This year is a big one for Alton Towers Resort. With the expansion of CBeebies Land and the opening of the CBeebies Land Hotel. Next year will see the opening of SW8 (Secret Weapon 8), a massive wooden rollercoaster on the site of the old log flume. More than ever, it’s essential for Alton Towers Resort to look its best.
Much like any theme park, Alton Towers Resort is committed to keeping rides and attractions looking as good as possible. These vast structures are subjected to a battering from weather, and in some cases, the general public. It’s a massive job keeping everything looking good. A lot of this work is hidden from the public, either during the closed season – or out of hours so we never really see these improvements happening.
However, Alton Towers Resort have taken a different approach to their maintenance, and document it on Facebook, Twitter, and in the occasional blog too. By seeing the work taking place, you can really appreciate the size of the tasks being faced by the Towers TLC team.
Towers TLC doesn’t just concern itself with rides, it’s all about the general experience too. Keeping areas looking fresh and vibrant. Investing everything from new bins, benches, seating, fencing to accessible toilets and changing places too. I’ve been watching the Towers TLC team on social media for a while now, and enjoying their updates. So, on a recent visit to Alton Towers I met with Wayne Burton – Head of Product Excellence. Wayne leads the Towers TLC team and we had a chat about what they’ve been working on, and what’s next for them.
What is your job within Alton Towers resort?
My name is Wayne Burton and I am the Head of Product Excellence at the resort. Product Excellence is all about the guest experience and the guest journey. I have a team of people and they basically look after everything the guest sees, hears, smells and interacts with. It’s all about making it the best we can for our guests.
Could you give us a quick history of your career in the industry?
I have always been passionate about Alton Towers, I used to be a pass holder in the 90’s and watched Oblivion being built in 97/98. It gave me a real desire to come and work at such a fantastic place.
I joined as an entertainments host and used to dance with Barney the Dinosaur many years ago. Then I worked on rides, I operated Oblivion in 2005 and then I joined the Tussauds (now Merlin) Graduate Scheme, it was a platform for me to develop, I did 3 months as Guest Experience Manager at Madame Tussauds in London, 3 months in the Alton Towers Hotel and some time at Warwick Castle and others attractions as part of the 2 year programme.
I then spent about 8 years in Marketing here at Alton Towers, worked on many projects, firstly the launch of Shark Bait Reef, then all the branding in the Smiler and the Smiler game. A colleague and I developed it with an agency. I remember even playing it on Christmas Day when we were testing it before launch in the January. Then 2 years ago I got this role as Head of Product Excellence.
Towers TLC is showing very publicly how the resort is improving, why have you chosen to show the work on social media?
The TLC is something we have always done in closed season but the branding as Towers TLC is new. It was a project I worked with some other departments on, we identified some gaps in what we call ‘fantastical escapism’. We should bring it all together with a project name and TLC worked.
I like sharing what we doing as there are people that like to see it. Not all of the millions of people that come every year but the passionate fans that want to see what we are investing in and improving. I thought showing it on an online blog was a good way to do it. It is just me on my phone after hours talking about what we did each day.
Why is Towers TLC important to you?
As I said it is a critical part of the guest experience, things like the Nemesis monster, we are famous for that ride. The monster however had lost a lot of its personality over the years and we wanted to reintroduce that and we wanted to do it right. It is important to me that we have a high quality finish on our products.
What Towers TLC work are you most proud of?
That’s a tough question, the last couple of months I have spent a lot of time in Hex, it has been my favourite ride here since it went in in 2000. All of the heritage at the heart of the Towers and being so immersive is what we are all about. I am pleased with what we have achieved and we have re sparked some of that magic in there. Towers Street is nearly complete and we have repainted all of the facades, it’s not quite finished yet, but we are getting there.
Hex after many hours of Towers TLC
For me that’s something that every guests sees as they walk through and for me things like the music on Tower Street is part of the whole entrance. Along with the Nemesis monster and things like the Driving School where we have really put some energy back into that area. There’s loads really.
Aside from the regular upkeep what is next for the Towers TLC team?
What we plan is to do little bits throughout the season, we will blog some but not all of it. During the season we have some closed days and we will take that opportunity to paint things and fine tune things. In the next close season we would like to look at Nemesis Phase 3 and some more Tower Street buildings.
Extensive work taking place on the Nemesis Monster
Where I really want to get is in to Duel, hopefully we’ll be able to get in there and give it some Towers TLC.
I think we will spend the year planning short/medium/long-term projects to improve the guest experience, things like benches, bins, improving toilets and more long-term upgrading the Monorail and Skyride. Whatever area SW8 is in, it is important that the surroundings for it look and feel fresh.
Do you see a time when there will be no rides or attractions SNBO (standing but not operating) or is it something the public will have to get used to?
I would like to think that in the next 4-5 years we will be in a place where we can be a 365 resort, like other resorts in the world, with planned maintenance. We could be open from January 5th but maybe something would be shut for a month and you could rotate that throughout the year.
We have some rides shut at the moment, some for some TLC and some for more than TLC with a long-term aim, I can’t say much more, so watch this space.
What can you tell us about the rest of 2017, SW8 and looking in to 2018?
We are looking forward to a strong season and to be the pride of Merlin’s crown.
With any Secret Weapon the year before is as exciting as the launch and throughout the year you will see things teased and released.
SW8 is going to be exciting, when the plans go online for the planning application it can spoil our fun as people like to have a look. I have been on the project team and I can’t say much but we are all excited about it.
We know we aren’t the only attraction launching a new rollercoaster next year so and it will be good for the industry to celebrate rollercoasters and remind people what a great product we have to offer.
We also have 2 new CBeebies Land attractions for this year, we have already had some great feedback getting 10/10 from kids on the way out.
Later in the year we have the opening of the CBeebies Land Hotel which is a huge thing for us in terms of the relationship with the BBC and Cbeebies, and shows investment in accommodation is important.
Thanks so much for your time Wayne!
The determination and passion of Wayne and his team is clear, and the work they do is incredible. I think it’s a brilliant idea showcasing Towers TLC on social media. If you’re interested in the work they do, you can find them on Facebook and Twitter. Hopefully some of the other UK Theme Parks will follow Alton Towers lead and show the work they do behind the scenes in a similar way.