ACTION is to be taken in a bid to reverse a slump in visitor numbers to the Spinnaker Tower.
Heritage, the firm which operates the landmark for Portsmouth City Council, has admitted the number of visitors dropped from 680,000 in its first year from November 2005, to 288,517 between February 2010 and January this year.
Numbers were expected to be lower after the opening year because of the initial rush when the attraction opened.
But the latest figure is still more than 60,000 down on the 350,000 visitors predicted for 2010/11.
Moves to boost numbers come as the council prepares to give up completely on the tower’s exterior ‘panoramic’ lift, which has never properly worked.
Operators hope an alternative attraction in its place could attract more people.
Heritage chief executive Juliana Delaney admitted: ‘Fewer people are visiting than we would have hoped. Projection reports suggested we would get 450,000 people here in our first year, then a smaller number since.
‘We were well over the first prediction, but we’re below the figures suggested for consecutive years.’
Ms Delaney said the tower was not losing money, because it has changed its policy to focus on corporate events, weddings and ‘peripheral’ visits, such as people using the ground-floor cafe.
She added: ‘We’re pleased with the tower’s performance.
‘Things have not gone as we anticipated but we’ve changed our strategy to make the most of a landmark the city and the whole of the south of England can be proud of.
‘We’re performing financially as we predicted. But we are in a difficult economic climate at present, and our business model was based on getting as many people in as possible, then them coming back or making recommendations to others. But the lift, which has never worked, meant fewer people came back than we’d hoped.’
From July, meetings will start to discuss plans for the lift’s removal and replacement with an alternative attraction.
Ms Delaney said: ‘It’s the council’s decision what happens with the lift. But if it were to go, there are a number of potential new things we could bring in. Every attraction needs to refresh its offer, such as theme parks bringing in new rides. We’d like to see if we can bring the public in to come up with ideas, too. However, I want to stress that the tower is operating well. It’s something the city can be proud of.’
The council’s strategic director, Roger Ching, said: ‘We work hard to help the operator of the tower develop ways to attract as many people as possible. But despite everyone’s best efforts, the lift has never worked. In July I will recommend the council gets rid of it, which I hope will clear the way for a new kind of attraction at the tower.’
So what happens now...?
HERITAGE has recently committed to an investment of £300,000 in the tower for the next three years.
Plans include new displays, a Portsmouth landmark finder and a mural showing historic images of the city.
It will also install a ship spotter, which will give people on the first viewing deck information about any vessels they can see from the tower.
And the tower is also taking part in the Passport for Portsmouth scheme, in which venues across the region offer visitors discounts and promotions to encourage more visits.
Heritage chief executive Juliana Delaney said: ‘There’s a lot of potential. The tower’s got a life of at least 50 years more, so we will look at things a number of times to refresh its offer and attract more people.
‘And we’re really looking forward to beginning to do that, if that’s what the council decides.’
A ‘drop’ ride at the top of the tower was in the original plans for the attraction, though that could prove too expensive to add in the near future.
Cuncil leader, Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, said: ‘There are a number of possibilities. We could have a restaurant on top of the ground floor.
‘It would have commanding views of the harbour and that could be a real success. And an attraction at the top would be good. We will take a look at what can be done.’