Friday, April 16, 2021

Flying Over Sussex

A trip on the British Airways i360

by Martin Barratt

I happened to find myself in Brighton (UK) recently on a very misty and cloudy day; by 8am I was on the seafront and I could just make out the new British Airways i360 in the distance. I was momentarily put off by a sort of domestic squabble on the next corner. But, after all it is a British seaside resort – so, undaunted, I decided to visit the tower and take my “flight.”

The British Airways i360 opened August 4, and claims the distinction of being the world’s slenderest tall tower. The official description of the experience is, “Take a flight to the skies and see Sussex as you have never seen it before.

[quote]The rise to 450 feet is incredibly smooth. There is no noise and – unlike the London Eye – no movement, apart from steadily upwards.”[/quote]

Glide up slowly to 450 feet high to enjoy breathtaking 360 degree views of up to 26 miles from the world’s first vertical cable car, conceived and designed by Marks Barfield Architects, the creators of the London Eye.”

In keeping with the British Airways branding, the staff look like flight attendants and the ride is a flight.

It’s a very impressive structure and no mistake. The architects call it a “vertical pier” which I have to admit doesn’t chime well with me. After all, what is a pier? A pier can be a lot of things; boat jetty, fishing platform, entertainment center, none of which is provided by the i360. I prefer the simpler term, “observation tower.”

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At 168 meters tall (or 450 feet in old money) it is the tallest structure in Sussex! My first view of it probably only went up to 100 meters because of the low cloud. It certainly has been built with an eye for detail and it will tidy up what was a rather neglected part of the town. Already more building work is going on around it and it is clear that the developers share the Council’s desire to stretch the tourist trail further along the seafront.

Ticketing was pretty smooth, even though the staff were still learning the niceties of the ticketing system. This is to be expected given that it had opened only two weeks before, and the staff were smiley and welcoming. There was not much demand on such a cloudy day so we walked straight to security where our bags were checked, our lighters confiscated and we were scanned by some very congenial guards.

Once through we were on the loading area, and we watched the pod go down to the floor below us where passengers alight. It was a leisurely wait for the doors to open and close, the pod to move up to loading and the doors to open again.

Once we were in, it was very enjoyable. We took advantage of the bar to purchase an English Sparkling Wine. The rise to 450 feet is incredibly smooth. There is no noise and – unlike the London Eye – no movement, apart from steadily upwards.

Looking East one can easily see the pier and the Pavilion; looking West there are a few pools and lawns. Northwards we could see lots of roofs and we took the opportunity to work out a route to our lunch spot. I understand that on a clear day we could have seen beyond the serried rows of bungalows to glimpse the South Downs!

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The Southern view is restful but less varied. Looking at the sea and its waves from 450 feet up is very similar to seeing it from 100 feet, 20 feet even.

Taking photos of the view is tricky. The curved glass is very reflective. But not many people seem to mind, as they wanted photos of themselves, not panoramas of Brighton.

My group all thought it was worth the £15 price of admission, and I think if I go back on a sunny day I may do it again. There is a challenge undertaken here to build traffic and tourism. An awful lot of people who visit Brighton go once a year, some go more. There are tourists, but nothing like the number that London receives and, unlike London, only a small number are first-time visitors; so the accepted wisdom is that to be successful it must be repeatable.

The i360 is complemented by a Sea Life Aquarium down the road (a Merlin Entertainments attraction) which is promoting a new “Secrets of the Reef” exhibit. As with all tourist destinations, additional, regular investment will be required to generate repeat traffic and maintain momentum. I will be watching with interest to see what unfolds. • • •

mb2Martin Barratt ([email protected]) is an experienced operator and developer of visitor attractions, and a consultant to the industry. He is currently a Board Member of the European and Middle East Division of the Themed Entertainment Association. Martin has worked for some of the largest attraction companies, such as Merlin Entertainments Group and the Tussauds Group.

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