When you manage iconic buildings or landmarks there is an extra level of duty of care on your shoulders and Tony Sammut and his brilliant team have that with Emirates Spinnaker Tower. Every member of the team is passionate about the attraction and its place in our city.
The plans Tony and the team have for the future of the tour are exciting and he shares some of those with us in this interview. But what comes across is his personal pride in managing the attraction and how he wants the city to be proud of its value.
Stef Nienaltowski: Good morning, I'm sat with Tony Sammut, the General Manager at the Spinnaker Tower. Good morning Tony.
Tony Sammut: Good morning Stef.
SN: Tony, as we sit in this iconic landmark, what are the main challenges in running and maintaining this beautiful building?
TS: Okay, we see about a quarter of a million guests a year, and it's anything from the window cleaning at a hundred meters high, down to the general painting and upkeep of downstairs. So, it's all about having the team maintain it, they're a really good team, and ensuring that everything runs smoothly through them.
SN: I know you're planning to connect more regularly with the local community, and that's quite a strategic direction for you. How do you plan to actually re-connect, or even connect, with the local community?
TS: So, we run a postcode offer in January that went out to the whole of the PO postcode, which is normally we only have the Portsmouth postcode area, so that was a start of it. And now, we're working with Pompey in the Community, we've linked with those. We launched a couple of weeks ago in the Blackburn game, which was an interesting game, and it's building a relationship with everybody, all partners across the City; other attractions, smaller businesses, and just seeing how we can help the City. We are the icon of Portsmouth, and we want people to love us as much as we love the City.
SN: And I know, every time you see now a reference to Portsmouth, it's there isn't it? It's there always, as you say.
TS: Absolutely, it's a beautiful building. When we look at our competition, there isn't any when it comes to the beauty of it, and we placed it right in the right place looking over our beautiful harbour.
SN: Indeed. You've changed your marketing strategy over the last year or two. I remember when we first met, you actually didn't reveal the view, and then last year I think you had a change of heart to reveal the view as a magnet to come in, but what led to that decision, and where's the marketing strategy going next?
TS: I think it was the fact the there was no point in hiding something, it's an experience, we want people to almost see what they can have but get that greater experience once they come up. What we're doing this year, we're taking the stories from out of the view, so whether it be something about Southsea Castle or the Forts, to the Dockyard, and we're creating, we're trying to make our view come to life this year. That's kind of like our strapline. It's about creating life within the City, and understanding what we've got as a City, you know? Really celebrating how beautiful our City is, and the attractions within it, and the history.
SN: And of course, it's much more of a venue than just tourists. Forgive me, it's weddings, it's conferences, you do all sorts of things here don't you?
TS: Absolutely, so, we hold comedy nights, we have weddings as you said, it's a whole list. From businesses coming in and renting out spaces, to Christmas events. It's literally a broad market that we kind of go out to. We change the colour of the Tower to set events and for charity events, so we hit all markets in a very unique way. To say that you've held your wedding up at a hundred meters high, looking over Portsmouth Harbour is very unique, and the photos that come off the backdrop are incredible.
SN: And again, you've done the abseiling, was it last year?
TS: Indeed, and we're doing it again this year. We are introducing a new product line to the Tower, but I can't quite give you the full information on that yet, but look out for that, it's really good, it's coming soon.
SN: Fantastic. As we sit here, as you know I myself had the pleasure of being up on this deck a number of times. I personally never tire of the view, but do you see many people returning, time after time, or do people come here once and never come again?
TS: I think it's a bit of both. We have our annual membership, which we see a return quite regularly of those visitors, but in general we get quite a few tourists from outside the City, so that is a one-off visit I think, but more and more with re-engaging with the City we're seeing return visits, and it's not just because of the view (which is incredible!) but it's also the fact that we're putting more and more on for the community. So, we've got a Sunset Sundays, which is obviously every Sunday, and it's champagne up in the clouds. We've also got Peter Rabbit coming in Easter half term, which is a new thing for us as well as going out to the City, so it's a constant change in the offer, re-engaging, and trying to get people to see it not just as a viewing tower, but as something to come to as an experience.
SN: And forgive me, I should know this but I don't. Are you open in the evenings at any part of the year for the general public?
TS: We're not at the moment, but it is something we're looking in to. The view is obviously completely different but just as incredible in the evening as it is in the daytime. With all the City lights it just looks amazing, so it's something we are looking into. We've not done it yet., it's not something we've programmed in, but we had a couple of nights of it over Halloween, but it's something that, with the Sunset Sundays, we're more and more increasing business. And the Sky Dining with Steph Moon that's creating more evening trade. It's very difficult with having a hospitality side of the business, because obviously we are very well booked.
SN: I mention the evenings, because I was here the other night for the Armed Forces Covenant event, I'd not been up at night before, the view was completely different, but equally stunning.
TS: Absolutely, it's incredible in the evening. It almost takes on a whole different view. So, it is something we will look to do, but it's not in this year really.
SN: So, what are the plans going forward for the next two or three years? Where do you see this attraction in two or three years' time?
TS: So, we're going to add features to the attraction continuously. There's an adrenaline experience coming in, again I can't give you too much detail on that yet until I've got the sign-off on that, and it's more about like you said, re-engaging with the City, and making it that iconic building that everyone loves. It's such a beautiful building, we're trying to attract more and more people to the City, and it's about making sure that Portsmouth is on the map; not only the Spinnaker Tower, because it is very important to me, obviously, but also the whole City and driving people to the City, with giving them reason to do that, and the Tower is obviously one of them.
SN: And I guess people can see all of these details on the website, and you've got all of your facilities listed there, and if people want to know how to book a wedding, or hold a meeting, it's all on there I guess?
TS: Absolutely, by all means get in contact with us, we've got a really engaging team, they're fantastic, and they will answer any of your questions.
SN: And again, interesting to me when we spoke last time, you've got about 40-odd staff as well here?
TS: Seventy-two employees, and they're an amazing team. I couldn't ask for any better to be honest with you. They are the heart of the business, they're the reason why we do as well as we do, and they're the reason why I come to work and enjoy my job, so we're very, very lucky.
SN: Great place to leave it. Tony, thank you very much indeed.
TS: Thank you.