Words by Amy Holden, Staff Writer
The British Airways i360 is the number one paid-for visitor attraction in Brighton, and it has been sponsored by British Airways since it opened in 2016. Standing at over 160m on the seafront, the tower is an important part of Brighton’s tourism, offering 360 views of the city. Providing around 160 jobs in the local community, there is also the opportunity to climb the tower, as well as make use of the restaurant and bars inside.However, British Airways has recently announced its decision to end sponsorship of the attraction, which will stop on 3rd November 2022.
It is the finances of the tower which are of concern, as it has missed over £6 million in loan repayments over 3 years, since visitor numbers have been smaller than projected targets. In the financial year ending June 2020, British Airways i360 lost over £5 million, with just over 195,000 visitors instead of the target 390,000. Lack of visitors makes repayments more difficult and the Head of Brighton i360 Ltd, Julia Barfield, has said that lockdowns had a role in this.
Brighton and Hove City Council originally lent Brighton i360 Ltd £36.2 million in 2014 to build the tower and in 2019 councillors drew up a loan restructure which reduced future payments, increasing the likelihood of repayments being paid. A 2021 Council report on the debt meant that the outstanding amount owed, including interest, was £41 million. However, some sources suggest the figure is £45 million, as they also received an additional £4 million from the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership.
British Airways’ sponsorship has previously led to some protests against the airline occurring outside the i360. These include the airline’s role in helping the Home Office with deporting flights in 2020, and the airline’s proposed job cuts during the start of the pandemic. This reinforces the role British Airways i360 has in the city and the importance of picking the correct sponsor when the time comes later this year. One of Woodingdean’s Councillors, Steve Bell, has also highlighted this issue, wanting the new sponsor to be in line with resident views and suggesting airlines be out of contention. In contrast, a Councillor for Hangleton and Knoll, Dawn Barnett, has suggested that this is the “beginning of the end” for the tower, citing the cost to use the tower was a large reason: tickets for 25+ are £16.50, and tickets 16-24 costs £11.10, although central Brighton and Hove residents can receive discounts.
According to the i360 though, guests are spending longer there than previously, highlighting that the attraction is still very popular and that the impact of travel restrictions has been mitigated by locals attending, alongside those visiting Brighton on day-trips.
However, the decision to stop sponsoring the tower appears to be amicable, with the Chief Operating Officer of Brighton i360 Ltd, Ian Hart, saying “The globally-recognised BA brand helped to catapult Brighton i360 on to the international stage from the very beginning.” Hamish McVey from British Airways said, “We are proud to have been the first sponsor of the i360.” The partnership was originally for 5 years, although it was extended by 15 months in August 2021. Potential sponsors are being encouraged to apply, with the deadline for entries being the end of July.