It is easy to miss Phileas Fogg’s. Set in Hollingbury on the outskirts of Brighton, the exterior can be described as non-descript, only marked out by a simple and innocuous sign. It is perhaps the attraction’s greatest illusion. Nothing prepares you for the mysterious and maze-like interior, packed solid with magic and drama.
“In some ways I quite like the low-key exterior,” says Graham Owen. “You find yourself standing outside wondering if you are in the right place, then you walk through the doors and you are transported 130 years back in the past.”
We are chatting in the atmospheric Victorian snooker room and Brighton seems a thousand miles away.
It is an extraordinary achievement to create such an innovative concept, and Graham, along with his business partners, has invested sizeable funds to realise the dream.
First, what exactly is Phileas Fogg’s? The Facebook page describes it as follows:
“Based on the Novel by Jules Verne ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’, participants are immersed into a 1870s interactive adventure escorted by Phileas Fogg as he takes you on a journey around the world.” There are over 30 games or tasks set in 16 locations that need to be navigated to make it round the world on time. That’s about as much as I am going to give away - seeing is believing!
One thing I will reveal is that the sets are out of this world, and I asked Graham how they were created:
“When we had the plans for this place, we wanted something wacky,” he says. “But we also wanted a name we could trademark, which was when we decided on Phileas Fogg. We wanted to do something that wouldn’t be copied, and I don’t think anyone will, as we made it so complicated!
“We have mixed influences from The Crystal Maze twist for the game element, London Dungeon for the drama and then we added a bit of theatre to roll it into one. We wanted it to be unique and quirky.
“The set designers were the same people who created Pinewood Studios, Harry Potter, James Bond and Star Wars sets.
“Phileas Fogg was a perfect fit as we had the idea of having sets themed from around the world. We have invested a lot of time in making them as realistic as possible, so visitors are transported back in time to experience these exotic places. We have mostly remained true to the destinations that Fogg passed through on his world tour.
“For the games side we brought in Fear Effects, who are geniuses in the way they develop tasks that suit small or large groups, for people all ages from 7 upwards, as well as being fully wheel-chair accessible. The games are challenging, but equally for adults or children. There are actors who add a unique sense of drama to each experience.
“The Boardroom, Snooker Room and Reform Bar are designed in an authentic Victorian style, with the utmost attention to the tiniest detail. Visitors usually stay around in the bar after completing the adventure, which is important, as too many tourist attractions lack a place to relax and bond afterwards.”
Although Graham loves the disconnect between the simple exterior and intense interior, Hollingbury, Brighton still seems an unusual choice. “It actually makes sense,” asserts Graham. “As we are just off a main road (A27), we are accessible for people from Brighton, London, Eastbourne and Chichester and all along the coast. So far, 50% of our visitors have been from London. The location doesn’t make any difference; if you are good enough, people will find you. For instance people will travel to Drusillas or Tulleys Farm from miles around.”
The feedback is that Phileas Fogg is certainly more than good enough, with glowing reviews on tourism sites: “Trip Advisor has been amazing for us. Not just the great reviews, but it also helpful to get feedback which we can action straight away.
“We do know there are a few rogue reviews from competitor attractions, although not from Brighton. The city has been so welcoming to us; the Sea Life Centre, the BA i360 and the pier have all welcomed us. There are limited attractions in Brighton, especially indoors, and everyone is keen to improve the overall tourist offering in the area.
The Corporate Experience
“On the corporate side, the companies who have tried us have been delighted. It is very hard to organise a corporate event as people have different ideas of what makes a good event. Not everyone likes bowling or karaoke. Here, there genuinely is something for everyone.
When a business comes along they can use the boardroom, play a game of snooker, enjoy the experience and then finish at our Victorian Reform Bar. There is one big Brighton company who comes here every week with different teams.”
It has been quite a journey for Graham. He started work in an estate agent at the age of 18, but within six months he had his own agency. Since then he has been a serial entrepreneur building up businesses from recruitment agencies to IKEA flat-pack assembly companies. Along with his wife Debbie Owen, the first venture in the leisure market was a trampoline park in Heathfield, East Sussex. “Debbie and I had a vision of creating something unique even then,” says Graham.
In order to secure the investment required for Phileas Fogg, the couple went into partnership with Eastbourne-based businessman Eddie Owen, who “shares our sense of humour and has a zest for creating a fun and entertaining experience. We couldn’t have done it without him.
“It is very much a team effort.
Debbie runs the attraction as Managing Director - my title is Creative Director. There’s a danger with me that I will always find things I want to change or improve.
“The greatest compliment is that everyone who comes here tells their friends and word of mouth is the best marketing.
“I want to be the guy that created something that is fun and makes people happy. That is what I want my legacy to be.”
To find out more or arrange a group visit, please call 01273 007799 or
visit www.phileasfoggs.co.uk for more info. @PhileasFoggWOA