Marketing Leisure Facilities -- some examples

Nick Sherriff



The provision of leisure and tourism is big business generating millions of pounds in revenue each year.   There are three sectors of business; public, private and voluntary; although there is a penumbra between each allowing for a degree of overlapping across sectors.   In all cases the requirement for attracting visitors and their revenue is paramount, however not all facilities are profit making but are supported through subsidy or sponsorship.  

Marketing is concerned with providing the right products and services and then forging the best relationships between customers and products and services.”



I have examined the marketing of local facilities using; place, price, product and promotion; collectively named the ‘marketing mix’ (Torkildsen 1993).   Creating an effective marketing mix is very important and there is a marked difference between the sectors. By analysing these individual characteristics it is possible to assess the effectiveness of the package on offer and identify the challenges which face the management.   The three facilities I have analysed are served by city of Plymouth with a population of approx. 250,000.  The three are:


·      The National Marine Aquarium.

·      The Museum and Art Gallery.

·      Launceston Golf Club.


The city is not predominately a tourist resort but does see many tourists stopping off on their way into Cornwall.    The city therefore should provide an adequate mix of locals as well as visitors, enabling a variety of marketing strategies to be examined.

National Marine Aquarium (NMA)


This organisation is a registered charity and is advised by a board of trustees and an advisory panel, with some famous names.   The one that stands out for obvious reasons is Sir David Attenborough.   However the business is wholly owned by the NMA Operations Limited. At the opening in May 98 the Chief executive said:


“We can now start to realise our unique mission in terms of conservation, education and research.”


The costing of this attraction is a example of concessionaire pricing with educational groups being favoured for discount :


Adult                                       -           £6.50

Child                                       -           £4.00

Family (2+2)                          -           £18.00

Student                                   -           £5.00

School visit from                    -           £3.00

Adult group (min12)               -           £5.00


For a charity this ‘commercial approach’ to the pricing is odd, even compared to a cinema ticket of £4.50 for an adult it is very high.   Although I imagine that the high price is used as part of the ‘come on,’ suggesting to the potential consumer that there is something worth seeing that warrants such a high price.   The consumer is also buying into the idea of conservation, that their money is regenerated back in to the very nature they have come to see.   However such a high price will restrict the number of repeat visitors but this will not affect  the tourist /excursionist as much as it will the locals.   The NMA can be seen to be dealing with this problem by offering a membership scheme which is approximately four times the daily fee for a years member ship.   This suggests that concessions are being made for repeat visitors which is due to the perishability of the product and will probably turn out to benefit the locals more than the tourists.


A bundle of consumer satisfactions is on offer in this purpose built setting.   Apart from the Aquarium itself which houses an art gallery and a shop, there is the cafe situated in juxtaposition called the Cafe on the quay.   The experience of the aquarium is intangible and it is the ambience, journey and the feeling that your money is helping in some way that is on offer.   You are also given the choice of tangible product as with buying paintings from the gallery, eating food from the cafe or purchasing gifts from the shop. There is a definite feeling of journey in a visit here culminating with a well orchestrated finale at the shop, where on this particular day there were more staff  here than the rest of the aquarium itself.  


The Aquarium is in a picturesque location, however access is not the best.   For instance there is no formal bus route and the consumer will have to walk from town across the barbican, fine during summer but dreadful in the winter months.   The motorist is also faced with minor problems as the route is not well signposted and having arrived they are asked to pay at a council car park.  Having negotiated all this the consumer is filtered along a semi-prepared route, which at the time of the visit was overgrown and untidy.  Taking all of this into account it does appear as if this facility is not yet fully finished or there is a distinct lack of attention to detail both of which will be detrimental to the consumers return.


The advertising of the aquarium has been especially good utilising local TV and radio, as well as adverts on billboards around the city and on the sides of the cities public transport.   The NMA has used the internet and has its own website which has all the usual details and is presented to a high standard.   There are leaflets of an equally high standard opening up into a poster for the children.   The only flaw is the lack of timings for when things are happening during the day which is off putting to the consumer.  The product in itself is rather short and waiting around for things to happen became tiresome.  


The challenge to the management  is to ensure customer loyalty through repeat visits which it has tried to encourage through its membership scheme.   This is also governed by product development as this product; unless made more heterogeneous; will have a short life-cycle, for the local populous at least.


Museum and Art Gallery



The Museum and Art Gallery is the cities principle centre of culture, although there are other cites such as; Merchants House, Elizabethan House and Buckland Abbey.   These other cites are not in competition with the Museum but rather offered in conjunction with the Museum.  Although primarily funded by the city council, there is also funding from central government due to the Cottonian collection.   This has been designated as a museum with an outstanding collection meaning the collection is unique to the city of Plymouth.


The examination of the product gives a clear indication of the objectives of the Museum.   The cultural and educational theme is the most prominent throughout the museum and art gallery.  However the closet we get to a formal objective is the ‘National code of practice for visitor attractions’, a standard service promoted by the Tourist Board.


Access to this facility is free but is subsidised by the local authority which can be considered a social service type of approach to pricing (Torkildsen 1993), however there is an opportunity to aid funding by contributing to the ‘friends scheme.’  This incentive offers lectures and special viewings for a regular subscription and is an example of concessionaire pricing which will benefit the repeat visitor and in turn is generating income for, and loyalty too, the facility.


The museum is potrayed as “One of the liveliest in the south west”  which is somewhat of a contradiction or a slur on its competitors.   Born of the middle class image of rational recreation, little has changed.   The museum lived up to the traditional image of a dank and dreary experience.   The product being totally intangible needs something to drive the imagination and stimulate the senses.  It is about understanding the history and learning about the city’s past.    Although very traditional in its approach the museum did offer lectures, recitals and special tours.   There is great emphasis on education through  school visits that can have sole access to certain parts of the museum for their lessons. The staff were by contrast very enthusiastic, helpful and abounding with information which at times was overpowering.   This was probably due to the minimal amount of visitors this particular day.


Attracting visitors to the museum is not made easy especially for the tourist.   The museum is on the periphery of the city centre and no parking is readily available.   In the museums defence, it has all major bus routes stopping outside and is opposite Plymouth university.   This campus has provision for 20,000 students and therefore must be some sort of  basis for generating interest.   It would seem to be ideal as part of a stop off on the way to town but this does not appear to be the case, I have been many times over the years and have not seen much in the way of trade for the museum.


As for promotion, there is one major leaflet which serves the museum and art gallery as well as many heritage attractions in the city of Plymouth.   Once in the museum there are photocopied handouts which appear tacky and unprofessional this is probably due to the justification required to spend money within the local authority budget.   Television and newspapers are not utilised which again is probably due to monetary constraints.


The challenge to the management  to modernise the concept of going to the Museum.   Management must use their skills to breath new life into the Museum which is quickly becoming a dinosaur.   Now they have a new competitor , the Aquarium which has a much more modern approach.   I do understand that there are monetary constraints but this is where a good management team needs to be employed.   It is not as if this opportunity is not there to develop the existing concept.   We live in a mullet-sensory environment and are approaching the millennium so how possibly can the needs of the people be interpreted like this.

















By Nick Sherriff






Launceston Golf Club



This facility was built in 1910 at St Stephens Down on farmland leased by the Williams family of the nearby Warrington Park estate.   Although historically there have been options to by the site outright the club has thus far refused.   The club is owned by the members and as such they have a voting right on all decisions taken.   The club employs staff who work in the restaurant, bar, on the course and a small administrative team.  The management team is rather a coalition between the committee, club secretary and the head greenkeeper.


There is an economic approach (Torkildsen 1993) to the pricing at the club in terms of membership, whereby the amount charged goes back into the club to benefit the members.   A years full membership is £220 plus a one off joining fee of £100, relatively cheap compared to other competitors but with many members now coming from Plymouth (a 40 min car journey) they will need to keep it low.   This also falls into the category of incentive pricing as non-members are asked to ‘pay as they play’ which incurs a daily charge for use of the golf course.    Through this membership system the club is attempting to generate loyalty which can be seen as an attempt to generate income for the future.  Concessionaire pricing can also be seen with the junior membership at less than half the full price, again developing loyalty at this stage could well guarantee full adult membership later.


The main product on offer, that of playing golf on the course, is intangible but there is also the usual accompanying intangible products in the form of food, drink and the selling of golf equipment.   Although one is not forced to have refreshments afterwards it can still be seen as part of the package when playing golf at this club.   As with most private golf clubs they are projecting an image and Launceston GC is no different priding itself on etiquette.   Here however the target audience can be seen to be older than its competitors, this is due to the age of the local residents and as such there is a much more relaxed or sedentary pace to all proceedings.      Product development can be seen to be in action with the addition of a new putting green later in the year, the reshaping of certain holes, the planting of many new trees, the resurfacing of the car park and the extension to the existing clubhouse.    It must be added that five years ago Launceston was just another club but due to product development it has been transformed to one of the best courses in the area.


The placing of the club in what could be deemed a retirement town was originally a good idea but the club now sees difficulty in attracting juniors members.   The town is served by major road systems and the club is five minutes from the A30 which finally leads to a picturesque valley with Bodmin Moor on the horizon.   This is a well chosen location and due to the increase in popularity of the sport, coupled with the lack of courses available in the Plymouth area, bodes well for the future of the club.


Promotion is very limited with only a minimal effort in the form of adverts in some golf  magazines and the golf professional displaying his name and club on the side of his car.   I think the club relies on reputation and word of mouth.   This can be seen using the analogy of looking for employment where it is often said that the good jobs don’t need to advertise.   At the moment this is working well and in fact the club is considering capping membership due to swelling numbers.


The challenge to the management seems to be that of choice do they increase and become a much larger organisation as the economics seem to facilitate or do they remain a somewhat small operation and continue the already excellent reputation.   Ultimately as with most golf clubs the final decision will remain with the members themselves which could suggest a change of attitude towards the running of the club may be necessary.    













Having examined three different leisure facilities it is clear that marketing plays more than a token part in the running of a business.   At first glance they appear very diverse but there are marketing strategies that link many facilities together in their approach.   All three facilities seem to agree that the tourist and the host are different in terms of pricing, with the tourist being hit with a higher one off payment and the host receiving an incentive of cheaper payment in return for consumer loyalty.   Product similarity can be observed for both the Aquarium and the Museum.  However the aquarium goes to great lengths to market itself as a bundle of satisfactions.  It is the marketing that is the difference and which sees the Aquarium as an organisation that is far ahead of the Museum.   


This brings into question the ‘needs’ of the community.   The Museum was brought into being by the middle classes and now appears to be rather a contradiction in terms of a ‘need.’   If local government feel we need this facility then surely they have a duty to keep it up to date.   It is obvious to me that we do not need it because if we did then people would be up in arms at just how far behind this institution has fallen.


Plymouth city is going through a period of change with many new developments such as the Aquarium, the Multiplex at Coxside, the Tradium and the regeneration of the Barbican.   This could suggest with the example of the Museum that traditional organisations will be left behind if they do not re-market themselves in order to keep up.


Torkildsen concludes:


“ The marketing approach ensures that when a product or service is made available to the consumer, it has been planned, designed, packaged, promoted and delivered in such a manner that the customer is not only persuaded to buy, but to also repeat the experience as often as possible.”


Good marketing is the difference between successful organisations like the Aquarium and Launceston GC and failing ones such as the Museum.




G.Torkildsen.1993.Leisure and Recreation Management.London.E&FN Spon.

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