THE man behind the magic of Disney is coming to Alnwick to spearhead an ambitious bid to turn the Northumberland town into one of the world’s top tourist destinations.
Former Disneyland Paris boss Christian Perdrier has been appointed as the first ever joint chief executive of the Alnwick Garden and Alnwick Castle. The Frenchman was chosen after a global search spearheaded by the Duchess of Northumberland and headhunters Veredus.
Mr Perdrier, 58, spent 12 years as a top executive at Disneyland Paris and plans to implement methods he learned there to put Alnwick on the world map.
His initial aim is to bring together the castle, garden and town as a single destination, which he says will have positive repercussions across the North East.
He said: “Alnwick, when you add it up, is what I call the triple A – Alnwick Garden, Alnwick Castle and Alnwick town. When you add up those three components, you really have the possibility to create a destination for the people to come and visit.
“I don’t think people from all over the world or even from the UK are going to come to the garden only or the castle only. They will come to a destination where they can spend two or three days.
“The benefits to the Northumberland community and the North East as a whole could be huge. We have always been conscious of how our visitor numbers can positively affect the local economy. We will ensure our new approach benefits as many businesses in the region as possible.”
The appointment comes as £50m in budget cuts at regional development agency One NorthEast look set to affect tourism, rural and culture-based projects across the region. But the Duchess of Northumberland said putting Alnwick on the global map would pay dividends across the North East.
“Christian is hugely experienced and can do for visitors to Alnwick what Walt Disney has done for children and families all over the world,” she said.
“As with any growing business, we needed to bring in the appropriate expertise to ensure further growth and improve our professionalism. Christian has world class credentials and is the perfect person to ensure Alnwick becomes a worldwide visitor destination.”
Mr Perdrier, who spent the last two years creating “Dubailand” for Sheik Mohamed Al Maktoum – a complex with six theme parks and 20 hotels in the Middle East – will target overseas visitors already in the UK. He aims to bring them to Northumberland by teaming up with rail, coach and holiday companies, echoing Disney’s policy of focusing on foreign tourists already visiting Paris.
Longer term, Mr Perdrier plans to use modern technology to introduce people to the history of the Percy family at the castle and to help visitors reconnect with nature at the garden.
Exploiting Alnwick’s Harry Potter link and encouraging more films and TV programmes to use town as a location is included in his vision too, along with an annual festival pulling together history, film and special effects. Alnwick, he believes, has the potential to become as well known as Cannes.
“Cannes in France – it’s like Alnwick, it’s a very small town – but everybody knows Cannes because of the film festival,” said Mr Perdrier. “Let’s create something like that – and Alnwick will become like Cannes on the world map.”
Northumberland County Council chief executive Steve Stewart said: “Alnwick Castle and The Alnwick Garden are a top attraction not only in the county and the region but nationally and internationally. We look forward to working with Mr Perdrier and his team to build on the significant benefits from having such an impressive attraction in our area.”