It has been reported in a number of local media outlets that The i360, the Brighton seafront attraction sponsored by British Airways, has not performed as well commercially as had been hoped. The attraction was received with some scepticism upon its introduction. Many critics called it an “expensive and hideous eyesore“, and questioned the wisdom behind the project.
The seafront observation tower, based on a site owned by The West Pier Trust is said to have failed to attract the anticipated number of visitors, apparently falling 300,000 short of target during its maiden year of operation. An additional series of unexpected one-off costs is further said to have impaired the attraction’s profit margins. This reputed poor performance is claimed to have led the attraction’s owners to alter repayment plans to the council, shifting from £570,000 to £25,000 until 2024, in order to recoup significant funds to allow continued operation. According to this plan the council would still receive £35 million in profits over a 25 year period, but not as originally agreed.
The i360 has not been universally embraced by local residents. However various factors, including poor weather and increasingly unreliable train services, are said to have contributed to the poorer than anticipated performance. Despite the apparent poor performance, the attraction is credited with aiding the local economy by the direct creation of 116 jobs. Some local business have also reported a significant rise in takings since the i360 opened in 2016. Despite the apparent shortfall in profits, funding received from the i360 has already been earmarked for seafront regeneration projects including £1.1 million, which was contributed to the restoration of Madeira Terraces.
Despite any positive impacts of the attraction, the question of the i360’s sustainability still looms large. Concerns have been raised about the owners’ ability to pay the next repayment in full, and the impact of any further shortfalls. Local sources have also questioned what else could be done to generate sufficient interest in the attraction to maintain profitability.
A statement released by Julia Barfield MBE, the Chair of Brighton’s i360, countered many of these criticisms, stating that despite the apparent disappointments The British Airways i360 remains “the most-visited paid-for attraction in Brighton & Hove”. She also pointed out that, while the attraction failed to attract the target number of visitors during its first year of operation, the i360 brought 500,000 visitors to Brighton & Hove during its first year of operation. This fell short of the 800,000 target, but is still a relative success.
Barfield went on to refute claims that the attraction is unprofitable, indicating that “i360 is making an operating profit”. She also contested that changes to the repayment plan are due to present financial failure, but are because ” … like many start-ups, we have needed to make some commercial adjustments while we build the business. These have included further capital injections from shareholders plus a request for flexibility on the timings of interest repayments to our lenders.”
She went on to point out a range of positive contributions made by The British Airways i360, which include “… supporting more than 100 local jobs all paying the Living Wage, drawing additional visitors to the city which in turn has benefited the wider tourism economy, paying £2.5m profit payments to the council which has helped transform the seafront, giving free tickets to the city’s state school children and raising many thousands of pounds for key city charities”.