Christmas Blunderland

The following entry is a record in the “Catalogue of Catastrophe” – a list of failed or troubled projects from around the world.

Christmas Blunderland – UK
Project type : An assortment of Christmas themed entertainment parks
Date : Nov-Dec  – 2008, 2013 and 2014  Cost : Unknown

Synopsis :
One definition of success is “meeting or exceeding expectations”. Satisfy expectations of the customer or stakeholders and the project is viewed as a success. Fall short of expectations and no matter how good the product produced, the project may still be viewed negatively.

As we approach the holiday season I thought I would pick up on a story that illustrates the point. For the third time in recent years, a project that attempted to create some holiday magic has fallen flat on its face. The “The Magical Journey” event at the Belfry Hotel in Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham, UK told people that they would have a seasonal experience unlike any they had experienced before. The advertising conjured up images of festive cheer, snow covered landscapes and a magical encounter with Santa and the elves. On opening day reality and expectations unfortunately collided. Heavy rain in the period prior to opening hindered the projects finishing touches and the product as opened was a significant miss of expectations. Resulting negative feedback from the public forced the event to shut down again so that the event could be polished and refined prior to its reopening.

The Magical Journey is not the first such story. In 2009 a “Lapland Experience” in the UK’s New Forest shut after only a few days and in 2013 an Winter Wonderland event at Milton Keynes, UK also closed after a few days of unrelenting customer complaints. Between these three examples the following expectations misses were evident…

  1. Expectation: Tress laid low with snow – Reality: A few hastily erected plastic Christmas trees in a muddy field,
  2. Expectation: Elves working hard in the run up to Christmas – Reality: A bunch of disinterested youths wearing poorly fitting costumes who were caught smoking round back of the tent,
  3. Expectation: Interesting and exciting gifts – Reality: Cheap plastic toys inappropriate for the receiving child,
  4. Expectation: Beauty and splendour – Reality: A grotty grotto,
  5. Expectation: A sled over laden with gifts pulled by reindeer – Reality: a plastic loco borrowed from the local mall accompanied by a sad, solitary and soggy lama,
  6. Expectation: A meeting with the jolly guy himself – Reality: a four hour long queue (in the rain)

Although not many (if any) readers will be planning Christmas festivals, there is a broader message underlying the troubles and failures outlined above: the need to actively manage product quality and customer expectations. If Project Managers or Sponsors allow the gap between reality and expectation to become too big, then they run the very real risk that the perception of failure will outweigh any positives they did achieve.

Updated 12 Dec 2014: In a further update to this sorry saga, an additional event, the “Magical Winterland” in Yorkshire, UK has also closed its doors after a single day. Again poor quality is cited as the primary reason. The photo evidence for this one as supplied by Britain’s Daily Mail is particularly revealing (Magical Winterland). As with the “Magical Journey” organizers advise that they plan to reopen once the issues have been resolved.

Updated 16 Dec 2014: The Magical Journey did in fact reopen after a three day closure. Unfortunately, with just 9 days to go before Christmas, a key financial backer has withdrawn from the project and the event has now closed its doors permanently (The Magical Journey Shuts Down).

Contributing factors as reported in the press:
Poorly managed expectations. Lack of quality controls (allowing the events to open despite significant quality issues in the underlying product and its delivery). False advertising.

Reference links :

  1. 2009 – Lapland theme park
  2. 2013 – Winter wonderland
  3. 2014 – The Magical journey
  4. 2014 – Magical Winterland and “Shambolic