Views from the Bridge: Lessons for Heritage Tourism Brands from Tower Bridge’s Master
13 February 2020
Tower Bridge, one of the world’s best known bridges, comes with a few unusual marketing and visitor challenges. Not only is it a world-renowned heritage site, it is also a working bridge, carrying a key arterial road across the Thames, sitting within two local authorities, and across three police forces. Chris Earlie has been Head of Tower Bridge – or, to give him his more ceremonial title, Bridge Master, for 11 years. During this time, he has overseen major refurbishment, content and marketing development to increase footfall to the Bridge by over 400% - making it one of the UK’s top paid-for attraction – while successfully navigating fluctuating visitor numbers to the capital following the Terror attacks.
We caught up with him to understand more about the challenges, opportunities and lessons in marketing this national heritage brand to a worldwide audience.
Kallaway: What’s the biggest challenge you face in marketing Tower Bridge?
Chirs: The fact that we’re an icon and while everyone knows about Tower Bridge our challenge is to get them to come inside the Bridge. We need to turn them from ‘lookers’ into ‘bookers’.
How have you overcome this challenges?
Largely through our ethos of continuous development to make our building, experience and communication as inclusive and accessible to as broad an audience as possible. We’ve widened our traditional heritage appeal into a cultural and leisure offer. And we never stay the same or rest on our laurels. So, we’ve undergone massive refurbishments like our Bascule Chamber overhaul, which means we can now hold music concerts beneath the Thames. And anything that can happen on the bridge is turned into part of our visitor offer. For example, we created the glass floor walkway in 2014, allowing visitors to be even more engaged in the Tower Bridge experience. Now, we hold yoga sessions on the glass floor, too.
We’ve also evolved the way we talk about ourselves. We’ve moved away from talking just about the structure to focus also on the human stories behind its development and its history. These human touchpoints are vital when it comes to engaging visitors in today’s competitive marketplace. All the brand and structural changes have been brought together in Kallaway's PR campaign which has helped deliver these messages across the UK and to target audiences around the world.
You compete for spend against big tourism brands on your doorstep such as the Tower of London, The View from The Shard, HMS Belfast - all of which have compelling offers. How do you stand out in such a crowded market place?
By continually updating and marketing our clear point of difference – the new features and stories around the Bridge that we are introducing and expressing in new ways all the time. For example, we’ve recently celebrated our 125th anniversary by commissioning an avant-garde artist to ‘play’ the bridge as a giant musical instrument, with the film and exhibition of the experience on offer for visitors. And we bring the tradition of Tower Bridge to life in other contemporary ways such as autism friendly days and being the only dog-friendly visitor attraction in London.
Our other key point of difference is our customer service. A great product will only take you so far: you need to make people feel good, too. Visitors remember and comment on our personalised, ‘extra-mile’ service again and again, namechecking and thanking learning team members, tour-guides or even security staff by name on trip advisor.
It’s this combination of a great product delivered with stand-out service and excellence which has taken us to the top of the itinerary for inbound domestic and overseas tourists but made us appealing and used by locals, too.
What is the most important insight other attraction brands should take from your experience?
Never assume that visitors will come. Capitalise on the fact that today’s consumers want to discover new and ‘hidden’ experiences and spaces for themselves. Keep innovating to create new reasons for people to book and step inside - as well as creating new revenue streams.
What are the challenges and opportunities in increasing and maintaining footfall to attractions like yours in the next 12 - 24months?
The uncertainty caused by Brexit is a challenge. But then we’re seeing more staycations as a result, which could also be a footfall opportunity. And today’s experience-driven economy is similarly both a challenge as well as an opportunity. On the one hand, we can play into that increased consumer need for ‘memory-making’ by offering new and exciting experiences. On the other, attractions are competing not only with each other in an ever-crowded marketplace, but also with the retail, technology and leisure brands who are also riding the experience wave.
How should the sector capitalise on these opportunities do you think?
By understanding audience segments - their influences and their path to purchase – and all the different channels through which to reach them, from traditional advertising to the wide reach of social media influencers and online engagement. Attractions need to be in these spaces, targeting audiences with the right, tailored messages, with an offer which is being continuously honed.
Finally, Head of Tower Bridge, has to be one of the best and most unusual job title – what reaction do you tend to get from people who hear what you do?
Disbelief, then real interest. It’s such a privilege to say that I’m the custodian for one of the world’s most famous bridges. And when they ask me what that’s like, I like to say “Well, it has its ups and downs….”.
Kallaway works with Tower Bridge and other world class tourism and destination brands to increase their market share. For further information contact Kallaway on +44 (0)207 221 7883 or email email@example.com