Passionate about creating magical moments for visitors to Blackpool and striving to ensure they return time and again, Kate Shane, Regional Director for Merlin Entertainment Blackpool is also an integral part of growing the Blackpool brand along with creating opportunities for residents while working in conjunction with the local council.

A visionary with a passion for Blackpool is the impression I got while interviewing Kate and it is so easy to get swept up in her enthusiasm as she describes her role at Merlin and her devotion to growing the Blackpool brand and improving people’s lives.

“I work for an imaginative and creative company, but I also have a solid line into a local authority, so when I talk to them about our vision I am met with a willingness and an openness from them to work together with us.”

This close working relationship stretches back to 2010 when the local council purchased the assets that Merlin now operates.

“This is a great example of the public and private sector working together and what is important is that the council comprises a dynamic group of individuals who have a plan!
“There is a master plan for Blackpool with all the businesses working towards the greater good of the region. I am involved from a tourism perspective through my Merlin cap, and we run our operations based on what the Council wants to achieve for the region.”
According to Kate, it makes a massive difference for businesses in Blackpool that the Council owns key properties and brings in private companies to operate.

It is hugely important, not only from a working perspective but also from the vision in 2010 that the assets needed to come into public ownership so investment could be sorted from outside entities.

Not only does this protect heritage buildings like the Blackpool Tower, but it also enables investment to come into Blackpool from outside entities, which is important for growth and sustainability within the town.

“Merlin was brought in by the Council in 2010 and through our operating license, we have been able to invest in the area and establish the town as a great family entertainment mecca in the North West, the UK’s favourite seaside destination.”

From a consumer perspective, the main Merlin brands are Madame Tussauds, Sea Life & the Dungeon combined with the heritage attractions, The Blackpool Tower, Circus and Ballroom. Merlin have also added two new brands (created in Blackpool).
“Our goal is making magical memories for visitors through our globally recognised brands while ensuring that visitors committing their leisure time to our brands will experience the Merlin quality of service from start to finish.

“Staff are trained to ensure that this is achieved and our net promoter score for the Blackpool Cluster is top not only in the UK but also in Europe and the USA.”

Promoting Blackpool
“We work very closely with the Council in promoting Blackpool as a tourist destination. One of the ways we achieve this is through a match-funded marketing campaign which this season is called ‘Only in Blackpool’.

“Simultaneously we have our internal marketing and campaign team who are responsible for promoting our brands to the consumer. One of the ways we are achieving this is through a seagull character we created called Nigal C Gull, who highlights all the key reasons to visit Blackpool.

“Then we also handle various PR campaigns for our various products including the new circus shows and enjoying an afternoon tea experience in the ballroom.”
One specific PR campaign that received global attention happened by default.
“The Conservative Party were holding their Spring Conference in Blackpool and we decided to create a wax figure of the then PM Boris Johnson, for Madam Tussauds and unveil at the event.

“Several months before the conference the ‘party gate’ scandal occurred leaving us with a dilemma of what to do with this wax figure (that had cost one hundred and fifty thousand pounds to create) if the PM lost his position. I jokingly said that maybe we should place him outside the job centre and when later the year, he did lose his role my PR Manager seized the opportunity to news jack the story for our brand. It then went viral and was being reported by media agencies across the world. It even got nominated for an international award.

“This had not been planned and we had not foreseen the exposure we would receive from it either. This is why I am optimistic about the future because we have a dynamic team at Merlin who continually push boundaries to ensure Blackpool gets great coverage but also ensures visitors make lifelong memories.”

The future is Blackpool!
“There is so much going on within the Resort – from its Air-Show to the Illuminations Switch On, LightPool and most recently Christmas by the Sea.
“The season is now almost year-long because of all the extra activities in and around Blackpool, and naturally we as a company also benefit from this.
“We have also brought two new brands as extra attractions – namely The Peter Rabbit Explore and Play© and The Gruffalo and Friends Clubhouse, an indoor area for children to enjoy and where parents can relax, which has exceeded its annual target within the first 5 months.

“Key to the area are the investments from other companies including the council so it is going to be an exciting time for growth in the region.

“As part of the council master plan a Civil Service Hub is opening in 2024 that will bring 3000 office workers into the town centre. There is also a plan to build a ‘multiversity’ which will also host 3000 staff and students.

“What are the key ingredients for a vibrant city? The answer is students, office workers, locals, and outside visitors all year round.

“With the new £30m conference centre, the town will also be able to compete with other bigger cities in the North West, and we also have the advantage of being by the sea.”

Lights, action, Blackpool
“Apart from my role within the business I also chair the Blackpool Tourism Bid which strives to assist all tourism businesses in the resort, and I am also on the Town Deal Board, which supports the regeneration of the town, via the funding of key projects.”
“One of the projects benefitting from the Town Deal is the Illuminations, where funding has been assigned to rejuvenate the product, making it more sustainable whilst creating new reasons to visit the resort.

The TBID is a sponsor for the Lightpool Festival, which is now an Arts Council NPO, a weeklong event in October that showcases performance arts linked to lights, including projections on the Blackpool Tower and this year, a firefly display marked 100 years of the Cenotaph.

“The Lightpool festival was created to encourage those visiting the Illuminations, to get out of their cars and explore Blackpool, also encouraging them to stay longer and add value to the local economy.”

Empowering Blackpool
“From Merlin’s perspective, I believe we also play a key role in not only attracting outside visitors but also in investing in our employees and residents, creating opportunities for them.

“I am in the fortunate position that through Merlin I can both create and facilitate change within the community.

“One such project that was started by us in Blackpool and which has been implemented throughout the Merlin stable is a programme within the national Care-leave Covenant. What this entails for us in Blackpool is that we have committed ourselves to ensuring we support everyone aged between 16 and 24 who is leaving the care system. We support them with employment and training opportunities, and we empower them to be able to look ahead to a bright future for themselves.

“Another similar project we also support is Project Search, which creates opportunities for adults with additional needs.”

Kate also played a key role in establishing the Blackpool Tourism Academy with students able to gain work experience within the Blackpool tourism sector, via the government Kickstart scheme.

Kate states there have been many proud moments in recent times but one of her proudest moments was during the coronation of King Charles.

“The BBC approached Blackpool asking if they could use it as one of the locations during the coronation celebrations as part of the Light Up the Nation theme. Naturally,
we agreed and, on the day, handed everyone who attended a wristband with a light built into it.

“The concept was the BBC would do a 30-second cross-over from Blackpool as part of the Light Up the Nation festivities. I told them they would probably end up spending more time showcasing the event in Blackpool, and they said it all depends on the amount of people that turn up.

“Well, the residents of Blackpool did not disappoint and turned up in their thousands. As the sun started to set the Tower was illuminated and then the wristbands lit up and the crowd started to wave their arms as one.

“The BBC that night did four live crossings to Blackpool, it was the most live crossings by the BBC during the entire show, and I was so proud of Blackpool’s residents playing a key role in this particular event.”

Big heart
“Blackpool has a big beating heart and that is what we are all about. The heart at the front of the tower might be an illuminating heart but it is a symbol of what this town and resort are all about.

“It reminds people that we have so much to be proud of here in Blackpool, and that is to be celebrated.”