A Fresh Look at Old Favourites: The Tower of London
21st March 2019
We work with some of the UK’s greatest venues – but we tend to only see them (professionally) when they’re in need of transformation.
In this series, we want to take a look at some of London’s favourite heritage venues – and see whether their customer experience lives up to the high expectations of visiting tourists and Londoners alike.
Grand palace, medieval fortress, royal residence, menagerie and infamous prison – Tower of London is a top tourist destination and World Heritage Site billed as “London’s castle” by Historic Royal Palaces. When you think of the Tower of London you’re probably imagining the White Tower; but there’s a whole group of buildings and exhibits to explore with an entry ticket costing around £30.
The first stop inside the castle walls is the Yeoman Warder Tour, included in our ticket price and taking place every half hour throughout the day. A uniformed Beefeater takes us through the turbulent history of the Tower and its particular blend of banquets, beheadings and bird-based superstition.
The tour moves between four or five different spots; it’s well pitched and enthusiastically delivered, effectively signposting what to see and do during the rest of your day.
From there, you’re on your own. The amount to see can feel quite overwhelming, and it’s not made entirely clear on the map the ‘weighting’ of each experience – The White Tower’s Museum of Arms and Armour might take a visitor a couple of hours, but the Royal Beasts or Torture at the Tower exhibitions will take even the most engaged guest a matter of minutes to take in.
The exhibits are multi-sensory and engaging, playing with scale, sound and interactivity at appropriate points. It’s clear that some areas have seen more love (funding) than others. Sir Walter Raleigh’s prison study, for example, boasts projections and soundscapes and there’s a games room in the White Tower that’s basically an arcade armoury for kids with an appetite for virtual violence.
The Crown Jewels space is especially immersive, because at peak times the queue needs entertaining through several large atriums like they’re in line for a rollercoaster. Once you get to the jewels, your ride takes the form of a travellator – which turns out to be a charming way to ensure everyone gets a one-on-one moment with each showpiece in a sparkling collection of royal headgear.
Retail is carefully considered and there are plenty of opportunities for secondary spending. Each shop has its own name, identity and product range, offering a number of core Tower of London items, plus a tailored selection that’s relevant to where you’re stood – think wooden swords in the armoury and necklaces near the royal regalia.
The stores, kiosks and the New Armouries Cafe are inkeeping with the historic buildings in terms of atmosphere and architecture. The White Tower store in particular is beautifully realised. An external shop means that non-ticket holders can take a piece of the Tower home – and it’s well communicated that the money spent here goes back into preserving Historic Royal Palaces.
Sculptures of royal beasts invite guests to explore the menagerie story as part of their visit; and provide plenty of Insta-friendly moments along the way.
At one point, we witness the changing of the Queens Gurkha Engineers. The timing for signature moments like this hasn’t been communicated to us as part of the tour collateral – which makes that right-time-right-place feeling all the more special.
The audio guide costs £5 and can be purchased ahead of your visit. The content will be of value to guests whose first language isn’t English – though we imagine an English-speaking family might feel like the £20 could have been better spent in the café. The content duplicates the Yeoman Warder Tour and isolates guests from one another in the space. It could easily be adapted to an app, but this would sacrifice additional income at the altar of customer convenience.
The Tower of London is diversifying its offer to bring in repeat visitors – from seasonal events and artist collaborations to after dark Tower Twilight Tours. External marketing invites visitors to explore three narratives (Prison, Palace, Fortress), but as each ticket is only valid for one visit, we can’t imagine guests dividing their own journey in this way.
Membership is signposted throughout the experience, and it’s not a leap to suggest visitors sign up to explore other Historic Royal Palaces venues after a day at the Tower.
However you look at it, Tower of London represents good value for money. Visitors can easily spend four or five hours exploring the site’s grisly history, grabbing a selfie with a beefeater or counting the eight resident ravens who are free to roam the grounds.
Armed with a map and an audio guide, the site quickly begins to feel like a kind of moated medieval theme park – with each guest in control of the pace and order of their visit. Tower of London hits the right balance between making people feel welcomed and giving them total freedom to explore.
As Londoners, we didn’t know what to expect from such an iconic tourist hotspot, but we were genuinely impressed by the experience on offer. Top marks to the Tower.
Customer Experience Scoreboard
- Brand Presence 8/10 (All retail subbrands support the location branding. Historic Royal Palaces has a presence throughout)
- Intuitive Journey 5/10 (Part of the fun is following your nose – but this often results in getting lost…)
- Engaging Perspectives 9/10 (The Yeoman Warder Tour is a hosted experience which gives context to the Tower’s interwoven stories – historical and modern)
- Digital Integration 5/10 (interesting projection displays and online presence in-store. Audio guide could do with a digital evolution.)
- Instagram Moments 8/10 (Beefeaters, Diamonds and Bears! Oh my!)
- Shop 9/10 (Clever rotation of core and specialist products)
- Café 8/10 (British favourites food offer well suited to audience)
- Go-back-ability 8/10 (Lots to explore – but no re-entry ticket available)
- Overall 8.5/10