A Fresh Look at Old Favourites: Tower Bridge

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.

Billed as “London’s favourite Landmark,” Tower Bridge is a working testament to Victorian ingenuity and the operational demands of a growing capital city.

With a ticket price of under a tenner, the self-guided tour takes just over an hour at a leisurely pace between the bridge itself and the less conspicuous Engine Rooms.

The tour begins with a lift up one tower to explore the high-level walkways. With such a large volume of international guests, historical storytelling takes a back seat to “through the ages” imagery and video content which might leave some scratching their heads about how the bridge was constructed in the first place. That said, if views are what you’re here for, you’ll get them in spades (weather permitting). 

The walkways have some thoughtful design details for guests – including sliding windows to help you take a photo without any reflections and a mirrored ceiling to capture a novel selfie if you’re confident enough to lie down on the (glass) floor.

Secondary spend is encouraged through fairly traditional means – think souvenir penny machines and digital postcard printers, none of which feel particularly like part of The Tower Bridge family.

One exciting aspect of the tour experience is the promise of VR content delivered in partnership with TimeLooper. Having visited the website beforehand, we had downloaded the app and dutifully bought the branded cardboard VR goggles (+£5) on entrance.

Unfortunately, the digital experience isn’t reliant on you actually being in Tower Bridge – the content, while visually impressive, isn’t highlighted at relevant spots in the journey to help you experience the bridge in an immersive way; instead, you feel like a bit of a wally for buying the headset as you wander around trying to download the site-specific videos 42 metres above the river Thames.

Tower Bridge has a unique challenge for a cultural venue in as much as the captive audience are released into the real world half-way through the tour as they transition between the towers and the engine rooms. This fresh-air intervention is mitigated by a blue line to guide guests between buildings – though we would imagine some guests never make it to the second half of the experience (or the gift shop).

The Engine Rooms were responsible for controlling the “bascules” by steam before modernisation in 1974 (hands up who knew the technical term for bridge flaps).

This is the most immersive and atmospheric part of Tower Bridge. Here the air is warmer, and filled with the (recorded) clank of pipes and voices of workers from years past. We’re introduced to real stories and shown behind the scenes of the impressive network of pipes and engines that used to lift the bascules for river traffic.

The graphic language of the whole experience changes for the Engine Rooms. It’s as if Tower Bridge can express its industrial underbelly here – away from the polished towers and glass walkways of the river’s star attraction. The result is an engaging exhibition, complete with a modern interpretation by resident artist, Imogen Piper.

An invitation to contribute your comments on postcards at the end of the tour uses a post box mechanic to be used for (we guess) an internal feedback loop rather than a public display. Perhaps this would have been a better opportunity to help people leave their mark on the space and celebrate the parts of the journey they enjoyed.

Naturally, we exit through the gift shop, which is well organised with an appropriate mix of tourist fodder, London-centric gifts and exclusive branded merchandise. Perhaps unsurprisingly the gift shop is mentioned more by hosts and navigation than the Engine Rooms.

A curated window provides a pink neon beacon for retail

Watching the bridge open would surely be the cherry on top of any Tower Bridge tour experience. The website lists all the times you could see the bridge do its thing by date. There could be more ceremony around this when you’re there in person – a countdown, chalkboard or a word from the host about today’s “show” would have been a nice touch.

As a bucket list tourist icon, Tower Bridge presumably doesn’t rely heavily on repeat visitors. Overall, the experience is well considered, the brand feels modern and the tour offers good value for money. The self-guided model misses a few tricks here and there, especially when it comes to delivering on the promise of digital content, but the experience begins to excel whenever it really considers things from a guest perspective.

Customer Experience Scoreboard

  • Brand Presence 8/10 (modern identity, consistently applied across touchpoints)
  • Intuitive Journey 6/10 (Challenging divide between two sites but supported by graphics and hosts)
  • Engaging Perspectives 5/10 (Worker stories in Engine Rooms very successful)
  • Digital Integration 4/10 (Ambitious app content but not pragmatically supported. Good web presence)
  • Instagram Moments 7/10 (Glass floor and photo-friendly windows. No selfie spots for the perfect shot in the public domain)
  • Shop 8/10 (relevant retail offer, well communicated)
  • Café 2/10 (benches inside for picnic-ers. Ice creams and drinks sold in shop but no dedicated café)
  • Go-back-ability 5/10 (to see the bascules in action)
  • Overall 7/10
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