Wednesday, January 31, 2007

You Wouldn't Have Bet On it!

At odds of 16 to 1 who would have bet on Manchester being the next location for the UKs first resort casino? Certainly not some of the over confident people at Kerzner, one of whom told one of my colleagues only last week that the Greenwich bid was virtually a done deal. Blackpool also felt that their bid was the only one likely to win, ashen faced executives at Blackpool City Council yesterday were visibly shocked at Manchester becoming the chosen location – to many this was seen as Blackpool’s competition to lose – and lose it they did, to a better thought out, planned, structured and more realistic bid, that demonstrated a greater capacity for regeneration, and future prosperity from having a resort casino built.

Manchester is not a city that many people would consider to be a resort destination, neither is Greenwich – Blackpool is, but it is a resort that has suffered at the hands of many ‘get rich quick’ barons who care little about tacky signs on shops, external building maintenance, litter, and gangs of roaming stag and hen parties staggering along the town’s streets. Blackpool is partially a victim of its own success, it’s ‘kiss me quick’ image is now very out of date. The town has also reached a stage where too many of its clientele are gangs of young men in football shirts that are hell bent on a hedonistic weekend where the agenda may include a skin full of alcohol, abusive language, a kebab, possibly a fight, if they’re lucky an encounter with a lady - and if they’re not a vomit. There are plenty in Blackpool who would argue that this is only a small minority of visitors to the town, and there are some who are aware of this and have seen it happening for a long time, but would rather bury their heads in the Blackpool sand than do something about it. This type of image undoubtedly puts some people off of visiting the town, which has contributed to areas of urban decay and dereliction. Blackpool had a glorious past, and it is a shame that the town has faltered – but it is not alone, many other English seaside towns have suffered the same fate, and the behaviour of a particular segment of visitors to these towns is not the sole reason for their demise. Cheap and more accessible foreign holidays – often where the pound can stretch further, the rise of budget airlines, the unpredictability of the British climate, changing fashions, and globalisation (which contributes to a broadening of horizons) are all factors also. The best possible future for many of our seaside destinations will not be as huge resorts, but will be as smaller more humble towns that attract a more discerning clientele. This may mean down-sizing in some cases, but it is quality not quantity that could be the key to future success.

The Casino Advisory Panel (CAP) have not been convinced that a casino could regenerate Blackpool as a resort, and in fact they may just be right. A safer gamble to the regeneration of much of Britain’s seaside resorts is leisure rather than entertainment, and culture rather than glitz. Leisure undertakings are participative by visitors rather than passive, and entertainment is passive i.e. often where visitors are sat in an audience or being enthralled by somebody or something. The entertainment on offer at our seaside resorts, is perceived as out dated by many, and often does not attract enough people – particularly high spenders. But an increased societal emphasis on the benefits of physical activity means that leisure has a potentially bright future – albeit in the right places. There is scope at many seaside resorts to convert derelict and brown belt areas back to nature, with more parkland, conservation areas, and golf courses – which in turn may attract a greater proportion of higher spending visitors. In terms of culture, many of our seaside resorts have taken on a homogenous culture where one and all have become the same often tacky fish and chips by the sea experience. By taking a step back to the heritage and culture of a seaside town before mass tourism took place, it is possible to re-brand and market a destination based upon its background rather than just the fact that it is by the sea. This has been the case at Rothesay which now markets itself as a Victorian town to walkers, cyclists and sailing enthusiasts. Even Blackpool’s East Coast rival Scarborough promotes its ‘coastal walks, kids activities, parks, museums, galleries, landmarks, sport, outdoor activities and more’ (, 2007). Blackpool may be wise to concentrate its efforts less on its night-time entertainment, and more on it’s day-time leisure, heritage and culture.
Critics could argue that no seaside town should be the location of a regional casino as half of the potential catchment area is out at sea, meaning fewer people within the region. In fact the other seaside towns to be granted operating licences have received permission for only small (Scarborough) and large (Great Yarmouth) casinos. Perhaps Blackpool should have been less ambitious?

The case for Greenwich was unfortunately tainted by revelations in the media about John Prescott’s visit to the American ranch of Phil Anschutz, the developer of the Millennium Dome (now known as the O2) that was to be the site of the Greenwich casino. The Millennium Dome site has been dogged with controversy since its inception, it was thought by many that its transformation into a regional casino resort would prove pivotal in reviving its fortunes. It’s short term future now looks secure as little more than a venue for the 2012 Olympics. The allegations of corruption and sleaze that accompany such revelations would have made Greenwich simply the wrong choice to make. The Government simply could not afford to have chosen a location that the public would not support, as the building of Britain’s first regional super casino is already a contentious issue. There is currently no evidence to support whether or not a regional casino will lead to urban regeneration and an improved society anyway. Fear of increased gambling addiction, drug usage and prostitution make the building of these casinos highly contentious, so the choice for the winning bid needed to be one that would not meet with the general publics disapproval.

In Atlantic City on the East Coast of the USA, casinos were first built thirty years ago in a bid to improve the fortune of the city – they achieved this for a while, but drug usage, prostitution and urban decay is still rife. Many critics of the Atlantic City casinos argue that a proportion of casino clientele have exacerbated the city’s drug and prostitution problem. With that in mind the city of Manchester may also seem to be a strange choice of location, given the city’s already negative image in terms of gun, drug and gang culture.

The Manchester Bid is for an area of the town known as ‘Sportcity’ which is home to the largest ‘cluster’ of sporting facilities in the UK, which is a legacy of the Commonwealth Games that were held in Manchester in 2002. The area has already experienced some regeneration, with the construction of a large shopping centre, and the ‘B of the Bang’ sculpture. The Manchester bid was seemingly the best bid, and convinced the CAP that their bid would most effectively tackle deprivation and aid regeneration. The city already has three small scale casinos, the regional casino will dwarf these generating an estimated revenue of £100m per year. It is also estimated that it will create between two and three thousand jobs, with many local firms benefiting from the building of the casino as well as surrounding retail, entertainment, leisure and residential complexes. The societal impacts of this casino will not be known for a number of years, the smaller casinos will undoubtedly suffer, as will other local leisure and entertainment venues that will all be competing for a share of consumers’ disposable income. Whether crime and anti-social behaviour will increase is not known at this stage but this will be a test for other regional casino licenses being granted. If another regional casino license is granted in future years it is unlikely to be Blackpool that is chosen due to its close proximity to Manchester (approximately 50 miles), and the Greenwich site will most likely be taken over for Olympic usage until after the 2012 games, but it is likely that after the games it too could become a regional casino. My own bet for the UKs next regional casino is Glasgow – which missed out this time around, but will undoubtedly come back as a near front runner in the future. As for Blackpool the best it can now hope for is a ‘large’ casino license as was granted to several other British towns and cities including Great Yarmouth, Hull, Newham, Middlesbrough, Solihull, Milton Keynes, Leeds and Southampton.

Great Yarmouth which like Blackpool is a seaside town that has seen a decline in fortunes, has two possible locations, the town centre Marina, and an area of waste ground next to the Pleasure Beach. The town centre site would keep the casino at the heart of the resort, but the Pleasure Beach site may prove to be the most suitable due to its location away from the town centre, which would provide it with ample developmental room and parking.

As predicted in my blog entry last October, the former site of nightclub Majestyk in Leeds City Square will be the location of the Leeds large casino.

The de-regulation of the Gambling Act is set to transform the future of entertainment nationwide – only time will tell if this is to the benefit of society as well as to the bank balances of casino operators.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Thrillertainment is entertainment that is intended to thrill, excite, stimulate the senses – and sometimes cause fright. Thrill seekers enjoy the near-to-dangerous experiences which thrillertainment can give them. The experience of being thrilled causes sudden intense sensations including excitement and fright which can cause adrenalin to flow, and leave us in a variety of bodily states including being: in a heightened state of alert; ‘weak at the knees’; and having ‘butterflies in our tummies’.

These are all experiences that many (but not all) of us enjoy. Thrillertainment broadly appeals the most to younger people – particularly those in their mid to late teens and early twenties. This younger segment of the market are actively seeking out experiences that are new and exciting as a part of their growing and learning process.

Thrillertainment is a core product of, and the major attraction at theme parks, amusement parks, and fairgrounds where ‘scary’, ‘white knuckle’ rides entice those brave enough to try them out. Whilst the above best represents thrillertainment, this kind of entertainment can also be found more subtly on ‘ghost tours’, and ‘murder mystery weekends’. Some ghost tours such as the one held at Temple Newsam in Leeds feature actors playing ghosts and ghouls throughout the tour, that are designed to create atmosphere and instil a sense of fright amongst participants. Murder mystery weekends are designed to create atmosphere, intrigue, and trigger emotions in participants, which may be comparatively subtle thrills compared to those given by a rollercoaster, but none the less, they are still thrills, which puts them within the thrillertainment category within the entertainment industry.

Next week I will be experiencing thrillertainment first hand, when I visit one of the world’s greatest thrillertainment venues - Disney World in Florida, where I shall be visiting some Tourism students on work placement. A full report will appear on here thereafter.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Euro Sceptic?

Rarely are Eurovision Song Contest entrants self proclaimed celibate vegetarians who have been accused of flirting with fascist imagery. However the 2007 Great Britain (GB) entrant in the competition may just be this. If the media is to be believed, ex ‘The Smiths’ front-man Morrissey is currently in talks with the BBC with regards to negotiating a place in the competition. Of course to do this he would first have to win ‘A Song for Britain’ – which already established celebrities such as Blue’s Antony Costa and model Jordan have failed to do in the past against unknown opposition.

The Eurovision competition began in 1956 when the Swiss based European Broadcasting Union came up with the idea of each European nation submitting a singer to a competition that would be broadcast across European nations. At the time this was a groundbreaking project as satellite technology did not exist, and the European broadcasting network consisted of mainly microwave transmitters. However, televisions were far and few between so the largest audience were radio listeners. The GB, who through the BBC are now a major backer of the competition, did submit an entry for the 1956 competition, however the entry was late, and the entrant disqualified. The winning country was Switzerland, however the win for one (minor) hit wonder ‘Lys Assia’ was marred by a controversial voting system that allowed countries to vote for their own songs, and hosts Switzerland to vote on behalf of Luxembourg.

Since these humble beginnings the competition has risen to a global TV and internet audience that goes into hundreds of millions. The competition has predominantly produced winners that have gone on to do very little outside of their own countries, with of course exceptions such as Abba, Bucks Fizz and Brotherhood of Man. After a lull in the late eighties and early 1990s, the competition has seen a recent resurgence in popularity based upon a ‘cheese’ and ‘camp’ reputation. That said it still fails to attract high profile British acts – which is allegedly the reason for Morrissey’s interest.

Morrissey through his time with The Smiths was known for his strong anti-establishment views, and was once questioned by Police for claiming to have an executioner’s outfit to kill Margaret Thatcher, as well as producing songs such as ‘The Queen is Dead’ and ‘Shoplifters of the World Unite’. After leaving The Smiths, Morrissey’s solo career took off with a number one album ‘Viva Hate’, the singer still managed to court controversy though, when he was the support act to Madness at the first Madstock (1992) at Finsbury Park in London. Morrissey came on stage draped in a Union Jack with a photograph of a woman skinhead as his backdrop. The singer left the stage early due to persistent coin throwing at him from the audience. In more recent years Morrissey has made clear movements away from fascist association, by denying that he is racist and signing the Unite Against Fascism statement.

Having a man who once sang ‘Girlfriend in a Coma’ representing the GB in a competition associated with often bad, and camp music may seem slightly surreal, but that said, the singer can hardly do any worse than some of Great Britain’s more recent woeful entrants. Good luck Mozzer.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Techno Notice

Love it or loathe it, the internet is here to stay and is increasingly changing the way we work, relax, shop, communicate and generally live our lives. I have been an avid internet user since 1997, when I first discovered the joys of Netscape Navigator, the Yahoo search engine, and a UNIX based email system called PINE. The past decade has seen enormous advances in technology that has seen global internet usage grow beyond 1,000 million web users, with the focus no longer just being on information searching and email but a plethora of new web technologies (known as Web 2 technologies) including blogs, wikis, instant messengers (IMs) and the phenomenon of social networking.

In 2006 some of the most popular websites globally were: YouTube; MySpace; FaceBook; and Bebo. These type of sites allow users the opportunity to build their own web pages and add their own content including words, graphics, sounds, songs, and video clips. The success of these type of websites is down to a number of reasons, these include: simplicity of use - web sites becoming easier to use, with straightforward instructions for adding content; cost – it is quicker and much more cost effective to communicate and keep up to date via the internet (particularly the web and email / IMs) than via telephone or traditional mail; technological advancements - many people now have the ability to record their own sound and video clips from handheld devices such as mobile telephones; and a new generation of ICT literates - increased penetration of technology into the education curriculum means that younger people are becoming more competent with ICT.

Advancements in technology have signalled the death knell for a number of media formats, firstly vinyl and cassette tapes were almost made extinct by CDs, as was VHS to DVDs, but even these formats are now nearing the end of their shelf life with the media buying public increasingly turning towards the internet for legitimate or illegitimate music and video downloads. Gallup have finally cottoned on to this fact and as of 01/01/07 the UK music top 40 will now take into account all legitimate music downloads as well as shop-bought formats. Interestingly, this may mean that the Top 40 may in future include a number of oldies that suddenly become in demand as downloads – as well as B-sides. This will undoubtedly become apparent at the next major football tournament at which the England team play when ‘3 Lions’ will be in demand again.

Downloading media from the internet, isn’t just easy – because it can be done from the comfort of your own home, it is often cheaper than buying ‘hard copies’, and it can be much tidier than having to find even more shelf space for even more CDs. Mintel has predicted that in the future we will lead more minimalist lives with ‘losers’ in hard copy media sales. I can give a recent example of this from my own experiences. I own over 1,000 CDs – these are both albums and singles that spend 99.999% of their lives on shelves – unplayed. In fact I can’t actually remember the last time I sat down and listened to a CD – as I now much prefer being able to quickly and easily search the 16,000 MP3 tracks on my computers hard drive for the song I’m looking for and play it at CD quality through my stereo amplifier. Better still if I don’t know what I want to listen to, using either ‘iTunes’ or ‘Music Match Jukebox’ I have ‘the mother of all jukeboxes’ with over 30 days of continuous music to choose from – I can even carry my entire music collection around with me in my pocket courtesy of a 60Gb iPod which weighs little more than a mobile phone. This is the future, smaller, simpler, less clutter, and easier to find what you are looking for.

In terms of videos, I am currently in the process of ridding myself of over 200 bought VHS films which includes everything from ‘Romper Stomper’ to ‘Carry on Follow That Camel’. These take up some serious storage space – and I need that space back, but at the same time I don’t want to lose my films. The solution to this problem is called ‘eMule’ where I can easily download copies of the films that I already own (I’m not sure if that makes me a criminal or not) before packing the VHS tapes up into boxes and shipping them off to ‘Oxfam Books’ in Headingley, where they can be resold with the profits going to good causes. In fact Oxfam books has done very well out of my technological advances, as the majority of my CDs will also be heading their way, as I have now digitised all of them using a programme called ‘Audiograbber’. My Record collection (400 LPs, 200 12” singles, and 500 7” singles) will also be going the same way once I have turned all of my favourite tracks into MP3s courtesy of my Christmas present – an Ion USB Turntable – which using a programme called ‘Audacity’ can nicely and easily digitise records onto my computers hard drive (although this is going to take some time). Space wise I will eventually claim back an area the size of a double wardrobe – and replace it with a 500Gb hard drive which is about the size of two VHS tapes. Of course the risk in this (and there is always a risk) is that the hard drive goes kaput or is stolen and I lose everything – so just in case this does happen, I’m going to buy a second drive to back up my first drive, and then keep the second drive at my parents house…..just in case.

The only constant with technology is change, hopefully that means change for the better, which can have positive impacts upon us all – especially those amongst us who welcome it with open arms – and tidier shelves.