How festive attraction killed the media magic

28 November 2014 -


Not even the design skills of Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen were enough to save the public image of Christmas attraction The Magical Journey

Will Edwards

Celebrity endorsements and tie-ins can do great things for brands that are aiming to bag some media coverage, but risks can spring up for both sides if one partner in the deal ends up attracting negative press.

Opened at Birmingham hotel complex The Belfry last Saturday, The Magical Journey – a Midlands riff on the Winter Wonderland concept – was billed as a “spectacular and exciting Christmas experience for the whole family”. But after just one day, the doors were closed for improvements. That closure was enforced after thousands of visitors vented their anger with the attraction online.

According to the website, the experience was created in association with celebrity interior designer Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, who was quoted as saying: “A visit to Father Christmas will never be the same again”. He may well have been proven right – as one elf reportedly urged a visitor to “have a shit Christmas”.

Other complaints came from social media users such as visitor Karen Walker, who said: “We felt let down and ripped off with the price for what we got.” Sam Hinch said the experience was a “disappointment” awash with “unwrapped, rubbish presents”, and painted a picture of a barely-ready event, adding: “My boys seven and three were bored waiting in tents with chav elves… No atmosphere, songs or Christmas spirit. Builders walking around with cigarettes and tools drilling while we are standing there.”

The attraction opened again on Wednesday this week, but organisers decided not to let the media in to see how much – or how little – new magic had settled upon the attraction. A spokesperson said: “We feel that introducing camera crews, reporters and journalists is only going to take away from that experience and possibly even create anxiety for our visitors.”

Hiding away from the media – especially after a crisis has already happened – is unlikely to win over journalists who are hungry for a story’s next chapter. But crucially, it also suggests that you actually have something to hide. An open and honest approach, explaining what happened and what’s been done to fix the problem, is always the best policy. It also shows the public that you are back on track and open for business.

Having your name tied to a big, new family attraction may have seemed like a great idea at the time – but it’s likely that Llewelyn-Bowen will think twice when the next such offer comes through.

Will Edwards is managing director of media training consultancy Bluewood Training.

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