Enchanted Winter Garden attracts record numbers and revenue of almost £800,000 in 2022
Members of Antrim and Newtownabbey Council's Community Planning Committee are set to discuss and review the success of the borough's 2022 flagship event 'Enchanted Winter Garden', tomorrow evening (Monday 13 February).
A report by council officials reveals the annual Christmas family event, delivered over a total of 19 nights spanning four weeks from late November to just before Christmas, with two inclusive event evenings, made a total income of £788,804, providing a surplus to the local authority of £81,539.
Proving as popular as ever, the event drew record-numbers from across Northern Ireland with 123,388 attendees in 2022. A further 4,000 attended a soft opening of the attraction.
Seventy-four per cent of those who attended travelled from outside the Antrim and Newtownabbey borough.
Although the 2022 Enchanted Winter Garden attracted record numbers of visitors and generated a healthy surplus, this was lower than in 2021 because of significant cost increases relating to fuel, infrastructure and performers' fees. In addition the event the year before availed of the Covid19 reduced VAT rate of 12.5% and the soft opening event carried additional variable costs.
Complaints of overcrowding and long queues dogged the event in previous years, but the report notes that 'feedback from the event was largely positive, and the redesigned site layout in 2022 removed many previous causes of queueing'.
There were, however, some queue and crowding problems experienced in 2022 for some of the most popular attractions like Santa's Grotto and The Grinch, and plans for the event in 2023 will try to address this (for example by relocating or considering the use of more than one Santa's Grotto). The 2023 event will also utilise more of the Antrim Castle Gardens estate in order to alleviate further crowded pressure points without having to reduce overall visitor numbers: for example, the whole of the Event Field will be used for food and amusements, and a larger part of the Wonderland Wood will be brought to life through lighting installations.
The Council has successfully improved the event experience each year and in 2022 the 97% occupancy reached its highest level with the highest number of attendances since the event began.
In order to generate additional income it is proposed to retain for 2023 the resident prices at £6 per adult, £4 per child and £18 per family of 4.
However, it is proposed to increase the non-resident price to £10 per adult (previously £7.50), £7 per child (previously £5) and £30 per family of 4 (previously £22). This has the potential to generate additional income of £180,000 and therefore an estimated surplus of £260,000, which councils officials note 'in turn can support further improvements to the event experience including increasing the annual spend on the lighting installations by £50,000'.
The financial plan for the event always ensures there is mitigation against significant income loses that would occur if particularly poor weather disrupted running of the event causing cancellations and this price uplift minimises this risk to the Council.
Price comparisons with other similar events show that non resident prices of this level still ensure that the Enchanted Winter Garden has the lowest admission of all similar events across NI and beyond.
It is also proposed to deliver a 'soft opening' evening once again in 2023 and engage with Elected Members and the community and voluntary sector to invite up to 5,000 residents to the event on a complimentary basis.
To coincide with the event in 2022 a variety of activities and animations were delivered at Ulster Bar Corner in an effort to draw more visitors into the town centre. It is proposed to build upon this for 2023 with the delivery of a Christmas food and craft market in Ulster Bar Corner for the duration of the Enchanted Winter Garden.
A demand for street food and seasonal drinks within the event will be catered for with retention of the Festive Fayre event element and it is proposed to outsource delivery of this in 2023 whilst ensuring the opportunity is promoted extensively to local traders.
The report will be discussed tomorrow evening by memebers and is expected to be approved.