In today's episode I speak with Simon Addison, Heritage Business Manager at the Roman Baths. We talk all things pricing, and the phenomenal impact that introducing variable pricing has had at the Baths.
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Simon is the Business Manager, Roman Baths and Pump Room, Bath, and heads the finance and business planning functions at the Roman Baths. He is responsible for business analysis, pricing strategy and leads the benchmarking work.
Simon started his career in the financial services industry, where he qualified as a chartered management accountant with the Bank of New York. He moved to the National Trust in 2012, where he held roles in the finance team. Latterly he was responsible for the Trust’s finances in Somerset, Dorset and Wiltshire. Simon joined the senior leadership team at the Roman Baths in 2017.
Simon joined the Board of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions in May 2022.
Kelly Molson: Welcome to Skip The Queue, a podcast for people working in or working with visitor attractions. I'm your host Kelly Molson. Each episode, I speak with industry experts from the attractions world. In today's episode, I speak with Simon Addison, Heritage Business Manager at the Roman Baths.
We talk all things pricing, and the phenomenal impact that introducing variable pricing has had at the Baths.
If you like what you hear, subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, and all the usual channels by searching Skip The Queue.
Kelly Molson: Simon, welcome to the podcast. It's lovely to see you today.
Simon Addison: Thanks for having me. I'm excited. I'm nervous about the icebreakers though.
Kelly Molson: Everyone always is. You shouldn't be. What is your favourite season? And why?
Simon Addison: I think autumn. Yeah, the colours on the trees, kick through the leaves with the kids. You can go on those walks, you get the crisp mornings. We're starting to get them at the moment. But you still get sort of a bit of warmth at the end of the day in the afternoon. You can still sit outside on a good day. Yep, definitely autumn.
Kelly Molson: Totally agree. You are my people. Simon. Autumn woolly hats.
Simon Addison: Yeah.
Kelly Molson: Cold but bright.
Simon Addison: Yes.
Kelly Molson: Frisbee, dog walks and Halloween.
Simon Addison: Not so much of a Halloween person but it could be an unpopular opinion territory here. But yeah.
Kelly Molson: All right. Well, save that. Okay. Have you ever been told off for touching something in a museum?
Simon Addison: Yeah, I have. I think the last time was at Lanhydrock. Which is a National Trust place down in Cornwall. We were in the kitchen. They had some plastic fake food on the table and I got told off for touching the plastic fake food.
Kelly Molson: Did you just touch it? Oh, you're trying to juggle with it.
Simon Addison: I was just touching it, Kelly.
Kelly Molson: Okay, don't touch plastic fruit kids. Right. What is something you're really good at? And is a little bit obscure. I'll give you an example of one of mine. I'm really good at; if I hear a song. Or like songs. I can tell you what film they've been in.
Simon Addison: That is a good question. I'm pretty good at motorways around the UK. Where you want to go. I could probably tell you roughly what motorways would be involved in that journey. Don't ask me now though.
Kelly Molson: And I'm really dreadful as well. That's exactly why that really made me laugh. It made you sound like an absolute nerd. Sorry, Simon.
Simon Addison: You asked an accountant on your podcast, Kelly.
Kelly Molson: That's very true. It's very true. I should have been more prepared for the nerd answers. Sorry. All right. So good at motorway so you could have been like London cabbie. You'd have been good at the knowledge.
Simon Addison: Yeah, I reckon that's a different level of knowledge, though. Isn't it? Just those trunk roads around the UK? It's quite a niche building is that detailed. I think we're just talking about my major routes.
Kelly Molson: We would need to find like a really niched pub quiz for our talents wouldn't we? One that covers music from films and routes around the UK using motorways only.
Simon Addison: Yeah, pretty tough.
Kelly Molson: Anyone knows a pub quiz team that needs those skills on them? Hit us up. Right. What is your unpopular opinion?
Simon Addison: Well, I was gonna go with something about Crocs as being an abomination of a choice of footwear. But I feel like that might have come up before. So my unpopular opinion is that golf is the greatest amateur sport to play.
Kelly Molson: Okay, you are a clean golfer, I take it.
Simon Addison: I am a keen golfer. But I think more than that, like the handicap system, so you get a handicap if you're a golfer tells you how good you are. And that means that golfers of different abilities can play competitively against each other on a level playing field, I could go out and play against a professional and have a competitive match. I don't think there are many other sports that you could do that in.
And I think for me, that meant that, you know, when I started playing golf in my early 20s, I used to play quite a bit with my granddad, who was quite a lot older than me. And once I was working, I still used to play with him a few times a year. Although I was a better golfer than him on paper, I reckon I only beat him once. Every time I turned up to play with him. I wanted to show how good I was and played like a muppet.
But I don't think there are many sports that an eight year old could be a 25 year old app. And if you want to spend silly amounts of money, you can go and play courses where professionals play and you can see how much better they are than you and you can really measure your ability against what a professional sort of standard is.
My seven year old son's just getting into golf at the moment. And so this summer, walking around the golf course with him has been sort of the highlight of my summer. And now he's got his handicap. He's seven and he'll probably beat me in a couple of years. And again, I don't think you know, I don't think there are many sports where seven or eight year old could turn up and be a fully grown adult. So for me, that's why golf is the best amateur sport.
Kelly Molson: Yeah, I'd never thought about it like that at all. I think that's brilliant. My husband is a keen golfer and I am a golf widow, although not on the weekends, because he's a wedding photographer anyway, so the weekend so he does fit it. He is quite kind and fits it around times when he should be working when he's not working. But yeah, I hadn't ever thought about that. So it kind of puts you on a really good, I guess you get to learn from people that are really experienced as well because you can actually play against them. Whereas you would never get that opportunity at all, do you?
Simon Addison: Exactly. And you can go out and play with someone who's way better than you and see how they play and it can improve your game. Yeah. And my wife is also a golf widow. I reckon she's playing the long game. I think she's seeing everything. If my son plays as well, then, in years to come, she'll get those Saturdays back. You know, maybe if the other son also takes up golf. Maybe it's just a long game. But right now she's definitely a golf widow.
Kelly Molson: She knows she's plotting because I'm doing exactly the same. I pluck up the hours that he plays golf, and I work out how many hours I can spend doing things that I really want to it's just I haven't found a hobby. That takes me four hours. Yeah, that's what I need.
Simon Addison: Yeah, there is that? Yeah, it's yeah, it was the might be, in my opinion, the greatest sport for an amateur to play. It isn't a short sport, and it isn't a cheap sport.
Kelly Molson: It is not. That's a great opinion, though. Let's see what our listeners think. Thank you. Okay, Simon, as you mentioned earlier, you are an accountant. I don't think we've had an accountant on the podcast before but you're not really a traditional accountant, are you? So tell us a little bit about your role.
Simon Addison: So at the moment, I work at the Roman Baths in Bath, for Bath and North East Somerset Council. So we're a council owned and run visitor attraction. As well as the ruin bars, we operate the Fashion Museum and the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath, and also the record office in the city.
My role is Business Manager, I'm responsible for all aspects of sort of finance and business planning, benchmarking and trend analysis, I sort of try not to take offense at my profession, when people say you're not a traditional accounting, but I think it means that I try and look a little bit further than just what the numbers are telling you. I think the accounts are only ever a symptom of what else is going on in the operation. So if all you do is look at the accounts each month, you're probably not going to understand what's driving those numbers. So I think, you know, maybe it's about trying to sort of relate all of that performance data to operational outcomes and objectives.
Kelly Molson: Yeah, I think because we've spoken in the past, I always very much saw your role. Well, the conversations that we've had about your role, and will have always been that you've been on the side of the operations as well. So you, you know, you do have that kind of contact with the visitors. And you have that you kind of broach that in between bit between the accountant and the ops department. If that makes sense. That's how it came across to me anyway.
Simon Addison: Yeah, I think that's fair. I think before I came to the Baths, I was at the National Trust my job title there was Finance Business Partner. And I think that really was, that was much more. Well, my role now is similar, but it's about working with operational staff and helping them to achieve their objectives. And I think people can see finance can see budgets, as, you know, an intimidating subject. And actually, really, their tool to achieve your objectives.
And I think, you know, particularly in an organisation like the National Trust, you join the National Trust as a gardener or arranger or conservator, because you're passionate about those things, if you're good at them, you get given a budget. And I think, then all of a sudden, you're responsible for not just, your garden, but also how much you spend looking after it. And I think sitting down with those people who may be wanting to spend more money or needed new equipment, and sort of demystifying the accounts, how they worked.
That's what I find really rewarding, churning out a set of accounts or a budget in and of itself, isn't a particularly rewarding process. It's about, sitting down with someone who didn't think they could achieve X or Y that year and making them realise that actually, it's it is achievable if they manage their money slightly differently. I think that's a really rewarding place to be.
Kelly Molson: Yeah, absolutely. And that's that kind of alludes to some of the stuff that we can talk about today, because you've been through a really interesting pricing journey at the Baths. And I want you to talk us through what you've done. And then we can talk about some of the impacts that's actually had because it's incredibly impressive. And I think people listening will be really, really intrigued by this. So variable pricing. Tell us why you took that direction in the first place. How did this come to happen?
Simon Addison: Sure. I joined the Baths in autumn 2017. So we've just come out of the summer over the summer at the Baths we open 13 hours a day. So open the doors at nine o'clock in the morning through to 10 o'clock at night. We've got the gas flares going Torchlight experience. It's a fantastic time, but it takes its toll on staff opening for that length of time, and we just had our busiest ever summer.
So in the Spring, in early summer of 2017, there were some terror attacks in London and in Manchester. And one of the consequences of that is that we saw an almost immediate spike in visitors to Bath I think people perceive Bath as being a relatively safe city, you can drive pretty much into the centre of it. And people who get to their own bus without needing to engage in public transport and, and so almost overnight, you could see that sort of spike in visitors. And frankly, we weren't prepared for it.
So the staff had come out of a summer where we'd seen huge numbers of visitors that we perhaps weren't ready for. But actually, over the course of the previous three or four years, visitor numbers have been growing steadily. And we were doing nothing to really manage those numbers or influence when people came. So we could start the year telling you what our busiest day of the year was going to be. And all we did was brace ourselves.
So coming out of that sort of 2017 year, I was new in post, we also had a new commercial manager, new in post, we started to think about what we could do differently. And I went to an Alpha Finance Directors meeting, where Baker Richards, the consultants did a presentation on pricing strategy. And Debbie Rich's talked about the fact that if all you do is increase your price by inflation every year, you haven't got a pricing strategy. And we weren't even doing that we were just putting 50 P on it, not linking it to inflation.
And all we were doing was making a bit more money each year. But we weren't really shaping anything to do with our visitor behaviour. All of the visitors arrived in concentration in the summer, as you would expect. But also within an individual day, we would have peaks at 11 o'clock and two o'clock, which will be familiar to lots of people who work in attractions. And again, we didn't try and do anything to smooth those visitors through the day, obviously, the experience suffered at our busiest times. And also, because we're not a particularly big site, anyone that's been will know that, you know, there are quite a lot of enclosed spaces, and visitors get very close to the Roman monument.
And if you've packing in six or seven thousand people in a day, or with rucksacks on or turning round all the time, there's a sort of a conservation impact of those, that number of people coming through the monument. And if they're knocking off bits of Roman stone, you can't really just stick it back on.
Kelly Molson: Not plastic fruit, is it, Simon?
Simon Addison: It's not plastic fruit. No, it's not. And so we were, yes, we were making money, but our visitor experience scores were suffering. And also our conservation objectives were not being delivered by having that concentration of people through the year. So after that, we sort of engaged Baker Richards or we went through a tender process, and ended up appointing Baker Richards to help us with a pricing strategy.
Kelly Molson: So what did that look like in terms of your team? Because I'd love to know who you got involved in that process. Because I think sometimes things can happen back office, that there's an agreement that this is what we're going to do, but we don't necessarily get all of the right members of the team involved from the start. So what did that look like for you?
Simon Addison: For us, it looked like a multidisciplinary team. So we have people from across the business involved in that we set up a Project Steering Group, and we had members of staff from the on that group, I thought was particularly important to get the staff involved early, because ultimately, they're the people that are going to sell the ticket to the customer. So if a customer walks up and the member of staff, the visitor experience host that greets them doesn't feel the tickets worth the selling price, then that will come across in the welcome. And equally, if they do you feel it's worth the price, they understand the reason that we've implemented this strategy and the journey that we're going on, then they can sell it with confidence, and they can articulate it. And if someone turns around and says is expensive, they're ready to defend that price.
So we had V involved from the start, it was also really important to get senior leadership buy in from across the business. So making sure that the curatorial staff understood that we were trying to manage down the numbers, or not done the numbers overall, but manage the numbers of peak times and smooth the visitors throughout the year for a specific conservation objective was really important, because I think, you know, in visitor attractions, usually, there's a tension between the conservation objectives and the provision of access to that, whether it's a museum, whether it's a historic garden or house.
The more people you let through a space, the more impact it has from a conservation objective. So holding those two things, intention, conservation and access are usually when, in my experience, we deliver best as a business, meeting the needs both of our visitors, but also the collections and buildings that we're caring for. So making sure that everyone was signed up for the objectives at the start was really important. And then obviously, we had marketing involved, because again, they need to be able to be confident that we can sell these prices that we're not gonna get a load of feedback that was too expensive. And sort of the commercial professionals that you'd expect as well.
Kelly Molson: So what did it look like? When you started to go through this process? How did you work out what that pricing was going to be?
Simon Addison: When we engaged Baker Richards, the first sort of phase of the project was a discovery phase. So we gave them access to lots of historic data. So they took our ticketing data, they could look at how many people we had day by day, week by week, and they went back over five years, they also took the retail sales data so that, you know, because one of the things we didn't want to do was to make more money Front of House as people walked in, and then compromise our retail spend.
So they looked at the range of data that we had available. And one of the features of the bars that they were able to identify is that we were quite predictable. As a site, our visitor numbers were fairly predictable; month by month and week by week. And what that meant is they could be quite confident about the level of demand, we were seeing whether that was from domestic or international visitors, and that gave them more confidence in the recommendations they were making. Because we had a regular repeatable pattern of visitation, they were then able to stay with confidence, this model shouldn't impact on that, if we were a less regular site was prone to more I don't know whether or seasonal fluctuations, then it might have been more difficult to have those that level of confidence.
So we sort of the initial phase we went through was that discovery phase, they took the data, they analysed it. And we also gave them a really clear brief, we didn't just want to make more money. We felt really strongly that actually as a heritage site, we didn't want to just become a luxury product that was only available to middle classes. So we gave them a brief that we wanted some of our prices to reduce.
And we wanted to not price up every school holiday, you know, what you might call the Centre Park pricing model where you can, you can sort of identify when the school holidays are by the fact that price triples. So we gave them a really clear brief. And they went through that data discovery phase initially, and came back to us halfway through the project and sort of presented back the data analysis that they'd done and said, "This is our picture of your business, does it chime with your own understanding?"
And for me, that was one of the biggest, you know, as well as getting a pricing strategy out of it, having some consultants look at your business, and effectively validate all the analysis that you do yourself was really helpful. Reassuringly, for us, they didn't tell us anything we didn't know. But it is a validation of the quality of the performance, management and the business analysts that I have working in my team that, you know, they're producing EMI, that that was consistent and telling a consistent story with what Baker Richards did.
Kelly Molson: And so what decisions did you come to about the pricing? And how does it work now, and because I want to talk about how it works then but also, this was pre pandemic, right? So then you had the pandemic to deal with as well. So what did you put in place?
Simon Addison: So to start with, we ended up with a relatively simple pricing structure. We had three price points during the year, we had that sort of summer, peak price period, if you like, we had the shoulder months, so spring and autumn, and then we had the off peak period through the winter. And within that, weekdays were always cheaper than weekends.
Every time a visitor looked at our website, there was always a choice to be made about what price they wanted to pay. And when we were first speaking to Baker Richards, they gave this great example; it was one of the kids theatre shows it may have been Peppa Pig World or something. And parents were taking their kids to see Peppa Pig at the theatre. And there was a balloon on sale and was four pounds for this balloon. And they were getting loads of complaints about people not wanting to spend four pounds on a balloon.
Next year, they sold two balloons, they sold one balloon for four pounds, they sold one balloon for eight pounds. Not only did they get no complaints about the balloon, for four pounds, they sold a load of eight pound balloons, because all of a sudden, people go into the theatre, we're presented with a choice. They could either buy no balloon, but if they did want to buy a balloon, they could choose to buy a four pound balloon or they could choose to buy an eight pound balloon. And so it's then been their choice as to the price they've paid.
And so for us with visitors, they're looking at the website, there's always a choice that they can make. So when they choose to come on a Saturday, they know that they could have chosen to come on a Friday and it would have been cheaper, but the Saturday met their needs. So the price they've paid is a choice they've made based on the needs they've got. And so that was introducing that element of choice was a really important feature of the pricing structure.
Kelly Molson: Yes, you're empowering them to make the decision about it, not forcing them into a decision.
Simon Addison: Absolutely. And I think the other thing we did in that first iteration of the pricing strategy was introduced an online discount because we knew lots of people looked at our website before they came, but very few people committed to purchase on the website. Most people came in and joined the queue. And that meant that we couldn't manage their arrival time because they just joined the queue and they'd get in when they got in.
So we were seeing sort of five or 7% pre booking before the pandemic, and before we introduced this strategy, we introduced the strategy we put in a 10% online discount. And overnight, we saw a doubling in the number of people that were pre booking. So for us, that was really helpful in terms of predicting their arrival time, but for our marketing team as well, all of a sudden, we had the postcode of where these people were coming from is valuable data that we weren't getting beforehand.
Pre booking has become slightly more important over the last couple of years. And we no longer have that discount for online because it's been a necessity. So but that was one of the features of that first iteration of the strategy.
Kelly Molson: Amazing. And how did your visitors engage with it? What was the feedback when you launched it?
Simon Addison: We didn't get a lot of direct feedback about the fact that we had a new pricing strategy, because the Baths is, you know, one of our features is that we're a tickbox destination. So we're 80% first time visitors. So in implementing a new strategy, we didn't have to concern ourselves too much with the person that said, "Oh, you were cheaper last year, or you've done something different to last year", because those people by and large, don't come year after year.
Most people who've been before came on a school trip as I came 20 years ago, it's changed a bit. And so it's definitely a different model, we operate to some other attractions. But what we did see, we saw some complaints, but we saw complaints before the strategy came in. So we saw no more complaints on price than we did beforehand. And we saw many fewer complaints about crowding.
And our value for money score increased, and has continued to increase each year with since we increased our prices.
Kelly Molson: That's brilliant.
Simon Addison: And I think it comes back to that choice element. So your visitors are standing there, and they've made a choice to pay that money. And so they didn't feel like they wanted to come to the Baths, and they had to pay the price. They wanted to come to the Baths, and they were able to choose which price met their needs and the day that they wanted to come and I think that's translated through to those scores.
Kelly Molson: Absolutely. I'm definitely never gonna pay a pound for a balloon. No, I'm just putting that out there. It's not happening.
Simon Addison: Me, I wouldn't pay four pounds either.
Kelly Molson: Who needs a balloon? You're just gonna let it go.
Simon Addison: And then you gotta pop it. And it's gonna be a source of disappointment.
Kelly Molson: Wow, in the wrong business. Right. This was pre pandemic. So this was 2017, you started this process 2017?
Simon Addison: Yeah, yeah. 2017, I joined, we did the sort of discovery and design the strategy 2018, implemented in 2019. And we had our best ever year in terms of visitor numbers in 2019. But all of the growth came outside of the June, July and August period. So our growth came in April and May and September and October. So from that sort of objective of smoothing out the visitors through the year, we achieved that by pushing people out into the shoulder months.
And also, we didn't have one day over 7000 visitors. In fact, we didn't have one day over six and a half 1000 visitors. Now, that's still a lot of people through quite a small space. But we certainly drove out those peaks that we were seeing before we implemented the strategy. And as importantly, we made 2.3 million pounds extra revenue in the first year of the strategy. And Baker Rich's modelling suggested that we'd make 2.4 million. So they were really incredibly accurate terms of the modelling that they'd done. And the returns that were possible through this strategy. And it delivered so accurately to that really impressive bit of work.
Kelly Molson: I mean, that is a phenomenal impact, isn't it? The difference that has made is just so impressive. But that was 2019. What has happened since COVID?
Simon Addison: So I think, because we had multiple price points through the year before COVID, it was much easier for us to reopen with a model that was reactive. I think if we'd only ever had a fixed price point, changing the price would have been a really big thing for us. Whereas we changed our price twice a week. And so being able to sort of reopen in the summer of 2020. With our plan summer pricing, we came to the end of August. And we were still seeing really strong demand against a much reduced capacity.
And so we kept the prices at our peak price through September and October. And because we already had those price points built into our pricing structure, it was really easy for us to just take that decision to continue with the higher prices and maximise the revenue from the visitors that were coming through. And I'd say that arguably the 300,000 pounds of additional revenue we made from the pricing structure in 2020 was more useful than the 2.3 million that we made the year before because you know there was revenue was so scarce at that point.
And so, being more reactive was really important. Obviously, we ditched the online discount because online booking became a mandatory feature of going anywhere. So you don't need to discount something that visitors had to do. And I think also it just having gone through a year where we charged more, we had the confidence that visitors were prepared to pay for that.
And so coming out of COVID, in late 2020, we did a phase two piece of work with Baker Richards, looking at what happened in 2019. But also what was happening in our sort of COVID reopening. And what that showed is that even though we'd increase the prices quite significantly through the summer, in 2019, it had a negligible impact on the demand. So that gave us the confidence to be even punchier in that sort of that June, July and August period, with our peak pricing, and we don't articulate it this way on our website. But effectively, we introduced a super peak price going into 2021.
So having never charged more than 17 pounds in 2018, this summer, we've charged 27.50. Not for a long period of the year, it's only at the weekends. And it's only during June, July and August. So it's only 15 days a year or something. But having that headline price, I think Dom from Mary Rose talked about decoy pricing when he was on, it's almost that sort of if you've got that high headline price, then everything else feels comparatively good value, as you as you trade down from that.
So people are saying, "Well, you know, let's not go on Saturday, we'll go on Wednesday, because it's three pounds cheaper or whatever", or if you're buying a family ticket even more. So I think using that sort of that headline price as a decoy having real confidence about the quality of your product. So yes, it's worth it, because people are prepared to pay for it.
But also, if you look at what else people are prepared to spend 27 pounds on, people have spent 27 pounds on lots of different things. So why is the Roman Baths or why is the Tower of London or Stonehenge? Yeah, they're all equally valid cause on people's leisure spend. And we should be confident about the quality of product that we we give to people.
Kelly Molson: You mentioned earlier about retail spent, and this not having an effect on it. What was the effect on retail spend, once you transition to the variable pricing?
Simon Addison: There was no impact at all. So we didn't see an increase in retail spend pre pandemic, we just saw no impact at all. For anyone who's been to the Baths, we've got a really small shop, we're confined by being in the centre of Bath, we'd love to be able to expand our shop. But when we do, our benchmarking, we're consistently performing in the top two or three sites for sales per square metre. So we just know that we can't fit enough people in that shop for the number of people that come through the site.
And the work that Baker Richards did showed the display visitor numbers increasing year on year, the number of transactions that were taking place to the shop hadn't been keeping pace, basically our busiest times the shop had reached saturation point. So it may be that some people decided not to go into the shop because they'd paid more to come in. But for anyone that decided that there was someone who has bypassed the shop before, because, you know, they just looked in when Bath was too busy.
So for anyone who was not going into the shop, there were other customers who were prepared to go in. And since COVID, our retail spend has been through the roof. And you our spend per visitor this year is 50 pence a visitor higher than it was pre COVID. And I can't tell you why, Kelly.
Kelly Molson: I was gonna ask, why?
Simon Addison: Obviously, high quality ranges and my retail colleagues would not forgive me if I said it was anything other than the quality of product in there. But I think certainly when we first reopened from COVID people were just glad to be out. There was a sense, particularly if you've had a lot done experience like mine with small children, you were just glad to be anywhere other than your own house.
And our top selling lines before COVID were toiletries because we bought the bars, spa and well being but people didn't want to buy toiletries, because you know, in 2020, no one's picking up anything and sniffing it. That felt like quite a risky thing to do. But we saw gin and that was a genius move. So we sold gin and children's books. And I think, you know, most people's lockdown experiences was similar to mine, not enough gin and not enough children's books.
So they came to the Roman Baths and they bought both of those things in spades. But you know, as toiletries have come back through that they're picking up in terms of sales, but people spending a lot of money, buying high priced jewellery product. I wish I could tell you why. You should have asked Callum when he was on.
Kelly Molson: Yeah, yeah, I should. Well, I'll post the question to him and see if he knows. Yeah, it's interesting. I wonder if it's that. I mean, I was very conscious of visiting attractions and spending money in the retail stores because of the fact that they'd been shut. I wanted to spend more money. I wanted to do my bit because I wanted those places to stay open. So I wonder if there's still a residue of that happening when people are visiting?
Simon Addison: I think in 2020, we would definitely put it down to that and you could almost see it as well. And there was a sense that people had saved money. Whether that was on commuting costs or childcare bills or whatever, there was a sense that people would save money during the lockdowns and therefore they had more disposable income.
But we're coming up with the cost of living pressures. We're coming into winter with massive uncertainty. And every month, I look at those returning members, and I'm waiting for that spend per visitor to drop, and it hasn't done yet. So I think it's more than just a sort of an altruistic desire to support the attractions. Or maybe it's about people choosing to prioritise this activity of their spend over, I don't know Netflix subscriptions or something. So, yeah, I can't answer that question. But we're glad to see it.
Kelly Molson: I'll ask Callum. I'll ask Callum Lumsden of Lumsden Design and see if he can tell us and shed some light on it. All right. So what I'd really like to know, if you could give me your top tips for people that are thinking about going through this process, what would they be if anyone that's listening? Now that's thinking this is a genius thing to do, I would like to add 2.3 million to my revenue, please.
Simon Addison: I think the first thing is being really clear on your objectives. So for us, it wasn't just about making more money, we'd have ended up with a pricing strategy that looked different if we wanted to just make more money. So the ability to deliver something for visitor experience objectives and conservation objectives was really important, and really featured heavily in the brief that we gave to Baker Richards. So starting out with that clarity of purpose, I think would be my first tip.
I'd also say if I know budgets are tight at the moment, but if you can pay for the analysis, then firstly, it's such a helpful validation of your own business analysis that you're doing yourselves. But when you need to sell this inwardly, so we're part of the council, we needed to sell this strategy and inwardly to local politicians and the council leadership. But if you're in a more sort of typical attraction, you're going to need to sell this to your trustees. And having that sort of analysis as a validation of your strategy. And your approach will hopefully give them the confidence that increasing prices by a significant percentage is not a ridiculous thing to do, certainly involving your front of house teams.
And that's not linked to pricing strategy that's just linked to anything you do in your attraction, your Front of House Team are the people that are going to hear from the visitors what they think about it, they're the person who has got to explain your own strategic direction to the visitors when they're in front of them. But particularly when it comes to pricing, I think making sure that they're involved, they've got a chance to ask questions. And also that you're giving them that feedback as well. So that sort of regular communication, once you've implemented it, tell them whether what you're seeing is what you expected to see.
Because otherwise, if there's a void in that communication, they'll fill it with their own analysis, or we didn't seem very busy last Saturday, and it might not have been busy last Saturday, because it was pouring with rain, as opposed to your pricing strategy is not working. So making sure that you're having that regular dialogue with those teams on an ongoing basis.
And I think the final thing is holding your nerve. And that, you know, when we'd never charged more than 17 pounds before that first Saturday, when our prices were 22 pounds, there's a level of nervousness that is associated with that. And so holding the nerve when price setting, we could do a whole separate podcast on communicating with the travel trade. But it's safe to say, that was probably the most challenging aspect of the project in terms of moving the travel trade on to a variable pricing model when they have a, you know, they sell in advance, they sell through third parties. And that was a really difficult set of conversations. But we held our nerve.
And despite being told that they wouldn't be able to work with us, they wouldn't be able to bring us the volume. 2019, they bought us more people and they never bought us before. So so there is a bit about holding nerve. And I think post implementation, don't be tempted to tinker too much. Because otherwise you won't know if the strategy didn't work or whether you fiddled with it, and then it didn't work. So I think if you change too many things at once this is the nerd in me, you change too many things at once, you can't tell what's made the difference.
So trying to only change one thing, will tell you whether that one thing works or not. Obviously, go through a pandemic, you change everything all at once. And it's very difficult. But generally speaking, if you can sort of make change in a stage where you can measure the impact of an intervention, whereas if you change four or five things at once, you don't know what's caused it, cause the effect that you're seeing. So those would be my top tips. I think Kelly.
Kelly Molson: Absolutely excellent advice. Simon, I know that you are an ALVA member, I know that you're really keen to speak with other attractions. I know that you're very well obviously you've come on the podcast to share your insight and I know you're very keen to do that. So I'm sure if anyone does have questions around the OTA challenge or variable pricing, I'm sure that you'd be super happy to talk to people.
Simon Addison: Yeah, always happy to.
Kelly Molson: We will pop all of Simon's details in terms of, we will put his LinkedIn profile and a link to the Roman Baths in the show notes. So if you do want to reach out to him and ask him any questions, please feel free. Simon, a book that you would recommend to our listeners something that you love or something that shaped your career. What do you have for us today?
Simon Addison: This was a difficult question. I tried really hard to think of a workbook that had changed my career. And I really could I've read workbooks, but there's not one that I go back to time and time again. So, so I've picked fiction books, I've picked 1000 Splendid Suns, which is a novel by Khaled Hosseini, which is set in Afghanistan. And I don't think many people are going to choose this book after I describe it. It's not an uplifting read, it's a really challenging read.
The central characters are women living in Afghanistan, forced into marriage during a time when the Taliban influence was growing. But I think I read at a time when Afghanistan was in the news a lot. And we were probably presented with a relatively one dimensional interpretation of Afghanistan, in the way that the news coverage came through. And so it offered me an insight into sort of, I guess, Life beyond the headlines. And despite the fact that it was a really harrowing read at times, there was a sense of hope that came through even the most difficult situations.
And I think that really stayed with me. And as somebody who's probably we're very interested in sort of world affairs and politics, I think, it really challenged me to make sure that you sort of read around the topic. If you before coming up with a really definite position or opinion on a world situation, the need to sort of read around something. And I know, this wasn't a it wasn't a fact book. It was a fiction book. But I think it really changed my perspective on Afghanistan. So I don't think many people want to read it. But if you want a really harrowing read, but you know, that sense of hope and really difficult times, it is a great book.
Kelly Molson: Thank you. Well, thank you for sharing. I'm sure people will want that. And if you do, if you go over to our Twitter account, @skip_the_queue, and you retweet this podcast announcement with the words "I want Simon's book", you could be in with a chance of winning it.
Simon, thank you. It's been lovely to chat to you. I always enjoy chatting to you. Even though I called you a nerd earlier. I apologise about that.
Simon Addison: I forgive you, Kelly.
Kelly Molson: If you do have a little pop quiz that you'd like me and Simon to join that you think would be useful for, please do let us know. On that note, I think we'll end the podcast there. Thanks, Simon. It's been fun.
Simon Addison: Thanks, Kelly.
Kelly Molson: Thanks for listening to Skip The Queue. If you've enjoyed this podcast, please leave us a five star review. It really helps others find us. And remember to follow us on Twitter for your chance to win the books that have been mentioned.
Skip the queue is brought to you by Rubber Cheese, a digital agency that builds remarkable systems and websites for attractions that helps them increase their visitor numbers. You can find show notes and transcriptions from this episode and more over on our website, rubbercheese.com/podcast.