Feel the ROARR!

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First Eastern Counties has been working with a local dinosaur-based attraction on a specially-themed bus route, which has gone down exceptionally well with visitors. Angela Youngman reports

An 11 mile journey between Norwich and ROARR! Dinosaur Adventure has become the most talked about bus trip in the area. Passengers have been forgetting about the car and heading for the Dino Bus.Dinosaur Adventure

For hundreds of families it has become an incredibly memorable journey. The fun starts as soon as driver Stuart Johnson pulls up at the bus stop. Dressed in safari clothing, complete with a hat trimmed with animal print fabric, sunglasses and a portable radio, he is every child’s dream safari guide. On entering the bus, families immediately encounter a Jurassic Park-style environment complete with dinosaurs, foliage and games. [wlm_nonmember][…]

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None of this was expected when the ROARR! Dinosaur Adventure began considering ways of making it easier and safer for families to reach the park, while encouraging more people to visit the site. Although a frequent bus route from Norwich passes nearby, it does mean families have to walk along a road without a pavement, then up a long drive through woodland in order to reach the entrance. Sponsoring a free bus service seemed like a good idea, since it would enable families without access to car transport to visit ROARR! Dinosaur Adventure during the busy school summer holiday period. Given that the journey would be free, it would make it even more attractive as a proposition to cash-strapped families.

Discussions between the management of ROARR! Dinosaur Adventure and operator First Eastern Counties in Norwich immediately began. David Jordan, Marketing Manager at First Eastern Counties Buses, said: “As a result of our discussions with ROARR! Dinosaur Adventure, we were contracted to provide a bus to operate a free service from key points in Norwich city centre to the park. We agreed that we would help with the marketing using our website, our Twitter followers and CRM database both of whom are remarkably well engaged in this area.

“In addition, the bus was promoted on the social media channels of ROARR! Dinosaur Adventure and their email database. We started with a launch event in Norwich City Centre, outside the Forum at the start of the school holidays which aroused a lot of interest and followed this with some really good quality PR activity with our local newspaper, The Eastern Daily Press.”

The route was carefully designed to pass through areas of quite dense housing on the outskirts of Norwich. There were also pick up/drop off points at the Railway Station, Castle Meadow (where most First buses stop), and the bus station. These locations made it easy for passengers to use connecting services. Passengers purchased their entry tickets to the park once they had arrived but were given return tickets to use the bus when they joined it in the morning. This enabled First Bus/ROARR! Dinosaur Adventure to identify just how many people were using the service.

“We had discussed with Roarr! Dinosaur Adventure the possibility of wrapping the bus but we couldn’t guarantee that the same bus could be used for the journey every day, so it was decided this was not viable option. Stuart took the initiative and really brought the concept alive. We were absolutely amazed when he turned up on the first day, dressed in safari clothes, and within days had decorated the bus with greenery and squishy dinosaurs provided by the park. It was much more than we had ever thought possible,” said David.

Within days, the Dino Bus was attracting publicity in the press and on social media. “I created my own outfit. I thought a themed bus was a good idea, so when the opportunity to drive the Dino Bus came around, I set about trying to create one,” Stuart explained.

“I’d already put together a bit of safari-inspired uniform for my shift on the first day, but whilst I was chatting to families who boarded and seeing how excited the children were to be going on the bus to the park, I decided that I’d like to try and make the bus a part of the whole ROARR! Dinosaur Adventure experience. Basically, I think that for the passengers, their visit starts when they get on the bus, so I wanted them to be entertained and enjoy the journey both on the way to the park, and on the way home again, making it a really memorable experience.”Dinosaur Adventure

He quickly set about transforming his bus. ROARR! Dinosaur Adventure participated enthusiastically in Stuart’s initiative. Adam Goymour, Company Director at ROARR! Dinosaur Adventure said: “We were really keen to ensure that our park’s immersive dinosaur-themed experience was replicated on the bus, and we have managed to do that with Stuart’s help. Aboard the bus, we have flying Pterodactyls, a Triceratops, a T-Rex, Jurassic style music and plenty of activities for the children to enjoy. Our guests are loving every minute of it.”

Stuart explained how he managed the transformation: “ROARR! Dinosaur Adventure provided the dinosaurs from their shop stock, which is great as the visitors often get on the bus in the afternoon clutching the same one they’ve seen on the bus in the morning. The rest of the decorations came from eBay or from high street shops, with me adapting what I could get to suit the purposes of the bus.”

He continued: “Initially, it took me about an hour and a half to fit out the bus, working out how to get what I’d imagined to work in a real situation. However, if for any reason my regular bus is out of service on a particular day, I can swap the decorations over onto an identical vehicle in an hour or so.”Dinosaur Adventure

Stuart’s colleagues at the depot have also been really supportive of his efforts: “As well as my colleagues in the canteen helping me develop some of my initial ideas for theming the bus, I’ve received great support from our engineers, controllers and allocators in making sure the same bus is available every day for the service and, on the odd days when it is in for service or inspection, making sure I know well in advance so I can come in earlier and move the decorations across to the replacement bus for that day.”

The response from customers has been amazing, capturing children’s imagination and making the entire day out experience fun and interesting. For Stuart, it has resulted in some very memorable moments, as he recalled: “One little girl enjoyed her ride on the bus so much that when she got to ROARR! Dinosaur Adventure, she didn’t want to get off, and asked her mum if she could just ride backwards and forwards all day. We’ve also had parents who’ve planned a visit to the park just to travel on the bus, once they heard about it or saw it on social media. And I’ve even had one mum come to the cab in tears thanking me for what I’ve done with the bus and saying that, had ROARR! Dinosaur Adventure not taken the bold step of providing it, she’d have never been able to go to the park or have this experience as she couldn’t drive.”Dinosaur Adventure

David said: “The Dino Bus is one of those brilliant ideas that has really worked. It is not just any old bus taking people to a park, it is eye catching and appealing and so far, passenger numbers have exceeded our expectations.

The majority of the passengers come from Norwich, but there are pick up/drop off points along the route. We are finding that people are coming into Norwich using our commercial bus routes, in order to join the Dino Bus in Norwich.”

So what is the future for the Dino Bus? Adam said: “The support we have received from the team at First Eastern Counties, especially Stuart, is just fantastic. We are really pleased with the uptake so far and are hoping that even more people will use it.”

David added: “We are running it for five weeks until the end of the holidays. Then we will have a debrief with ROARR! Dinosaur Adventure to assess how it has worked. Certainly, from our point of view, it would be great to run the Dino Bus in the future and there are other places like this around the county which could benefit from such a link. It is good for the environment and good for the passengers. We were happy to be involved, it benefits our passengers and we would love for it to happen again.”