We've decided to get to know some of our local business partners a bit better - and today we speak to Neil Harris from Sea Life Brighton...

Photo of Neil Harris at Sea Life Brighton

  • What’s your role at SEA LIFE Brighton, we imagine it must be quite varied?

As General Manager of SEA LIFE Brighton, not only am I responsible for the ongoing success and running of the business, above all I am responsible for ensuring our guests have an amazing experience that leaves them with fantastic memories having discovered something amazing with us. My role can vary between planning for the future, looking at exciting new products for our guests to experience, to helping to feed our 6 baby black tip reef sharks that were born here with us during the first lockdown period! No two days are ever the same!

  • What do you like most about what you do?

I love the variety of my role and the fact it is so unique – I get to be a part of something really special every day and I am always fascinated by our buildings history and beauty. I was born and raised in Brighton and spent a lot of my childhood visiting the aquarium, so it has a special place within me which is really motivating knowing I now get to shape the type of special experience our guests have with us today, just as I still remember having years ago!

  • How did you get into tourism  and working with attractions?

After studying I hit a bit of a stumbling block and wasn’t sure what or where to go next – I had always had a fascination with theme parks and enjoyed working with people, so decided to apply for a seasonal job at Chessington world of Adventures in Surrey. I was successful in my application and decided to embrace the daily drive from Brighton to Surrey to fulfil a childhood dream! I loved it… so much that I went back the following season and was promoted into a management role! I did the rest of that season and spent just under three seasons in total there before moving to another management role at Thorpe Park. I relocated to Surrey to continue to enjoy what I was doing and see where it would take me.

10 years later after a few varying management roles within the rides & attractions team opening new roller coasters and then managing the theme parks Retail operations, I applied for a role in the Merlin Entertainments London cluster and became Head of Operations, spending a few months at ‘Shrek’s Adventure London!’ before moving next door to manage the operation at SEA LIFE London Aquarium, which I did for just under 4 years and learnt a lot about all things under the sea!

All of these roles have been incredibly varied, but with one overall common purpose – ensuring visitors, or guests as well call them, have a brilliant time and create memorable experiences. I have loved every moment of my journey to where I am today and am so passionate about always improving the experience people have with us to ensure they always leave with a smile on their face!

  • How has the business evolved over the last few years?

Our business is always evolving, both with the times, technology and peoples view and expectations, so we have to be agile and adapt with those and as a business we have been keeping busy over the last few years! In 2019 we launched our new ‘Day & Night’ ocean experience which gives our guests the opportunity to discover our oceans by both day and night featuring new interactive technologies, tropical creatures and a re-vamped VIP glass bottom boat experience. We have been evolving to bring the experience and wonder of the oceans in ever more unique and amazing ways, whilst also educating our guests about the role they can play to care for them.

My aim for SEA LIFE Brighton is to continue to further evolve the experience to bring the intimate ocean experience ever closer to them, whilst maintaining the beauty and wonder of the Victorian architecture within the worlds oldest aquarium.

  • What’s the best thing about where you work?

Walking into our stunning Victorian arcade that is spectacularly lit, seeing both our amazing creatures being cared for by my teams and the fascination on our guests faces when they see all of this come together into one great, unique experience.

  • What’s your average day like, or is it ever average?

There is no such thing as average, normal or the same at the world’s oldest aquarium! Haha! But I regularly review how we are performing as a business, what feedback we are receiving from our guests, the welfare of our many creatures, I look after and check in on my staff that work on site and walk the site every day to get a feel of what’s going on. Our building always presents some unique and varying challenges to us, but that spurs myself and my teams on further knowing that we have the responsibility to look after not only of the stunning architecture around us, but all of the thousands of creatures that are within our care as well.

  • What is the biggest challenge or opportunity currently for you and SEA LIFE Brighton?

Right now, like many businesses we face the challenge of having to keep our business operating with the ever evolving and changing COVID situation. The cost, time and resource that it takes to look after our creatures and the building they call their home does not stop or go away, even during a lockdown scenario, so we are looking at how we recover and re-build each time we re-open to our guests to ensure we can continue with the high quality work that it takes to operate the business.

We have the opportunity right now to both provide people with the highly desired (and sometimes much needed!) escape from everyday life to spend quality time together, as well as educating them to fall in love with the oceans and learn how they can play their part to protect them.

  • What exciting future plans are there for Sea Life?

I am looking right now at both ways to protect our history and heritage, but also how we can ever increase the experience we offer to be one that is more intimate and inspiring. We are looking at new technologies to allow us to do this as well as enhancing the way we showcase our fin-tastic creatures we look after! We also have a very big special birthday coming up to celebrate in 2022… watch this space!

  • What do you like most about Brighton?

It’s my hometown, so growing up here I have loved how the city has grown and developed, but it has always remained incredibly diverse, innovative and bustling. The charm of the seafront is always a favourite on a warm summer evenings – I love walking along there after finishing work and finding a spot to watch the world go by as the sun sets.

  • If anything at all, what would you like to be doing as an alternative career?

A pilot! I have always loved flying and used to dream about flying and captaining a 747!

  • Apart from Brighton of course, where else would you most like to live?

In the UK it would have to be somewhere off the north coast of Cornwall… if abroad I would say on an island in Thailand!

Promotional image of the Sea Life Brighton

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Sea Life Brighton
Aquarium
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Discover a magical underwater world filled with a dazzling array of amazing creatures. Every step will reveal something new, from a face to face encounter with sharks to a hands-on rockpool experience.

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