Stoke & Staffordshire

How will Smiler crash affect Alton Towers' reputation?

Smiler Alton Towers
Image caption Marketing expert Lyndon Simkin said the Smiler crash could cause some short-term damage in the corporate and education market.

The rollercoaster crash that injured four teenagers on Tuesday is the latest in a string of incidents involving Alton Towers' Smiler ride. So how will it affect the park's reputation?

It has only been open for two years but the Smiler rollercoaster at Alton Towers already has a chequered history.

From journalists being left dangling in the air, to wheels hitting people in the front carriage, to "technical issues", it has not been a smooth ride for an £18m attraction at one of the country's most popular theme parks.

The crash on Tuesday left two men and two women with "significant leg injuries", according to ambulance crews.

'Wrath of parents'

Yet Lyndon Simkin, a professor of strategic marketing at Henley Business School, said he believes the long-term impact will be minimal.

"You will get people asking if it's safe short term but when it calms down, it's a thrill-seeker's paradise," he said.

"People want those thrills. It's the number one theme park in the UK."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Alton Towers has been one of the UK's most-visited attractions for years

Mr Simkin said the damage in the short-term would be in the corporate and education market.

"There may be some companies that think twice about booking events at the park," he said.

"The bigger risk is school trips.

"Schools have to go through vigorous risk assessments and I can imagine there will be some head teachers who have summer trips scheduled who will not want to face the wrath of parents who may ask 'is this the right place at the moment?'."

'Incredibly rare'

Mr Simkin said the park's initial handling of the crash was poor because information was not forthcoming and this left a vacuum that could be filled with social media-fuelled rumour.

He said the best approach to minimise reputation damage moving forward would be to stay transparent and to reassure people that extra checks were being put in place.

He said the park's name featuring in the national media could boost its business.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Rides such as Oblivion, which opened in 1998, have attracted thrill-seekers to Alton Towers

"One of my kids was looking at this and saying 'we have not been there for a while'.

"The aerial shots on the television remind you how big it is. The name of Alton Towers being in the media may actually help the park at a subliminal level."

Justin Garvanovic, founder of the the European Coaster Club, said he did not expect an increase in thrill-seekers.

"I don't think it will have any affect," he said.

"Most people who use rollercoasters realise it's incredibly rare.

"My feeling is it will carry on. There will be a little dip initially and then back to normal in a week."

Lynn Phoenix, who runs the Bank House, a four-star bed and breakfast in Alton, also did not think the park's reputation would be affected long-term.

"I expect it will be a seven-day wonder," she said.

"When there's a big rail crash, it does not stop people using the trains. I think it's been a safe clean park for too many years to have an impact."

'Temporary knock'

But she said she had already had four cancellations since the crash.

"I think we will be affected," she said.

"To what degree I do not know. But 99% of our business comes from Alton Towers so any impact on them has a massive bearing on local business. I'm looking out of the window and the street is deserted like when the park is closed in the winter.

"I'm sure there will be a massive impact."

Image copyright Google
Image caption Trade at the Bulls Head, situated near Alton Towers, will not be affected by the Smiler crash, according to Janet Gibson

However, Janet Gibson, who runs the Bulls Head, a nearby 18th Century inn with a restaurant and letting rooms, said she did not think her trade would be affected.

She said: "Alton Towers' reputation will have possibly taken a bit of a temporary knock.

"There will be people who are nervous about that ride in the future but generally the park's record over the 32 years I have been here has been very good. I don't think there will be a big impact.

"The park will reopen; the Smiler will not be functional until they have sorted it out. The feedback we get is that it's a fantastic ride. I don't think it will stop people going."

Nick Varney, chief executive of the park's owners Merlin Entertainments, told the BBC "the safety of our visitors is our primary concern" and he could not say when Alton Towers would reopen.

"Today we will be doing very deep and detailed investigations," he said.

"Our team are very well trained, we go through measures against these terrible possibilities all of the time and I would say probably that there wouldn't have been any laxness in our reaction.

"Our business is about giving people safe, fun, memorable experiences with the emphasis on safety."

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