Pavilion Dance harnessed a booming summer tourist market to help make a place for itself on an emerging cultural scene. Jo O’Connell tells all

Pavilion Dance captures the tourist market

The paint still smells new in Pavilion Dance’s spacious white studios, but since opening in September 2010 we have already received the Tourism Marketing Initiative of the Year Award 2011, for innovative marketing communications surrounding our Summer Spectacular programme. As Bournemouth’s Director of Tourism, Mark Smith summed up: “It would normally take years to achieve the amazing professional results that have been delivered in just a few months by Pavilion Dance.” But it was by no means straightforward.

Our challenge was that people did not know what Pavilion Dance was, what benefit it could be to them or even where it was; although when it comes to location you ca not beat Pavilion Dance’s – the imposing Art Deco building overlooks seven miles of golden beach and Bournemouth’s award-winning gardens. With the restrictions of a small marketing budget, we needed to increase the centre’s visibility and show how relevant and accessible dance could be as part of everyday life.

Although Bournemouth’s image has moved from hip-op to hip-hop in recent decades, tourists who visit and those who move here do so for the beautiful natural landscape, not the cultural activities on offer. The council is aiding the cultural scene by supporting Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and initiatives such as the Bournemouth Arts by the Sea Festival and Inside Out Dorset, but the resort does not yet have an established contemporary dance audience (that is contemporary with both a small and capital c); this is where Pavilion Dance comes in.

What Bournemouth does have is a booming tourist trade of four-million people each year, thousands of international language students and a summer influx of tourists. Whilst other venues find they need to close down over the summer months, we can ramp our activities up to attract new audiences.

The idea behind Summer Spectacular was to create a programme of high-quality, diverse and family-friendly outdoor events, as an entry point for first timers and a chance to increase participation in dance across all ages. The July - September programme was designed to dovetail with established tourism and council events, such as the Bournemouth Air Festival (attracting up to one-million visitors over four days) and the regular Friday Night Fireworks that are held throughout the summer. The team worked closely with the council’s tourism and seafront departments to coordinate logistics and marketing.

Dancing Terraces, with its outdoor Bollywood, Samba, Salsa and African dance classes, attracted diverse crowds of up to seven-hundred people each Friday. Tourists enjoyed a free night out and residents came back week after week, with some staying for the full three hours.

Tilted Productions’ SEASAW took passers-by on guided seaside walks with a difference – areas of beach became impromptu performance venues as dancers became mermaids, litter-pickers and oil-stricken seagulls. Free contemporary dance performances and a Bournemouth Air Festival showcase of local dance groups enticed people up our stairs and onto our expansive terraces. In addition, three summer schools entertained and developed the skills of children and young adults.

In September we corroborated with Fuel, who erected its huge, four-storey Electric Hotel outside our building, as part of the Bournemouth Arts by the Sea Festival. The sell-out show had audience-members listening to the soundtrack on wireless headphones. That same weekend, on an unusually balmy evening, residents and tourists used the headphones to enjoy an outdoor Silent Disco on our terraces.

Each event brought new people to Pavilion Dance and allowed them to experience something unexpected and refreshing. For the team, the programme offered the golden opportunity to meet our demographic face-to-face, to talk to them, find out who they were and, essentially, capture their contact details for future events. As a result our email database doubled.

There was a high-impact, low-cost marketing campaign behind Summer Spectacular, which involved QR codes, rich video content, online social media, networking and competitions. Plus good old fashioned PR and tailored communications with our hoteliers, attractions, language schools and cultural partners. But the Summer Spectacular was a unique marketing tool in its own right. It wasn’t so much about Pavilion Dance promoting Summer Spectacular, as it was about the programme promoting the new venue. Dancing Terraces was a magnet that drew thousands of people to our building for the first time, and Electric Hotel was such a huge, outdoor curiosity that it got the whole town talking and people even tried to book rooms!

The result? We have met Arts Council England’s objectives by improving participation in the arts and ensured our council co-funder’s satisfaction by enhancing their own events programme. This year, we are looking at making Summer Spectacular even bigger with potential corporate sponsorship.

Jo O’Connell is Marketing & Communications Manager at Pavilion Dance E W