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April 11, 2008

NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS: Did this consumer show get it wrong?

The festive season represents opportunities for businesses across the board to jump on the Christmas bandwagon and capitalise on people looking for inspiration about what presents to buy and how to entertain their kids, as well as just wanting to immerse themselves in the Christmas spirit.

Done well, this can create a magical experience for the public and serious money for the businesses concerned. But what if you’d paid for your family to attend an event that promised a Christmas extravaganza only to find long queues, overpriced products and poor entertainment – and don’t forget that you would also have your disappointed children to deal with? Well, according to feedback EVENTS:review received earlier this year, that’s what happened with The Magic of Christmas show held at the NEC Birmingham in December.

“The Magic of Christmas was seriously lacking Magic,” said one comment. “There were five of us, we paid £17 each and what a waste of money that was. The rides consisted of a carousel, tea cups and that’s it. There were only two inflatable slides, a tiny inflatable assault course, an Igloo for dancing and some strange inflatable that I can’t even think what it could have been called. The face painting line was too long; every time we passed it there were at least 25 children waiting. There were also at least 50 stalls each selling overpriced tat you would usually find on cheap markets. Seating was scarce, which, considering I’m pregnant and my parents are 65, wasn’t acceptable.”

Where’s Santa?
Interestingly, the same visitor was quite clear what she expected to get for her money. “There should have been at least 15 rides aimed at ages two to 12, Santa should have been in the arena either in a grotto or even just walking around talking to the children,” she wrote. “There should have been more seating and affordable food and drink, because let’s face it, there were thousands visiting, so the money would have been made and we wouldn’t have felt so ripped off. We won’t be visiting the NEC again for this type of show.”

Another visitor agreed, saying: “This event was spoilt by long queues for everything!” Once again, a constructive suggestion was made: “We went to queue for the theatre only to be told it was full and the next show was at 4.30pm. Maybe timed tickets for the theatre/attractions would have been a better idea.”

Brand damage
One visitor who had taken the trouble to send a comment to EVENTS:review was particularly peeved that stores were giving away free tickets. They had gone to the NEC expecting to pay the £10 ‘weekday’ charge advertised on the event’s website, only to find they had to pay £17.50 as well as £7 to park. Luckily, they were given a free family ticket by a fellow visitor in the NEC foyer. “We were shopping in Tesco later on that day and noticed that they were giving away vouchers to get into the show for free!” said the comment. “We would have been seriously gutted if we'd have actually paid our £35 to get in and then seen the vouchers later on that day.”

Free tickets were being given away as promotions by a number of companies, yet if the experience lived up to the comments EVENTS:review has received, it cannot have reflected well on their brands. Although Tesco would not comment, Channel 4, which was also involved in the promotion, did, with a spokesperson saying: “Although we check out the credentials of organisers of events we give out free tickets out for, it is impossible to know exactly how the event will be received.” This is the dilemma faced by any event sponsor, and with event sponsorship increasing in popularity, Channel 4 may well proceed with more caution in the future.

And it wasn’t just visitors who complained, a disgruntled exhibitor emailed EVENTS:review, saying: “I left early due to the bad organising!”

A word from the organisers
Of course, of the 35,000 people who attended the show over a 10-day period, EVENTS:review received feedback from only a few, but this loud minority did take the time to type long emails, which does raise cause for concern. So what do the organisers make of it?

“Overall, the feedback we have received regarding the event has been very positive,” commented a spokesperson. “Onsite research was carried out (to randomly selected visitors as they were leaving the event) and we have received a number of very glowing letters and emails from visitors who wanted to let us know how much they enjoyed their experience at the Magic of Christmas.”

This comment was backed up by several emails praising the show. One commented: “We visited with three children, one only nine weeks old, and my mother and father, well into their sixties. We all thoroughly enjoyed the whole event.” But they went on to comment: “Face Painting is amazingly popular and more painters were needed, also a Santa’s Grotto would have been superb,” alluding to one of the complaints EVENTS:review received.

However, another visitor had nothing but praise for the show, saying: “Thank you for a wonderful time. I booked this with the thought it would be just okay, but the whole day exceeded our expectations.” Two others followed suit, the first saying “My children thought that it was absolutely amazing,” the second pleading: “Please, please do it again next year.”

Learning from the experience

Despite these positive comments, will the organisers be responding to the criticisms received by EVENTS:review?

“We appreciate visitors and exhibitors taking the trouble to let us know their thoughts and provide their much valued feedback,” said the spokesperson. “It is an important part of the event evaluation to ensure that the really good items are repeated and that any necessary changes are put in place.

“We are evaluating the retail element to ensure it strikes the right balance – many visitors took advantage of the opportunity to shop at the event, but of course for others it was not how they wanted to spend their time.

“With regard to increasing the amount of rides or activities, Our visitor research demonstrates that most visitors felt there was a sufficient mix of attractions and activities, but part of our ongoing research and planning will include looking in to new elements that could be introduced for 2008. What’s more, we have plans to improve access to the highly popular face painting element.”

Finally, on complaints of parking, The Magic of Christmas spokesperson said: “We understand how frustrating it can be to pay for items such as car-parking – different venues have different arrangements in place and unfortunately these aspects are not controlled by the event organisers.”

Summing up, they stressed: “We believe that overall the Magic of Christmas was a success and enjoyed by the majority of visitors. it is impossible to create an event that absolutely every visitor enjoys – but that is certainly our aim! Watch this space!”

And you can guarantee that EVENTS:review will.

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