'Lapland' doesn't have a very good name at the moment. Firstly, we have the revelation that it isn't in Scandinavia at all, but can be found at various locations within the UK, simultaneously. On top of that, some of them aren't even any good.
In Dorest, Lapland New Forest was slated by visitors and the press, and even described as a 'scam' before being shut down. Then in Staffordshire, a similar, but unrelated attraction, Lapland West Midlands, failed to even open, with the organisers blaming 'bad publicity and lack of ticket sales'. Thankfully, all is not lost for lovers of the reindeer land, as the Lapland in Kent (confusingly called Lapland UK) is still open, and according to the BBC, is picturesque and slickly managed, if a little expensive at £75 each (!).
Before you start wondering otherwise, I'm not actually interested in a visit to Lapland (turning up without kids might be seen as a bit odd), but I do think these news stories tell us something about the market for seasonal, themed activities. Plus, it ties into my ongoing study of the interaction design of visitor attractions.
More than at any other time of the year, Christmas seems to be the period for short-lived 'experience' based attractions. Outdoor ice rinks are now two-a-penny, with most cities having several to choose from (and a few dozen in London). Manchester Council have attempted to go one better by setting up a 'Snow Slide' in Piccadilly Gardens, which doesn't actually look that appealing as it's made from 'white astroturf'. There are also 'Frost Fairs' at various locations, including Chester Zoo and London's Southbank, as well as numerous Christmas markets selling craft goods, hot dogs and mulled-wine.
I even spotted this rather naff looking 'Snow Zone' experience in central Sheffield, heavily sponsored by Andrex. There was no snow in it when I walked past, and I could quite work out what you were meant to do in it, apart from perhaps throw a few snowballs and bump into inflatable lumps of plastic.
Perhaps we should be revelling in the naffness of these experiences though. In yesterday's Guardian, Charlie Brooker wrote 'What a tragedy the Lapland New Forest attraction closed down. It sounded like my kind of theme park', comparing the troubled theme park to the eccentric attractions of the British Lawnmower Museum and Gnome Magic.
Generally though, it seems to me that to produce a decent 'Christmas Experience', you only need to deliver the punters three things: a decent photo opportunity, a hot drink, and something to entertain the kids as a break from being dragged around the shops. Do all those, preferably without a long queue, and you're onto a winner.
My suggestions (which you're welcome to exploit) are:
- Reindeer rides. Hire a few donkeys, glue a few twigs on them to look like antlers, and load em up with kids. A sure-fire winner.
- Santa boxing. Little uns have lots of pent-up energy, and sitting em on Father Christmas's knee is asking for trouble. So a novel alternative would be to stitch some punch bags in the shape of Santa and let the kids punch to their heart's content.
- Your very own Christmas lights Switch-On. Everyone likes switching on Christmas lights for the first time, but normally only celebs get to push the button for the high street lights. Why not open this up to the general public by having a switch-on ceremony every evening, with punters paying a hundred quid a pop? Open-topped double decker bus an optional extra.
Update: Dale Lane took his kids to Lapland UK, and reports back.