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Attractions

Perfect Brew

Guinness Storehouse celebrates its 15th birthday and another record-breaking year. We found out how Europe’s best-loved attraction sustains its enviable reputation


Guinness is one of the most recognisable drinks on the planet, thanks to its distinctive look and years of seriously clever advertising campaigns. So when the new visitor centre, the Guinness Storehouse, opened at St James Gate brewery in Dublin in 2000, it had to embody the same values that made the brand so successful.

Designed by London-based Imagination in conjunction with Dublin architects RKD, a disused grain storage building was turned into a contemporary brandland at a cost of €42m (£32m, $45m). Today, half of all tourists to Ireland visit the attraction.

“You have to give credit to the executives from [parent company] Diageo who had the courage and bravery to spend that amount of money on a visitor centre,” says Paul Carty, managing director at the Guinness Storehouse. “That was an incredible vote of confidence in the Guinness brand and in the value of an experiential attraction.”

Fast forward to 2015, and 1.5 million people visited the Guinness Storehouse, an 18 per cent increase on the previous year’s figure. Of those, 93 per cent were from overseas, with people from the UK and US making up half of all visitors. French and German visitors formed 6 per cent each of the total, while the biggest year-on-year growth markets were the Dutch (up 34 per cent) and the Chinese (up 38 per cent).

In fact, from the very beginning, the attraction has been on an upward trajectory, both popular and profitable. Even during the recession, the Guinness Storehouse experienced growth. The only dip in attendance was in 2010, when air travel was severely disrupted by the erupting Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland.

“Eighty-five per cent of our business comes via Dublin airport. We’re totally dependent on tourists coming to the island in the first place,” Carty says. “It just shows the importance of access. Airlines like Ryanair and Aer Lingus do a great job of delivering volumes of people to the island.”

Constant reinvention
Carty, who started out in the global hospitality industry, has been at the Guinness Storehouse since it opened. He says the attraction is successful thanks to a business model that’s highly sustainable, funding all its own investments.

“We reinvest every year. We always try to create a new area so we have a new story to tell. This helps us maintain our position as a must-see attraction for tourists and encourages repeat visitors,” Carty says.

A major new investment – a result of customer feedback – is the new third floor, which opened in March 2015 and is dedicated to the world of advertising. Interactive displays bring to life the best TV and print advertising from Guinness, from the iconic John Gilroy Toucan illustrations of the 1930s to the iconic modern campaigns.

Design agency Love created the new 1,500sqm (16,146sq ft) space, introducing high-tech elements including a playable digital version of the brand’s trademark golden harp and an 8-metre (26-foot) high interactive Instagram wall to integrate social media more powerfully into the space.

The Guinness Storehouse generates 350 million media impressions every year for the brand and the 1080p-resolution gesture-controlled Instagram installation has massively boosted the attraction’s social media presence since it opened.

An intimate 75-minute tasting experience at the Connoisseur Bar was another new offering at the attraction last year.

“In the past five years we’ve invested €10 million [£7.6m, $10.8m]. We’re constantly reinventing and upgrading,” Carty says. “We see the return on investment and from a brand perspective we track and survey things, such as whether guests consume more Guinness after their visit, or whether they feel warmer towards the brand.”

One of the most crucial investment decisions was the appointment of BRC Imagination Arts to rethink the way the brand’s story was being told, Carty says. In 2011, BRC completed an upgrade, which included the themeing of each floor to create a coherent and more interactive visitor journey. The results were a 35 per cent jump in attendance and 240 per cent increase in net profit.

Warm Irish welcome
Carty’s background in high-end hotels shines through at the attraction, where a “warm Irish welcome” and top-class customer service are paramount. A great deal is invested in finding the right staff and training them to ensure visitors enjoy a high-quality experience and form a good impression of Guinness.

“It’s similar to running hotels because of shared skill sets: F&B, entertainment, staff training and standards,” he says.

It’s the same welcome extended to Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II when she and husband Prince Philip toured the attraction in 2013, as part of the first royal visit to Ireland since 1911, For Carty, it was a career highlight: “The hairs on my neck stood up. I felt so proud to be involved such a historic event,” he says. “We showed the Queen the art of pouring the perfect Guinness. It was a beautiful occasion.”

SEVEN STORIES IN SEVEN STOREYS

The Guinness Storehouse is arranged across seven storeys, with each floor presenting the visitor with a new aspect of the brand history. The building itself is shaped like a gigantic pint of Guinness. If it were filled with Guinness it would hold 14.3 million pints.

• GROUND FLOOR: The Guinness flagship retail store sells branded memorabilia and exclusive merchandise.

• FIRST FLOOR: Learn about the legendary Arthur Guinness’ lease of 1759 and the beginnings of Guinness.

• SECOND FLOOR: Enjoy the tasting experience, a multi-sensory education on the distinctive flavours of the stout.

• THIRD FLOOR: Be immersed in 80 years of groundbreaking print, digital and TV advertising campaigns on the attraction’s Advertising Floor.

• FOURTH FLOOR: Learn to pour the perfect pint at the Guinness Academy. It’s a six-step process – mastered by bartenders across the country – that takes exactly 119.5 seconds.

• FIFTH FLOOR: Eat and drink at the Brewers’ Dining Hall, with an open kitchen and a menu of Guinness dishes.

• SEVENTH FLOOR: The journey ends at the Gravity Bar, with panoramic views and a pint of the “black stuff”.

The Guinness Storehouse
The Guinness Storehouse

Collette Coughlan,

Brand Manager,

Guinness Storehouse

Collette Coughlan
Collette Coughlan

The Guinness Storehouse was named best attraction in Europe in the World Travel Awards.

What makes it so successful?

The experience is authentic and unique to Guinness and we celebrate the Guinness story throughout the building – the brewing, the history and heritage. It’s an engaging experience.

What values make the Guinness brand and how do you convey them in an attraction?
The Guinness brand values are power, goodness and communion. Everything we do reflects those values and by staying true to those values we create an authentic experience. We want the Guinness Storehouse to be the most distinctive immersive brand experience in the world.

How are the values communicated in the design or the visitor journey?
Power relates to the ingredients and brewing process. Goodness relates to what we do in terms of advertising and communion relates to bringing people together and celebrating.

For example, we have entertainment on the fifth floor with Irish music and we host a four-day St Patrick’s Day festival every year. We’re here to entertain people who come to Dublin to have a fun, memorable and engaging experience.

What types of campaigns do you do?
Our main marketing tools are PR, word of mouth and “talkability”. Canada is an emerging market for us thanks to increased air access, so we’re investing in a PR campaign to ensure they know that the Guinness Storehouse is a must-see destination in Dublin.

We’re reaching out to Canadian media, travel media and brand media and where possible inviting them to the Guinness Storehouse so they can experience it. Last year we ran a campaign where our ambassador Aaron Ridgeway went to Canada for St Patrick’s Day, where he was demonstrating the six steps to the perfect pint on TV stations.

How important is social media?
Online is a huge part of our strategy. We have Facebook and Twitter and we’ve just launched an Instagram wall in the Guinness Storehouse where you can post your photographs instantly. The experience is very emotive. People love posting pictures with their perfect pint of Guinness in the Gravity Bar or in the Academy. Investing in digital enables us to reach younger audiences who want share content with friends and family in the instant.

A buzz topic at the moment is the emotionalisation of brands. How do you emotionalise the brand?
Our staff members are our greatest asset so it’s about the connection that our staff has with the visitors. You enter the Guinness Storehouse and receive a warm Irish welcome, and we take you in hand and interact with you throughout the tour. It’s something we place a lot of value on. It’s a massive building so it could feel quite cold, but the staff make it a very warm place. We try to emotionalise the brand through our people.

How does the attraction manage its responsibilities when it comes to promoting alcohol?
We’re a brand immersion experience, but we do take our role as a drink-related attraction very seriously. We adhere to the strict responsible service of alcohol code throughout the experience and apply Diageo’s marketing code to all the exhibits. The Diageo code is about responsible drinking and being aware of the alcohol content. We have a drink IQ website that tells you about the effects that alcohol can have on your body. We’re fully transparent and try to educate people as much as possible. We welcome younger people and there’s no age limit on entry, but the legal age limit of 18 applies for pouring and buying a pint. We don’t charge for water and we have restaurants serving food.

Visitors enjoy a private tasting session at the attraction’s Connoisseur Bar
Visitors enjoy a private tasting session at the attraction’s Connoisseur Bar
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Company profile: Willmott Dixon
Willmott Dixon delivers the social infrastructure that people depend on in their daily lives. We partner with our customers to focus on the services they want to provide, not just the building we construct, and we are committed to achieving a higher social purpose through our work.
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