Can Alton Towers repair its reputation after the smiler crash?

Alton Towers' Smiler ride

Merlin Entertainments, the owner of Alton Towers, has reported an 11.4% drop in its revenue compared with last year, and there’s one main reason why.  Everybody’s heard about the horrific Smiler crash in June, which left 16 people injured, two of whom needed to have their legs amputated.

This was followed by media speculation around the safety of the ride, with reports surfacing about previous warnings, people being stranded in the air on other rollercoasters, amongst other allegations.  And as interviews and reports continue on the ordeal and recovery of the young women who have lost their lower limbs, Alton Towers faces possibly the biggest reputational disaster in its history.

The drop in revenue is no real surprise as Alton Towers is a brand which is intrinsically built on scare-factor thrills.  The whole purpose of a visit to Alton Towers is to be flung about at great height before landing safely.  Also, as one of the largest and most popular theme parks in the UK, Alton Towers has built a reputation on death-defying seat-of-your-pants rides.  Unlike carnivals and travelling fairs, who’s creaky, squeaky rides naturally may have questionable stress-testing, with Alton Towers, safety is, or should be, a given.  And when this comes into question, the theme park is in serious trouble.  Unlike consumable brands which can issue product recalls, Alton Towers cannot rectify the situation so easily.  Do they shut down Smiler?  And what about the other rides?  Safety implications of one naturally leads to questions about the others.

To reinstate the public confidence in Alton Towers, Merlin Entertainments must take bold steps.  Publicly announcing a temporary closure to test ALL the rides and then opening again with some sign of change – whether it be a more stringent safety criteria, enhanced on-site support, bolstered maintenance team or even the closure of Smiler – will show that Alton Towers is doing everything to ensure the safety of its rides.  While the Merlin Entertainments may be nervous about seeming to test all its other rides as this may lead to further questions, it could be positioned as a precautionary measure to reinstate public confidence.  The theme park may be doing this in the background, however, the public are still uneasy about putting themselves on such white knuckle rides.  To close and reopen may be risky, and will hurt Merlin Entertainment’s bottom line in the short term, but it will demonstrate that Alton Towers puts safety over profit, and may get people strapped back into the rides.

Halima Khatun

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