A ‘significant underspend’ in marketing has been blamed for the i360’s poor visitor numbers.
But the promise of improvements has persuaded councillors to give the tourist attraction’s owners more time to pay back instalments of a £36.2 million loan.
Experts brought in by Brighton and Hove City Council said that the attraction’s owners should have spent eight to 10 per cent of revenue on marketing.
But they spent only six per cent then four per cent in the first two years.
Related stories: i360 loan restructure could be postponed to next autumn
In a report before the council’s policy, resources and growth committee, marketing consultants Leisure Development Partners (LDP) said that although the i360 had good initial penetration in the local market, it had not reached out further.
The council’s executive director for the economy, environment and culture Nick Hibberd said: “The two-hour catchment area was not as strong. This was put down to a significant underspend in marketing.”
He went on to tell councillors that the i360’s management team had embraced the recommendations.
Green councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty shared his frustrations, suggesting that the council ‘hold a stick over the management’.
He said: “A point raised is they should be marketing themselves alongside other attractions. I am not someone who works in marketing or tourism but it seems very basic. Why was it not done already?
“Why are they spending time and money on the website for an attraction so reliant on the weather.
“You do not want to make a booking for next Tuesday when there may be a sea fog.
“We are putting a lot of weight on the new incumbents but we need to hold a stick over the decisions made. We have to expect better.”
He was making reference to former London Eye boss, David Sharpe, who spent several years working for the leading leisure firm Merlin Entertainments and who has now joined the i360’s board.
The committee was asked to entrust the handling of the outstanding loans to two of the council’s most senior officials until next October.
But the Conservatives persuaded the committee to take the reins and demand an update next June.
The opposition Conservative leader Cllr Tony Janio said: “We need to make sure this is on track and will not fail.
“If we let it fail then we let the city down.”
The Labour council leader Daniel Yates described them as ‘friendly amendments’.
Cllr Yates said: “This is far too important to let fail.
“This is far too important as an investment in terms of services for us to allow it to get into a bad position.”
The committee agreed to defer the £880,000 loan repayment due from the i360 at the end of December.
Julia Barfield, chair of Brighton i360 Ltd, said: “We regret that lower-than-forecasted visitor numbers have resulted in a temporary shortfall in our loan repayments to Brighton & Hove City Council and we are grateful to the council for continuing to demonstrate flexibility and support while we develop and improve the business.
“The i360 board is fully engaged with the improvement process and like the council, we are encouraged by the LDP report, which paints a positive picture of the visitor numbers the i360 can achieve in time.
“In line with the recommendations made, we have already strengthened our board of directors with more strategic attractions expertise and will also be significantly increasing our marketing spend in order to drive awareness and visitor numbers.
“With these measures firmly in place, and working closely with the council and its advisors, we are confident that we can achieve the turnaround needed to ensure the i360 delivers on both its vision and commitments.”