Spotlight On: Illuminate
With the gates open for their very first year, we spoke to the director of Illuminate James Ward about the inspiration behind the event, the growth of immersive experiences, and how FIXR has helped them in their journey so far.
What is Illuminate?
Illuminate is a winter light trail at Tonbridge Castle; part of the overarching 'Christmas at the Castle' brand which also includes Tonbridge Christmas Market and The Alpine Bar.
At Illuminate, there are three areas with several activations in each, ranging from a huge 30ft Christmas present, the classic light arch, mythical creatures, fairies, pixies, and UV decorations up in the tree canopies. We’ve also got a spot to toast marshmallows and listen to Christmas music, a stretch tent to chill out under, a bar, food and catering.
Tonbridge Christmas Market has around 30 different traders each day, with the aim to support local businesses and give back to the community, and the Alpine Bar is an après ski style bar and food court serving mulled wine, hot chocolate, churros and doughnuts.
All of these ultimately add to the experience of Illuminate, which is the ticketed activation of the three.
What was the inspiration behind it?
The idea behind it was bringing something to a town centre that could be accessed by public transport, and not be too long for kids.
When I’ve seen light trails, they've always been fairly long and remote; most of our main competitors are between 60 minutes and 90 minutes long. Having a young child myself & visiting other light trails, she lost interest within 20 minutes.
We're not a family-only event, but we wanted to focus on making sure it was both long enough to make sure those coming feel like they've got value for money, but also short enough to ensure the younger children attending do not lose interest.
So we're very much a family-friendly, shorter trail compared to those that are currently on the market, located in an urban setting with high-intensity light activation so that wherever you’re walking, you’ll be able to see the next activation, which is different from what the other light trails have on offer at the moment.
How long have you been planning it?
We had a conversation on 2nd January 2023 to conceive the idea, and then came the process of actually doing the due diligence: Can we get a site? Is it the right length? Sorting out the trail, the lights, the financials and so on.
Within about a month, we had everything that we needed to pull the trigger and make sure the event was actually feasible to do. So it's been a year in the making basically.
How important was the location?
The location we found was pivotal to actually being able to deliver what we wanted to do.
Tonbridge Castle is probably one of several in the UK that is city-centre based and actually has public transport links, but can also offer the length of trail that we would need. It all came together nicely to be able to deliver the show.
What's your view on the growth of immersive experiences in recent years?
The experiential-led events are something customers are much more receptive to at the moment.
My background is in club nights, then progressing to festivals and more experience-led, large-scale events like Oktoberfest. Over the years, I’ve seen the trends in nightclubs where if you’re not doing something new, different and experience-led, customer retention drops significantly, as ‘it's the same every week'.
Over the past few years, we’ve altered our business model to start focusing in on an older demographic with higher disposable income that can afford the more expensive experiential events.
Illuminate is one of several activations that we're going to be launching in the next two years for the older age bracket; some which haven't been done before along with some based on trends we're seeing coming out of the events world.
We were pleasantly surprised when we launched Illuminate at the uptake and the interest in it. It’s an experience. It's something that people can go to and feel like they've got value for money, and that's different from what they've been to before.
Why did you decide to use FIXR for Illuminate?
You guys offered a system that allowed me to set up the tickets, the categories, and the bracketing that Illuminate needed.
As a platform, it offered everything that we needed to be able to categorise and set up the back-of-house, and make the event's ticketing system work how we wanted it to.
The beauty of FIXR is that you guys develop what we need.
Obviously you do your own market research and develop tools that benefit us that we would never have thought about, but at the same time you are very responsive and proactive in getting things sorted, and finding solutions to ultimately help us sell tickets.
How has the experience of using FIXR been so far?
It's been really smooth. The overall, streamlined experience of purchasing tickets is great from a customer point of view.
The FIXR Entry Manager app works an absolute treat.
We've got staff on our door this year who have never used it and it's like a duck to water, they can just pick it up straight away. For us, the ability to void tickets is also extremely helpful. That's a fantastic feature.
The analytics are great as well. I've always banged on about how the statistics and the dashboard are great for us to be able to view customer information, view the analytical bits and bobs, the conversions, and all the ads side of things as well. They help us in terms of conversions and ad spend, giving us useful information in terms of our ad targeting, which helps us save money and also generate custom.
What comes next for Illuminate?
We want to scale this business. We could go to 20 places next year, but those 20 places won't fit the concept for Illuminate; the urban light trail which is a short but worthwhile experience. So we've got to be very selective on the locations that we're going to.
When you bring in all the factors - it's got to be on public transport, it’s got to be at least 35 minutes long - your pool of venues is massively reduced. So we’re aiming for three next year basically, as the expansion plan.
If you're interested in using FIXR for your event, please get in touch. We'd love to hear from you!