Select Committee on Administration First Report


APPENDIX 1 (Continued)

THE TRIAL OPENING OF THE PALACE OF WESTMINSTERTO THE GENERAL PUBLIC FROM AUGUST 7 TO SEPTEMBER 16 2000


Section 5 -Internal Impact

1  General This was a wholly new initiative for the Palace of Westminster and whilst it had been the subject of discussion for over a year the actual implementation time was effectively less than 3 months. Planning was on an ad hoc meeting basis and there was no opportunity to bring the trial onto the agenda of routine Palace planning meetings. Communication was effectively through the Steering Group. The trial proved difficult for many departments to assimilate and support response times to requests for repairs and help were to slow, important items of mail were lost. This could have been avoided had there been more time to brief other departments on the plans in the early spring. .

2  The Parliamentary Works Department have reported that there was quite a substantial cost penalty because work was postponed until Sundays; many ad hoc requests were made during the lead in time and these did cause other work to be delayed. This would be unlikely to re occur with greater lead in times, although it should be stated that the probability of the Summer Opening programme had been discussed with the Parliamentary Works Department from mid - 1998. Signage proved a difficult yet significant area. The House style proved both impractical and unsuitable for use in connection with the public tours on the Line of Route. The public information signs were too small and whilst larger signs and stands were put up these proved unstable in windy conditions. Interior signs also need to be developed to a common style that is acceptable to both Houses.

3  Security was staffed entirely on an overtime basis. Costs are identified under the finance section of the report. There may be some small scope for a reduction in security manning levels. Whilst there was concern at the ability of the Police to provide so much additional security cover during what would otherwise have been a relatively quiet period there were few actual problems in achieving the necessary manning levels. Cost reductions that were achieved were due to rostering flexibility and consequent overtime reduction.

4  Retail The re-opening of the Summer Line of Route created a considerable extra work-load for the purchasing and stores staff of both Houses, particularly prior to the opening.

This was expected, but there would be a resource issue if the opening of the Line of Route became an annual event. Less expected was the significant impact that the opening had on workloads of the accounts staff in both refreshment Departments. Again, this would need to be examined in the light of any decision to open the Line of Route in future years.

5  Health and Safety A Risk assessment was carried out by the Visitor manager the main hazards identified to be at Sovereigns entrance with the curbs within it and the Norman Porch stairs. First Aid and response times proved very effective and cover proved adequate throughout the trial.

6  Members and Peers Tours were composed of 3548 visitors sponsored by Members (a reduction of just fewer than 500 on previous year) and 346 visitors sponsored by Peers (an increase of 125 on previous year). All tours were conducted over the 14 mornings allotted to Members of both Houses to sponsor visits.

7  Education Unit. The unit runs the long established Autumn Visits Programme, which includes a guided tour of the line of route. The needs of school groups are not always compatible with those of tourists as they have different agendas. Overseas visitors to whom the unit normally issues permits had not been charged for visits until this trial. The £3.50 charge was unwelcome. Some teachers resented having to book and pay for a tour, which they had been allowed to guide themselves.

8  The House of Commons Information Office. While the Information Office was kept well - briefed and information was made available on the Parliament website, it occasionally had to deal with very large numbers of unexpected enquiries following media features of which prior warning could not always be given, and such peaks proved difficult to cope with. The Office, which is the House's primary enquiry point was not always able to answer some questions satisfactorily on subjects beyond its responsibilities, such as the acceptance of credit cards and Ticketmaster's booking system.

9  Personnel Administration and Finance were asked to create the appropriate working terms and conditions for the temporary staff that were to be employed as Co-ordinators. This was achieved and a payment system for temporary staff worked well, however, the requirement to guarantee a net hourly rate meant that these payments could not be processed through the normal payroll routines and calculations had to be performed manually. Finance Policy were also asked to agree payment details with Tourguides Limited and Ticketmaster UK, which proved to be a time consuming and frustrating task due to the unavailability of key personnel within the respective companies.



SECTION 6 -MARKETING AND DISTRIBUTION

1.  Planning research and timing are crucial factors in any marketing and communication exercise. This is especially true when a new product is being introduced. Effectively 10 weeks were available for this launch and this at a time of peak activity in the London leisure market.


Fig 2: Sales Activity and Advertising Impact

2  For any visitor attraction to make its voice heard in this market, substantial investment is needed. This was not the case for the Summer Opening where the advertising budget was £25,000 and any below the line support material had to be paid for from a contingency fund. Buckingham Palace that has been opened for 7 years currently has a budget four times greater than that allocated for this trial.

3.  The strategy selected relied on PR exposure from the Parliamentary Press Corps to create awareness. This failed. There was very little take up on the initial press release. There was no conventional PR support available and media briefings proved difficult to organise within parliamentary regulations. As a last resort 2 consultants were employed for 2 days each to brief local broadcast media.

4.  Advertising in the " announce " style started in selected media in June.

No agency was involved due to the small budget and the creative treatment was simply done in the office.


5.  The priority was to finalise the contract with Ticketmaster so that the inventory of available tours could be loaded into the Ticketmaster booking system and go live with sales as soon as possible. Once in a position to take bookings and sell tickets then advertising could start….

6.  The booking lines opened on June 5th exactly 8 weeks before opening. In the first month only 980 tickets were sold despite advertising. At this time it was decided to restrict the number of tours on offer to optimise guide usage. Simply put; too many tours on sale could mean too much choice and might result in thinly booked tours and too many guides being booked.

7.  It became clear that a pick-up point was needed for pre booked tickets in the West End of London particularly for short stay visitors. Thanks to the BTA we were given a facility in the British Travel Centre in Lower Regent Street where tickets were held for collection.

8  The Ticketmaster system took some time to learn to operate but it did provide us the flexibility to manage the available inventory. This proved to be vital.

9  Whilst sales gradually gained momentum as opening approached, on the day of opening ( 7th August ) only 33% of available slots had been sold

10  The opening itself was covered by BBC 1 and resulted in an explosion of demand (Fig 2). More tickets were sold on the first day of the tours operating than in the first month of advanced booking.

11.  Based on this marked increase in demand the maximum operational capacity was released onto the selling system. Again this proved difficult to manage as the need to secure confirmed guides before sale of tours was viewed as essential.

12.  It became immediately evident that there were teething problems with the information on the Ticketmaster system and that the Internet sites did not make it clear that tickets were not available for sale at the Palace. Furthermore the BTA ticket pickup facility was not clearly explained and the British Travel Centre in Lower Regent Street had to deal with many visitors who thought they could buy tickets there.

13  Finally at the request of the Speaker in the mid August a facility to buy tickets on the day was introduced by one of the Westminster hall shop tills being dedicated to ticket sales. Over 4,200 tickets were sold in this way from inventory that would otherwise not have been sold.

14  Creation of demand was not early enough to be able to accurately forecast how many tours should be released for sale. This in itself proved difficult to manage but as can be seen this was mastered effectively by the end of the trial.


Fig 3 Sale improved after tickets were sold at the Westminster Hall Gift shop.

SECTION 7 -FINANCE

The table below compares actual income and expenditure against the indicative operating statement shown in Appendix B of the report "Revised Framework for Re-0pening the Line of Route during the Summer Adjournment". The original estimate was based on an assumed maximum capacity of 93,300 over 41 operating days. In reality the trial ran for 35 days only and the estimated maximum capacity has been adjusted to 79,100.

  
Base Case
Worst Case
Actual
VarianceBC
Variance WC
Notes
  
£
£
£
£
£
  
Revenues
  
  
  
  
  
  
Admissions
0
0
119,991
119,991
119,991
1
Guidebooks
14,830
11,865
10,483
(4,347)
(1,382)
  
Merchandise
29,663
23,730
128,068
98,405
104,338
2
Merchandise Millennium Exhib.
18,000
18,000
(18,000)
(18,000)
  
Total Revenues
62,493
53,595
258,542
196,049
204,947
  
Cost of Sales
  
  
  
  
  
  
Admissions
0
0
133,131
(133,131)
(133,131)
1
Guidebooks
7,118
5,695
8,408
(1,290)
(2,713)
  
Merchandise
0
0
85,700
(85,700)
(85,700)
2
Total Cost of Sales
7,118
5,695
227,239
(220,121)
(221,544)
  
Gross Operating Profit
55,375
47,900
31,303
(24,072)
(16,597)
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
Operating Costs
  
  
  
  
 
  
Merchandise overheads
0
0
59,587
(59,587)
(59,587)
2
Management
54,000
54,000
65,948
(11,948)
(11,948)
3
Security (August)
99,000
99,000
46,609
52,391
52,391
4
Security (September)
30,000
30,000
0
30,000
30,000
  
Portable Lavatory Hire
18,000
18,000
8,225
9,775
9,775
  
Advertising and Marketing
25,000
25,000
37,625
(12,625)
(12,625)
5
Development Costs
10,000
10,000
18,204
(8,204)
(8,204)
6
Uniforms
0
0
1,825
(1,825)
(1,825)
7
Entertainment
0
0
1,074
(1,074)
(1,074)
7
Contingency Provision
25,000
50,000
1,817
23,183
48,183
7
Total Operating Costs
261,000
286,000
240,914.0
20,086
45,086
  
  
Net annual Surplus/(Deficit)
(205,625)
(238,100)
(209,611)
3,986
(28,489)
  

NOTES

1  It had been assumed that ticket revenues would cover the costs of providing the guides, this was based on a contribution of £2.50. In reality of the £3.50 charge only £2.02 contributed towards the cost of guides.

2  It was assumed that visitors to the line of route and the millennium exhibition would spend £5 and £3 respectively; an average of £4 per head. In reality the average spend was £3.41 only. No provision was made in the estimate for overheads associated with the sale of merchandise, which included £22K for the construction of display cabinets.

3  The original estimate was based on two members of staff; the actual team consisted of three members of staff and a number of casual staff.

4  Savings were made on security costs by improved manpower management, however this was a one off situation and may not be repeated in a similar exercise.

5  Original estimate for advertising only, actual cost includes costs of posters, leaflets etc.

6  Installation costs for tills and shop fittings were higher than forecast.

7  Various unexpected costs arose; uniforms for casual guides; hosted events for guides and journalists; general office running costs.

SECTION 8 - STAFFING & MANAGEMENT

1.  It has already been noted that lead times were short for both the Visitor Manager and Assistant Visitor Manager. The appointment of a Senior Attendant from the Palace proved a vital addition as this saved a great deal of time in settling into the offices however this was not reflected in forecast costs. Nevertheless it took 10 days to establish the office and become familiar with the parliamentary information networks and organisational structure.

2.  Some division of tasks had to be agreed immediately; The Visitor Manager took responsibility for the relationship with Ticketmaster and sales and marketing, whilst the Assistant Visitor Manager took responsibility for the relationship with tour guides and operations at Sovereign's Entrance operational portfolio. The recruitment, training and supervision of the Co-ordinators was the responsibility of the Assistant Visitor Manager and this worked very well.

3.  The Senior Attendant took on the role of office management and the crucial link role of matching and co-ordinating tours booked, as advised by Ticketmaster with guides ordered from Tour Guides Limited. This meant that the Senior Attendant prepared the guide rosters in advance.

4.  It is clear that the short lead in time did create some difficulties in internal and external communication; the Steering Group and Project Group were helpful in overcoming these, but the lead times were simply too short.

5.  Whilst a considerable amount of work had been done by the Grant Leisure Consultancy ahead of the appointment of the Visitor Manager and Assistant Visitor Manager the visitor management team had not been involved so there was a very steep learning curve once they were appointed and in post. This put considerable pressure on time scales in the period prior to opening so there was no time for a familiarisation programme with either House.

SECTION 9 -FUTURE ISSUES

1  The trial summer opening has been judged successful by the public as evidenced by both their correspondence and the market research. Clearly much has been learned. However, Parliament needs more experience before making any long-term decision over Visitor Management. Hence the recommendation that the Programme should be repeated over a longer period and more often during other recess periods.

2  A visible and readily accessible ticket booking and sales facility needs to be established on the Parliamentary Estate. In the short term it would be wise to continue with the system established this summer with Ticketmaster - however consideration should be given to the feasibility of a visitor management system driven by the Parliamentary Data and Video Network (PDVN) and manned in house.

3  The tours must fit around the Parliamentary Works programme however there is evidence that the public would like to see other areas of the Palace. Examination should therefore be made of alternatives to the Line of Route within the constraints of the works programme.

4  If these tours were to become a permanent feature of operation of the Palace then a visitor management office should be established. It may have a strategic role to play in the public contact task group currently being lead by the Information for the Public Task Force

SECTION 10 - CONCLUSIONS & RECOMMENDATIONS

Conclusions

1  Public reaction from the 40,577 visitors has been remarkable. Over 2,400 visitors have written urging both Houses to continue with the Tours.

2  A Detailed Market Research report reveals both very high satisfaction levels and supports the view that there is a definite expectation that the tours continue.

3  There was no adverse reaction to the fact that Parliament charged for these visits. Many remarked on how low the price was compared to other attractions in the capital.

4  The forecast capacity and sales given in the Committee's first report were too high. It did not prove possible to achieve 400 visitors per hour and keep to the criteria laid down by the Committees 5 goals previously outlined.

5  Whilst the need for a pre booking requirement was recognised, especially for groups, the automated selling system linked to the advanced purchase requirement was the least popular feature of the tours.

6  There is a clear expectation that there should be a location on the Parliamentary Estate where the public may book and buy tickets.

7  The Blue Badge guides had a very significant impact on the public's reaction to the tour. The guides in turn were noticeably enthusiastic about the opening and their working environment, feeling strongly that guided tours should be continued.

8  The tours did cause some disruption to the PWD Summer works schedule and apparently increased Sunday Working.

9  There were no serious Fire Safety or Security incidents. Directors of both services were very satisfied with the conduct of the operation. However internal communication and briefing within the Palace will need to be improved in any further public opening programme.

10  The Visitor Profile is very clearly defined as ABC1 White Educated resident in the Southeast. The Tours did not attract visitors from the UK Regions.

11.Whilst the spend per head projections were over optimistic it is also the case that without the contribution from visitors generated by the Millennium Exhibition the commercial viability of the merchandising operation remains doubtful. Ticket Sales cannot be made from a souvenir sales point. It requires visitors to enter the Palace twice and causes queuing delays at souvenir sales points.

RECOMMENDATIONS

1  Both Houses should continue to be open to guided Tours during a

Recess. The ticket distribution should be operated by a mix of pre-booked admission and box office purchase from within the Estate.

2  Longer opening hours and possibly opening during the shorter recesses could increase Public access and volumes; a feasibility study should start immediately to evaluate these options and their impact on costs.

3  The future arrangements should be announced to the Public as soon, as is possible after the Committee has reached a decision.

4  A Visitor policy and planning group to work within the Houses of Parliament organisation should be established as early as possible if these Tours are to become a permanent feature of the annual programme of events at the Palace. This group to meet under the Chairmanship of a Senior Officer.

5  Current contractors should be retained for another year subject to satisfactory negotiations; we should seek to establish improved performance criteria within these contracts and agree how these are measured.

6  Visitors on Pre booked Tours were highly motivated and in the main spoke English. They were easier to deal with. Groups that were ad hoc ticket buyers whose language was not English proved the most difficult to satisfy. Greater competence in major European languages will be required in future.

7  The Product Range should be reduced to 50 lines and more products developed in the price range £3.00 - £5.00. Marketing of the summer line of Route should aim to change the current visitor profile to higher spending visitor's i.e. overseas visitors from North America. Westminster Hall cafeteria will be closed for conversion into a visitor's centre during the summer 2001. An alternative location needs to be agreed of storing this smaller range of merchandise and for the siting of the sales counter and display cabinets that we now own. This new centre will have much improved toilet facilities and will sell light refreshments. This will meet the criticism outlined in the market research.

8.  Should the Committee wish to broaden the visitor base across the United Kingdom then a larger distribution and marketing network will be required. This would have a cost impact both in terms of wider advertising and ticketing costs. Nevertheless it would not be difficult to put in place next year.


 
previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 8 February 2001