The thrill is on

Theme parks in Asia continue to excite, but they must reinvent, says the trade.

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THEME parks in Asia are pulling in the crowds, with those in Singapore and Hong Kong clearly the darlings of fast-growing outbound markets such as India, China, Indonesia and the Philippines.

The region’s newcomer Universal Studios Singapore (USS) welcomed approximately four million visitors in 2011, propelling it into the league of one of the top theme parks in Asia. Hong Kong’s Ocean Park and Disneyland also enjoyed record-high attendances (both around 5.9 million visitors) in their last fiscal year.

“Indian and Chinese tourists are our main clients while Indonesians and Thais constitute a large chunk too,” said Gary Tan, assistant vice president, resort sales, Resorts World Sentosa (RWS), where USS is based. He predicts 15 per cent growth in demand over the next two years, mostly driven by the twin giants of Asia.

According to a report published by PricewaterhouseCoopers titled Global Entertainment and Media Outlook, consumer spending on theme and amusement parks within the Asia-Pacific region is expected to grow to US$8.4 billion by the end of 2012, a rise of 5.7 per cent over 2008 compared to five per cent worldwide.

Panorama Tours Indonesia president director, Royanto Handaya, said the opening of RWS and its ensuing advertising and promotions had helped reposition Singapore as the destination du jour, even though it had previously been viewed as “Indonesia’s backyard”.

Rashmi Mansukhani, managing director of India-based Destination Management Travel Services, too, said demand for theme park holidays among Indians was growing between 12-15 per cent every year. She said: “For most Indian leisure travellers to the ASEAN region, at least a day or two is reserved strictly for the entertainment of the children.”

It is the same trend with Filipino travellers. “So long as they have kids, it is a must to include theme parks (for Hong Kong and Singapore itineraries),” said Gene Hari-Ong Gan, managing director of Philippine’s Everyday Travel and Tours. She estimates 70 per cent of her business has theme-park related packages.

Philippine-based Celebrate Life! TLC operations manager, Simon Ang, added: “Hong Kong Disneyland is for kids, while Universal Studios Singapore has solidified its hold on teenagers. These theme parks are doing well by knowing what their niches are,” noting new attractions like Disneyland’s Toy Story Land and a section opening in 2013, as well as USS’ Transformers ride, justify return visits.

Indeed, Philippine-based Goldlink Travel & Tours operations manager, Allan Sze, observed Filipinos were fond of short weekend trips to Hong Kong and Singapore and were likely to visit Disneyland and USS respectively. “Tour requests and hotel reservations (for travel consultants) have gone up,” he said.

Clients to Hong Kong typically stay one out of four days at Disneyland, arranging for transfers that allow them to arrive when the park opens and leave as it’s about to close, Sze added. “Filipino visitors try to experience everything when they visit.”

His eye is also on soon-to-be-unveiled parks in Malaysia such as Legoland, located in Johor Bahru. Two other children-targeted attractions will open close by: KidZania, an interactive park, and Hello Kitty Town.

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Ocean Park Hong Kong’s Thrill Mountain

Keeping it strong
Meanwhile, older theme parks in the region are still doing brisk business. Malaysia-based BMC Travel inbound manager Jessica Koh said Sunway Lagoon and the theme park in Resorts World Genting remained the two bestsellers for the country.

“Genting is popular with the Asian market because of its highland location and casino, while Sunway is popular with families because of the adjoining shopping mall,” she explained.

Malaysia-based Asian Overland Services Tours & Travel (AOS) assistant account manager-Asia, Hoong Keat, added that the two parks were popular with tourists from Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore, in addition to student groups. Koh also pointed out that MICE clients were fond of holding their gala dinners there.

Established parks in the region can also take heart that travellers from mature outbound markets like Singapore and Hong Kong continue to arrive in droves.

An estimated 60 per cent of packages to Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Australia sold by Singapore’s Hong Thai Travel comprise theme park visits. Comparatively, one in three packages at Singapore-based SA Tours features a theme park.

According to Stella Chow, Hong Thai’s manager, advertising and marketing division, outbound tour, Singaporeans are still flocking to theme parks, particularly those operated by Disney, Universal Studios and Warner Bros., chiefly because “these parks are household names and are associated with Hollywood movies and characters”.

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Universal Studios Singapore’s Hollywood Dreams

Innovate, innovate
Nonetheless, in order for theme parks to thrive, Chow emphasised it was crucial they keep reinventing themselves by “adding new rides, introducing new themes and merchandise, or developing new shows”.

Addressing the World Travel Monitor Forum last November, Mason Florence, executive director of the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office, said “Asia’s more sophisticated urban life will create demand for more specialised products”, edutainment theme parks being one such.

In addition to rides, theme parks should create more teambuilding activities, fun games and educational programmes, said AOS’ Hoong.

Hong Kong-based W Travel managing director, Wing Wong, added that efforts must be made to engage a more tech-savvy audience.  Other travel experts suggested that 3D, 4D and virtual reality technologies should be harnessed.

Hong Kong’s EGL Tours executive director, Steve Huen, pointed out that since the Internet and mobile phones had become ubiquitous, parks could also “offer interactive games via such communication tools, allowing guests to win gifts or download further information so it lengthens the experience”.

Panorama Tours’ Royanto said park operators must also employ digital channels. He listed targeted promotions through social media, smartphone e-mail blasts and merchant tie-ups as examples.

Royanto added that FITs, loyalty cardholders and wholesalers should be tapped, while corporates could provide new business.

However, several members of the trade felt that theme parks were not giving them enough support.

KM Lam, manager, international sales of Malaysia’s Mayflower Acme Tours, said the profit margins for tickets were slim, “so there is no real incentive to push sales”.

AOS’ Hoong agreed. “As we bulk purchase thousands of tickets, we should receive better rates than the walk-in rate.”

Hong Thai’s Chow said theme parks should continue working closely with the trade to sell packages, even as they pursued online sales. “Singaporeans, and Asians for that matter, still desire face-to-face contact when booking travel and theme park tickets.”

What’s New?

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Universal Studios Singapore, Transformers: The Ride
Transformers: The Ride opened to much fanfare in December. The first-of-its-kind simulator experience immerses thrill-seekers in a battle between the heroic Autobots and villainous Decepticons using a combination of special 3D effects and advanced motion technology. This year, the theme park also launched its first full-scale parade. Consisting 14 spectacular floats and over 100 performers, Hollywood Dreams marches through five out of the park’s seven zones for 30 minutes. It will run once a day on Saturdays, Sundays and selected holidays.

box_oceanparkhhkOcean Park Hong Kong
Its latest attraction is Thrill Mountain, a carnival-themed zone spanning two hectares and stretching from one end of the park to the other. Opened in December, attractions include six new exhilarating rides, eight game booths, F&B outlets and stores selling specially designed merchandise. Later this year, the park will also introduce a 1960s-inspired Old Hong Kong area, featuring food stalls and souvenir booths reminiscent of the city’s past, as well as a replica of the city’s vintage trams.

 

box_sunwaySunway Lagoon
Malaysia’s long-standing theme park will add the WhiteWater Abyss waterslide to its attractions by mid-2012. Rafts take up to six riders through a series of open and enclosed sections with gripping twists and turns before plummeting them into the core of the Abyss. The high wall and long funnel allow for huge drops and sustained oscillations, while eliminating the need for thrill-killing water brakes.

 

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Shanghai Disneyland
Opening in 2015, the mainland’s first Disneyland will offer cheaper admission tickets compared to its sister park in Hong Kong (pictured), according to reports. It will also feature Chinese elements in its design to distinguish it from other theme parks. The first phase of the park will span 390 hectares and is located within the 2,000-hectare Shanghai International Tourism and Resorts Zone in Pudong. It has also been said that a global recruitment campaign would be launched next year and the government would conduct training lessons for applicants to improve their chances at employment.

box_hawparHaw Par Villa
Opening in 2015, the mainland’s first Disneyland will offer cheaper admission tickets compared to its sister park in Hong Kong (pictured), according to reports. It will also feature Chinese elements in its design to distinguish it from other theme parks. The first phase of the park will span 390 hectares and is located within the 2,000-hectare Shanghai International Tourism and Resorts Zone in Pudong. It has also been said that a global recruitment campaign would be launched next year and the government would conduct training lessons for applicants to improve their chances at employment.

Additional reporting from Linda Haden, Shekhar Niyogi, Prudence Lui, Marianne Carandang, Mimi Hudoyo and N. Nithiyananthan

This article was first published in TTG Asia, February 10  issue, on page 8. To read more, please view our digital edition or click here to subscribe

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