Ascot: so much more than racing

Date Posted: 06/03/2014

Champagne at Royal Ascot

Ascot Racecourse continues to evolve into a destination that offers much more than racing. Rob Yandell talked to head of sales, Craig Staddon to find out more.

From the Royal meeting to festivals, concerts and family events, you can take a group to Ascot Racecourse in the knowledge that it now caters for a wide audience and budgets big or small.

I have rarely seen a world-class attraction (and it is) with such a focus on the group visitor. And it pays dividends as coach load upon coach load make their way to Berkshire during Royal Ascot to experience one of Britain’s most glamorous social occasions.

A chat with Craig Staddon (pictured), head of sales at Ascot Racecourse

Group Leisure: What is Ascot offering for groups this year outside of the Royal meeting?

Craig Staddon of Ascot RacecourseCraig: We have five family days throughout the year where under 18s get in free. There is a Country Fair race day with a bouncy castle, pony trekking, learning about horses and country pursuits.

Then we move into King George weekend and the Sunday in particular is angled towards families. There will be a country fair and garden party atmosphere with climbing frames for children and fairground rides. Family days are a really good push for groups.

For groups of ten plus some of the notable dates are King George day on Saturday 26th July; and there is the Shergar Cup on 9th August when there’s a concert after the racing which works really well. We have a Festival of Food & Wine race day and a beer festival too.

Group Leisure: So people that have varied interests, it’s much more than a race day?

Craig: I think that’s really important you mention it. Ascot is a destination and that’s what we want to do. It’s not just about racing; if you talk to people about Ascot as a racecourse it might put some people off, but Ascot is a destination whereby you can see a bit of racing but you can sit down, have a drink and a relaxing time, have a bet, bring your children along and enjoy a really good day out.

Picnicing at Royal Ascot

Group Leisure: Royal Ascot has been voted as the Best Event for Groups by our readers on numerous occasions; why do you think it’s so popular with groups?

Craig: There are two things and the first thing is that we actually work with groups and I think we’re one of the very few race courses that make a contact and build up a relationship with a customer. If someone books for ten people we pick up the phone and ask what else can we do. We tell them we can provide a party package, which is going to save you money. We can upsell about something else you might not know about an engage with our customers.

My team has contacted every person who has booked for 15 or more tickets for Royal Ascot 2014, so we are already engaging with them.

The second thing is that it’s a great place. You talk about destination, it’s in the summer and it’s not pretentious and I think getting hat across is really important.

There is the Silver Ring where you can bring a picnic, relax and have a really good time for £20. You can opt for the Grandstand which is a little bit different where people dress up a little bit smarter, put a hat on and that is going to cost you between £60 and £75. So it’s saying to people Royal Ascot is not about being a certain class or a certain type, it’s coming to a place to watch the best racing in the world for as little as £20, £60 and if you are lucky enough to get into the Royal Enclosure it’s going to cost you just over £100.

Group Leisure: Tell us about what’s new for 2014…

Craig: When it comes to groups I think we sometimes miss the whole dining aspect. I think we can take it for granted that people aren’t interested. But if we start with groups in terms of tickets, we have the Silver Ring where they can buy beer, they can buy different types of wine, they can also buy different types of food. It’s more like a shopping cart scenario, where you can create your own picnic hamper. We’ll have lots of activities taking place within the Silver Ring.

Racing at Royal Ascot

In terms of the Grandstand we have the Furlong Club where we are improving the look and feel. What we have changed is bringing in a dining piece that’s at a level that people aren’t scared of. We’ve got an entry point of £250 which we’ve never had before. If a group is buying a ticket for 60-odd pounds they can upgrade and have a dining experience for £250 plus VAT which includes all their food, all their drink and their ticket. We’ve changed the matrix and it’s exciting.

Group Leisure: One of the other options is when you can hire gazebos with great positions; how does that work?

Craig: We have gazebos and Silks Lawn, which is a private area that’s partly under cover and it is £2,000 for up to 50 people. It could work out at £40 per head, plus the cost of your ticket so for £100 you’re getting a private area and your admission. We’re nearly sold out actually but we’re looking to put more on.

Group Leisure: So it would certainly be something group organisers should be aware of for even 2015 and beyond?

Craig: Absolutely, there is an opportunity there. If you’ve got a group of 30, 40 or 50 you can have a private area and it will cost you an extra £40 more on top of your ticket. Plus you have a cash bar, seating and it would make for a great day.

Group Leisure: Is there an opportunity for groups to take a tour of the racecourse?

During Royal it is difficult as we’re restricted to where we can go but for the other 21 days of the year we can build a tour based on what the requirements are.

We can pick them up from the coach, introduce ourselves, walk them through and take them to the weighing room, the Parade Ring and to where the Royal Box is. Take them through restaurants and onto levels they will not have been on before, giving them the experience of coming racing but getting more. We want people walking out of Ascot thinking that it’s a great place and a real destination, want to come back and tell people how wonderful it is.

Coach group at Royal Ascot

I suppose the big thing is that we can bespoke stuff. It’s not off the shelf; if someone says they want to do it this way, we’ll look at it and try out best to accommodate it.

Royal Ascot 2014 takes place between 17th and 21st June and there are a variety of smaller race days and experiences throughout the year that offer various themes and options for groups.

Useful contact:

Royal Ascot Group Sales:

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