Thorpe Park – “the Nations thrill capital” or a PR joke?

We all know of Thorpe park, even if a person has never stepped foot in the park in Chertsey, Surrey they know where and what it is. Owned by Merlin Entertainment, along with Alton Towers and Chessington World of Adventures, the park is aimed at thrill seeking teenagers and young adults. After opening in 1979 it has been transformed from an ‘educational’ park for families to a theme park that features record breaking rides of great height, speed and terror.

The latest edition to the site, which had over 2million visitors in 2011, is the world’s second wing rider roller coaster. ‘The Swarm’ which was announced in April 2011 around the site itself was officially completed on 23rd November 2011 and a press release from Mike Vallis – the divisional director at Thorpe Park, stated that the ride would ‘further add to the parks’ impressive ride portfolio’.

The ride was first tested using one of the ‘trains’ on January 17th of this year, however, a week later it emerged what happened to the crash test dummies that were used during the tests. Several local and national newspapers ran the story and printed pictures showing the damage done to the dummies. It was reported that some of the dummies lost a number of limbs during the test after passing too close to one of the rides theme elements.

In these reports it is obvious that some of the newspapers are viewing this as disturbing news for a ride due to open in 6 weeks time. However, at least one report has slammed the park for pulling a publicity stunt intended to scare and thrill its intended audience during tests that should be taken seriously and carried out with the upmost care and attention to detail. Then again, it’s not the first time the park has attracted the Medias’ attention in a PR stunt.  If the views of some media groups are to be believed the parks’ PR team is one of the best in the world after devising a string of headline grabbing ‘events’.

These headline grabbers include a contest where the public were asked to donate urine to create a ‘signature stench’ for its horror maze SAW Alive. By that point the maze had already received a sizeable amount of attention from the media after having been dubbed ‘too scary and gory’ for some of its younger fans. In 2009 the park pulled another stunt for the press by ‘banning’ people from raising their arms on the roller coasters. Comedic signs were posted up around the sites main attractions and larger rides saying things like “Say no to BO”. Many local and national papers picked up on the story but the rule was never actually enforced at the park and has since been deemed by many as a stunt to bring more customers in for the summer period.

In early 2011 construction of the parks new ride Storm Surge was halted and the ride was moved to a new location after workers reported an ‘eerie feeling’ around the site and several apparent sightings of ghosts – the most popular being the ghost of a headless monk. Given the parks history with the press the public wanted a bit more evidence than just ‘apparent sightings’ and they got just that. According to Peter Masters of Cranfield University, who used specialist scientific equipment to survey the sight in March 2011, the site gave signature readings similar to those of an ancient burial ground.

So, is Thorpe Park the Nations thrill capital still? Is the attraction giving the customers what they want by pushing their rides to the limit to provide the thrill of a lifetime for the masses? Or is it time for them to stop with the dramatics and be serious when reviewing a £20 million ride?

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