for the structure had been done but everything else associated with opening an attraction had to be delivered. Setting up the business and banking arrangements, recruitment and training, marketing and PR, sales and bookings system development, health and safety planning, retail and photo development, technical systems development, administrative systems development and more! It’s fair to say that a lot had to be done in a very small space of time.

How did you get it all done in time?

Thanks to the people involved. We worked closely with The VOID’s operating team to refine their plans to fit with the timescale. Our attraction management, admissions and guest services team started in early December with an intensive training schedule leading up to the opening on 16th December. Only three of the team had seen the experience, in Salt Lake City, until 5 days prior to the opening. It’s fair to say that they were all blown away by the sheer ‘awesomeness’ that the experience delivers… and we were blown away by their determination and hard work!

A few of our team members who were pivotal to the attraction’s success!

The crucial question: did you open on time?

Of course! Opening day came on the 16th December with the London operation being the first to open in the world – beating Disney Springs by seven hours.

Wow!

It felt like the eyes of the world was on the operation The VOID, Disney, ILMXLAB as well as a host of technical publications and the attractions industry – all interested in how the experience performed. However, we were confident in what our team could deliver.

So it went well?

Day one was a roaring success … in fact all the days following have been too!

A pair of Stormtroopers posing outside the attraction on opening day… they didn’t provide a comment.

Were there any learnings from the experience?

It’s fair to say that we have all learned a lot very quickly (including The VOID). Being the first truly ‘Hyper Reality’ experience in the world and setting the bench mark for others to follow our collaborative working methods have been critical to the success of the project.

Do you have any advice to someone wanting to open an attraction within 8 weeks?

Although we did manage to successfully meet this timeline and we look forward to continuing our relationship with The VOID, attraction developers reading this article take heed – don’t expect that your experience can open in 6-8 weeks! Ideally, an operator such as ourselves needs to be involved 12-24 months in advance of the opening to be able to contribute to and influence a whole host of aspects including design and layout, and to programme in marketing activities to build the market way in advance of any potential opening.

Great advice, thank you Kev! Is there anything else you’d like to add?

 I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of the partners associated with the project: The VOID, Disney, ILMxLAB, Westfield and finally to Charlie Gooch at Blooloop for linking us to The VOID in the first instant.

As a leading attraction and leisure brand, Continuum Attractions have over 30 years of experience operating a wide range of operating story-led experiences across the UK and around the world. From eco-friendly family parks like GreenWood in North Wales, to cutting-edge technology like Star Wars: Secrets of The Empire at The VOID, we use our expertise to work alongside our partners, or on our own, to create outstanding experiences.

Want to find out more about how we work? Check out our Collaborate section.