Face to Face: Iain Hawkins, Merlin Entertainments

Iain Hawkins

The UK resort of Blackpool is seeing a tourism resurgence recently. It’s local council has been working with companies like attraction giant Merlin Entertainment to raise its product offering. Iain Hawkins, cluster manager for the region at Merlin, shares some of what is involved. 


Firstly, how has the year been so far for tourism in Blackpool?

It has been a mixed bag for the resort so far. Things have been going well for us and our eight attractions are indoors so the bad weather does not affect us too much. However, saying that, if the weather is too bad it can deter people from coming to the resort and that means we suffer too.

We are happy with the performance so far but is has been tough trading.

It will be difficult to tell how summer will go with so much going on; at the moment it is three weeks of unknown. Hopefully some will still come to resorts and have fun. Hotels around this area say bookings are good for the next three months so we are quietly confident given the infrastructure and great packages.


There has been a marked boost in marketing activity to Blackpool this year, why is this?

I moved here from Poole to see what Merlin could do to boost attractions in Blackpool. My role is mostly based around operating the attractions and then supporting tour operators and other attractions to make Blackpool’s product and the resort an overall tourist destination. Merlin is doing a lot behind the scenes such as looking at ticketing options, essentially so that we can pull in more families to the resort.

There is a strong market for stag and hen groups here and although there is a place for them, there is real scope for families to come back and stay for two, three or four nights. Our brands offer a real blend of activities for younger and older children and I think it is that balance between families and stag and hen that will take Blackpool forward.


What has Merlin’s involvement been within that?

We know that the biggest attraction is still the beach, all seven miles of it, and Blackpool is still the number one British seaside resort but we can always do more to boost this.  The council here has been fantastic and had the foresight to buy the iconic buildings and then get a global operator like us to operate them. There is not anywhere in the UK outside of London that has as many globally recognised brands that Blackpool has. There are probably some envious resorts that wish they had that power but we are just scratching the surface here and need to keep it as number one. We do that by working together and holding hands with other attractions – we cannot see them as just competitors but product to involve in our plans.


So what is next for Blackpool?

There has already been lots of work on the Tower: its legs were repainted and metal replaced so that it can stand for the future. People forget that there are some real gems in Blackpool.

Areas that need concentration now include the hotels available as there needs to be quality and variety. Then we will have to look at the town centre and what that offers, then restaurants and the evening trade such as shows to get people to stay here for longer. Blackpool has the longest shoulder months as the Illuminations take the season into November so there is an opportunity to keep the resort alive out of summer.

There was an opportunity for a casino but that fell through and there was no plan B, so we initially led the challenge of boosting Blackpool by becoming the attraction operator.


How is the trade part of your strategy to bring more people to the resort?

There is a growing trend of more people booking before they come to the resort. This is a strong thing for us as the more people that go through these portals than it means they will definitely come. Also taking in the weather issue it is important to keep growing the pre-booking side of the business as it means people are less likely to cancel holidays here.

We always have trade evenings here so people can see what is happening and those go a long way. We also invite local businesses to come along to see the attractions because B&Bs and taxi drivers need to let visitors know what is happening and what they can do. That switch is huge and having them on our side is important; I really want to educate the taxi drivers here as I see them as ambassadors.

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