December 2013 - Current (ongoing retainer)
A mountain-based tourist attraction just outside Canberra was taken under new management in mid December 2013, and re-opened on Boxing Day. The facility had been closed to visitors for around 8 months, and had years of maintenance to catch up on.
What had been a gem in the ACT all year round in the 1980s and 90s had fallen in to disrepair, with several of the attractions at the facility no longer safe. There was a severely damaged reputation surrounding the name to be overcome.
We were launching an attraction primarily focused on its winter, snow offering in the middle of summer. We had also taken the decision to close or remove two of the three former activities due to disrepair, safety concerns and the desired direction for the re-launched brand.
In addition to that, the cafe and hospitality side of the business was outdated. Suppliers, equipment such as fridges and coffee machines, and staff all needed to be brought in on short notice.
The challenge, as it faced us, was to prepare a product, rebrand and launch in 14 days. The rest would have to, and did, come in the following months.
In order to prove the viability of the business, which had become unsustainable over the previous decade, revenue over the off-peak summer season would have to grow but 4-5 times. Re-opening under new management was the strongest tool we had to bring people back to the facility.
From the outset the facility was on the back foot, with off-site administration the only option due to a single satellite phone line, with slow data connection, the only option due to the remote location.
There was much unknown about the market we were jumping into, besides a lot of it had already migrated to the coast for summer holidays. Much of our market data from the initial trial period, leading into a possible winter season, would be far from representative of a "normal" expectation for the rest of the year.
The most important thing was getting the name out again, and associating it with a new brand and direction. We had to shed the image of the previous manager calling instructions from the cafe building and uncertain operating hours, while paying homage to the memories associated with the business.
We knew we could find some residual equity in the brand, a nostalgic response from parents remembering it from their childhood and bringing their kids out. That posed a problem for us too - it really wasn't "the same as it used to be" in the sense of upkeep, or the new direction we wanted to take.
The product on offer was designed to be about family experiences and enjoying the natural setting, as opposed to coming for theme park style attractions. The alpine slide, the only remaining summertime attraction, was used as the link to the business' past.
A brand was developed to present a new direction and modern visitor experience. In addition to the logo and other visual elements, a distinctive voice was decided on for the brand. The voice is conversational and enthusiastic, deliberately moving as far as possible away from the public perception previous management.
Due to the limited budget available, campaigns were heavily focused (about 90% of activity) on online engagement and media relations, rather than advertising. This decision, based on necessity and maximising resources and reach, very quickly resulted in a new and growing fan base.
All communication and messaging through the first 12 months were focused on learning from the new customer base. Online channels were targeted as conversation channels.
The make-up of the business and lean management structure was such that changes could be made inside an hour. It is something that has become vital to the business - acknowledging when things can be better and making an immediate change.
We had a summer that showed people would come out, enjoy the surroundings and spend a bit of money. So the plans for winter went ahead - for the first time in over a decade snowmaking returned, and snow play park was being operated.
An extensive media relations push brought national attention, as well as comprehensive local coverage. The launch of winter plans was covered by all the major Canberra media outlets, and resulted in a regular guest appearance on a radio drive program.
Stakeholder and government relations activities are also an ongoing initiative. Building and restoring relationships with agencies such as ACT Roads and Environment ACT brought significantly improved management of facilities.
Engaging with relevant ACT Government Departments - including Planning, Tourism and Economic Development, brought high-level attention to the new direction of the business. The historical relationships with these agencies had not always been positive, meaning the fresh start and approach was vital.
Despite challenges around access to funding and capital, regulatory delays and unexpected or unforeseen issues (some of which were due to a positive - a bumper natural snow season in 2014), the business did around three times the target revenue over its first winter. This figure saw weekly revenue of around $1,000.00 grow to season takings of over $40,000.00 in the summer and more than $300,000.00 over winter 2014. Winter 2015 saw over $500,000.00 in revenue, with an advertising investment of less than 2.5%.
Audience engagement during winter through online channels sits around five times the expected good numbers for social media, especially Facebook. Maintaining sub 60 minute response times has helped grow a self-regulating and informative online community.
Media relations activities for winter 2014 resulted in over 15 stories, not including regular conditions updates. In 2015 this number was matched, to a broader audience, owing to a number of partnerships and promotional events.
Continued engagement with the ACT Government has resulted in the business being featured in the Visit Canberra 2015 Winter campaign. It has also seen face to face meetings with ministers and high-level review of outdated requirements imposed on the business, resulting in the reduction of a $100,000.00 security bond required as part of the original land agreement in the early 1980s.
The business has created a position from which it will make a multi-million dollar investment in expanding the facility. The investment is set to quadruple winter revenue over the next three years, and crucially, will create a true all-seasons product.
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