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Is London saturated with immersive experiences?

With London now becoming THE place where most immersive experiences take place, regional cities are beginning to ask if they’ll ever get a look in.


London has more immersive events than ever, from immersive afternoon teas, immersive art exhibitions, immersive theatre, and immersive dining offerings, you can pretty much be immersed into an experience of any kind if you really wanted to.


We all know that London has a huge history and a fantastic story to tell, which makes the finite experiences obvious, from the London Dungeon to the London Bridge Experience, the Gunpowder plot in the Tower Vaults to Supper Club.tube. We also know that the audience reach of London is a lot larger than some other parts of the UK with a vast population living in and around the centre, as well as welcoming on average 20 million tourists per year pre-COVID, according to statista. However, pre-pandemic, on average around 40 million people were visiting the UK in general, so with 50% of tourists making their way to other parts of the country, is it safe to say that it is time to spread these fantastical immersive experiences throughout the UK?

The London Dungeon, Southbank, London


For example, there are many experiences that are not specific to London and capture hearts in the capital, from Monopoly life-sized to Shrek’s Adventure, SENSAS to an array of mouthwatering food and drink experiences that could initiate a sense of escapism anywhere in the country.


Monopoly Life-Sized, Tottenham Court Road, London


So why do so many immersive experiences choose to take roots long-term or short-term in London?



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Where it all began


It is thought that London went ‘gaga for everything immersive’ in 2011, after Secret Cinema’s immersive take on ‘The Battle of Algiers’ took place in The Vaults, formerly known as the Old Vic Tunnels, and stunned audiences, or should we say participants. The show transported visitors to the centre of the 1966 movie, encapsulating the sounds, smells, and sights of the real event. Large-scale, super-sensory and hyper-interactive, the enveloping projections made it seem so convincing people started to wonder if it was real life. And that’s when they got hooked!


The Battle of Algiers, Secret Cinema (2011)

Photo by Barney Steel


People began to crave full body escapism, the chance to experience something they wouldn’t be able to in everyday life, the heightened emotions, the action, the memories and the dopamine fix.


There was also a yearning to be a part of the story, not just witnessing it from the side lines, but embodying the story and altering it into something no one else will experience, with the real magic coming in our own interpretations, the uncertainty, and being in the right place at the right time.


This desire for being at the heart of an experience has only heightened as social media has become a staple part of life in today’s society; being able to capture these moments, prove participation, and in turn provide free publicity and marketing for the event.


But the real question is why does London get to be home to a vast majority of these exciting immersive events and other areas struggle to get a glimpse?


Why London?


It is a little like the story of the chicken and the egg. Immersive experiences are everywhere in London and companies know that these sorts of offerings work and generate a popular following in the city. It is easier to gauge expected attendee numbers thanks to other attractions and experiences and therefore makes it a more viable prospect for investment and audience reach.


We get it, why risk putting an immersive experience on somewhere else in the country when you know it works in a certain location?


There is also the issue of travel links too. London offers a vast number of ways to navigate through the city on public transport and this can often make it easy for people of all accessibility needs to get around, as well as making it a stand-out tourist destination for ease of exploring. They have even banked on this aspect of the city and created an immersive dining experience that celebrates the underground, supperclub.tube.



These are just a few of the positives to placing immersive experiences in the big city, but even though regional locations may not have the logistics or draw like London, the differences could also make them more favourable.


So why do we think companies and investors should start looking outside of the big city for immersive experience opportunities?


Why not London?


Transport

Yes, the public transport links of London are super beneficial to moving people around and providing opportunities for people to get to the attractions, but this can also mean that experience creators or founders are restricted within the realms of feasible links, which can result in astronomical property or rental prices. Outside of London, people are more likely to have cars and are accustomed to moving around in one. In turn this means attractions aren’t as restricted to locations due to travel links and are therefore able to create an experience on a larger site in a cheaper area of town and know that people can still attend via car, taxi, tram, train, bus links, bike or scooter.


Image from unsplash.com


Cost

This then poses the question of cost. If an immersive experience costs less to fabricate, install and run, in an area with cheaper property or land prices, then immersion and the cultivation of community can be far less costly for attendees. Therefore the experience will be more attractive and enable those from less advantaged backgrounds to be able to afford to participate, which will encourage more diversity, inclusivity and accessibility within the immersive events, arts, culture and creative industry, something that really needs to be addressed.


Less competition, bigger audience

London is saturated with immersive experiences and are therefore battling against their competitors for visitors. Wouldn’t it be smart to have the best immersive experience in a different location that is coined as one of the biggest attractions in the vicinity ensuring that it brings in all the visitors from the area. For example, the SEE monster in Weston-Super-Mare is probably one of the biggest immersive experiences to grace the coastline of the South West of England for quite some time and it has been greatly welcomed by locals and many from all over the region who have made their way to see the retired oil rig repurposed in all its glory. The queues to go on board the SEE monster have been very long during the peak opening hours “after hundreds flock to to see the attraction” which proves just how interested people in the regional cities and more rural areas are in having an immersive experience on their doorstep.



There are a plethora of of immersive experiences in London that could be just as popular and well- received anywhere else in the country including The Great Gatsby, Punchdrunk’s The Burnt City, Jeff Waynes: The War of the Worlds Immersive Experience, Tomb Raider: The Live Experience, Peaky Blinders: The Rise, Jurassic World: the Exhibition, Stranger Things: the Experience and Alice’s Adventures Underground.


We know that the desire for immersive events has grown astronomically in the last 10 years, which has partly been driven by technology.



So with demand on the rise, the development of immersive technology is on the rise too, but nowhere more so than here in Bristol, a city that has innovation, and creativity in its DNA. This still pokes the question as to why London gets the state of the art, cool, experiences when a whole host of talent and forward-thinking innovators are having to constantly move back and forth from their homes in the regions to the capital for work?


Immersive Experiences in the Regions


Here in Bristol, the arrival of Van Gogh the Experience was so greatly received, people travelled up to 60 miles to take in his breathtaking masterpieces and experience them on a tangible level. However, would we class this exhibition as an "immersive" experience?



Many experiences in the regional areas are being coined as “immersive,” but to what extend are these events immersive on an all-encompassing level like Alice’s Adventures Underground and Secret Cinema.


Alice’s Adventures Underground, The Nudge

Photo by Jane Hobson


From Van Gogh: the Experience to SEE monster, we feel that, for the most part, we are being presented with half-hearted interpretations of immersion compared to London and the word “immersive” is actually getting a bad reputation. Being used as a buzzword to get people interested, we believe that immersive experiences out of London are not providing the full escapism like those on offer in the big city and we think it’s time this changed.


However, a very exciting new addition to the attraction world, which was born, bred and created in Bristol, is Wake the Tiger, the world’s first ever amazement park and immersive voyage that provides those living in Bristol, and its visitors, a totally unique, otherworldly experience that is bold, brave and inspiring. From the team behind Boomtown Fair, it is safe to say that Wake the Tiger is the epitome of imagination and creativity that takes audiences on a journey through a magical realm, sparking conversations about how we can make a more positive impact on the people, places, spaces and environment around us. Thought-provoking, interactive and experiential, Wake the Tiger, really puts Bristol on the map for immersive experiences and has the power to compete against the masses in London.


The Elder Forest, Wake the Tiger - Designed and created by Imagineerium


Final thought


So the big question is…is London saturated with Immersive Experiences and how do we as other cultural centres in the country get a look in?


With some long standing attractions, such as, The Dungeons, spreading their wings across the country, maybe it’s time that event organisers began to think out of the box, out of the capital city, and offer escapism to the rural masses.


As the cost of living rises, people are hungry for experiences on their doorstep. People want to come together, build connections and communities and not have to venture on long journeys to do so. There is a desire to heighten the body’s sensations through visual, audio and tangible magical moments, and this is wanted by all, not just those who live in the capital city.


We think it is now time we saw some of these fantastic immersive experiences and exhibitions transporting audiences to the centre of another time and place in other areas of the UK…


Imagine that!



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