A short distance from London, accessible from the M4, M3 and M25 and located within Windsor Great Park, there are a thousand acres of landscaped gardens, lakes and woodland. This includes The Savill Garden, Valley Gardens and Virginia Water lake, which have in excess of 5m visitors per year. It is part of Britain’s unique royal heritage, an ambitious landscaping and plantation project that began in the 18th century.
As custodians, the Crown Estate works to protect this exceptional site, investing in its upkeep and promotion. Around the turn of the new millennium the Crown Estate decided to approve the construction of the Savill Building to replace the previous visitor centre as well as undertake a number of other initiatives designed to improve the visitor experience and underpin the organisation’s stewardship responsibilities.
Having conducted a thorough review of the initial five-year Business Plan in 2006, Britton McGrath Associates were appointed to undertake the development of the 2010-2015 Business Plan.
Since 2006 Britton McGrath Associates have carried out a number of discrete projects for the Estate which culminated in us being asked to “Size the Prize” in terms of the scale of the Visitor Experience opportunity at Windsor Great Park. We forecast significant potential for business growth and are now employed by the Crown Estate to assist the internal management in delivering on this.
Since 2005 visitor numbers across the different visitor destinations within Windsor Great Park have grown demonstrably. The challenge has been, as with most visitor destinations, the fact that they regularly all come at once! Visitor operations are stretched, particularly on peak days driven by either good weather, or a particular occasion, such as Mother’s Day, when significant queues can occur for the car parks, lavatories and restaurants and cafés.
Britton McGrath Associates initially carried out market research which identified and quantified the variety of different user types. ‘Locals’ or regular users include: dog walkers (including some professional dog-walkers); walkers; joggers; exercise groups (e.g. buggy-fit classes which use the Savill Building as a base); cyclists – particularly at Virginia Water; and young mums meeting with toddlers at the Obelisk Lawn play area and then going for coffee in the Savill Building. Destination visitors include: visitors to the Savill Garden; visitors using the building as a base from which to spend a half day in the landscape and families coming to Virginia Water for a ‘fresh-air’ experience of cycling or walking.
The profile of visitors was identified as markedly different at Virginia Water compared with that at the Savill Building. The Savill Building audience is notably more restrained in its behaviour, the Virginia water audience more active and ebullient in nature. This may be prompted in part by the style and design of the different visitor facilities but also because in the region of twenty percent of visitors in the Savill Building are there to visit the Savill Garden and are therefore likely to be older and without children in their party.
Windsor Great Park has always been a destination but not a brand and as a result, prior to our involvement, The Royal Landscape brand had been created to provide an identity to the area of the Park that could attract and manage visitors. However, what had become clear is that there was confusion about what The Royal Landscape was and whether it had geographical boundaries.
Our work in this area again started with visitor research which showed that The Royal Landscape actually had negative connotations. Very few visitors had any affinity to it and its inception had inadvertently created division within the estate and left some of the employees that weren’t working on the project feel less valued or excluded.
As a result of this, we recommended, and the decision was made to focus communication and management efforts behind the Windsor Great Park brand whilst building on, but moving forward from, the foundations created by the Royal Landscape.
Britton McGrath Associates were then asked to review the current visitor operations and consider future options for improving commercial performance. The Crown Estate had already invested significant capital into vital conservation works to the built heritage. Our recommendations built on this investment in order to drive a commercial return and move the business onto a more financially secure footing.
Our work started with a trading review which focused on the visitor driven aspects of the business. In order to ensure that the visitor business was reviewed in its entirety, however, where necessary this meant that costs had to be considered which sat within other aspects of the organisation but could be wholly or partially attributable to the visitor destination.
This enabled us to identify the priorities based on current performance, revealing that although some areas generated the greatest revenues, some, for example due to the high cost of maintenance, were less attractive areas for investment. In contrast, areas such as car parking, which had very low associated costs, had the ability to generate significantly greater contribution to the business going forward.
As part of this project, we commissioned specialist associates to carry out strategic reviews of the current catering and retail operations in order to identify future potential. This, combined with our experience of operations at other comparable sites, enabled us to identify that there was opportunity across the Windsor Great Park estate to drive additional income from a combination of enhancements to the existing facilities and the creation of new facilities.
This included room for improvement in spend per head and penetration as well as in visitor satisfaction scores which in turn could drive more repeat business, higher spend and higher penetration. Furthermore, recommendations were made on a closer alignment of the brand values in the commercial areas to the Savill Garden brand and customer profile.
In addition to this, Britton McGrath Associates also identified the potential for incremental business streams, in particular from the development and expansion of Membership schemes and the introduction of new features such as children’s adventure play. In each case market research was carried out and a top line business plan developed to support Crown Estate investment in these areas.
Since 2016 Britton McGrath Associates have worked as part of the project team developing and implementing the recommended capital improvements to the Savill Building in the areas of catering, retail and customer services as well as on the introduction of the new children’s adventure play features at the Savill Garden.
Whilst the appeal of new business ventures such as children’s play is not insignificant, BMA ensured that the business focused initially on the three areas of core business – membership, catering and retail – before expanding into new business streams which are now in development.