The Covid-19 pandemic has taken its toll on the entire society across the whole world, irrespective of nationality, gender, socio-economic background or even age. It is likely to leave its scars on everyone for a long while, but perhaps the deepest scars have been made on the gentlest and most vulnerable section of humanity – the children and young adults, most of whom have suffered in silence, having been locked up inside their homes, away from their friends, schools and literally without any outdoors activities, all of which are crucial for proper physical and mental development of every child.
Thus, now as the pandemic shows signs of easing, it would be normal and indeed expected that as travel resumes, even if in sputters, children and their needs would be central to the decision-making process in a family with children. And where else can a child be happier than theme parks, which have emerged as favourite vacation spots for families over the past decade.
Banking on this revival in visitor numbers to theme parks around the world, various reports point at a sharp growth in revenues of theme parks as an industry in the current year. In 2019, theme parks on the whole had reported total sales of USD 73.5 billion. Thanks to the prolonged shutdown in 2020, the sales collapsed by 30 pc to USD 51.7 billion.
In 2021, with many parks being open for a significant part of the year, the sales did grow, but at USD 63.9 billion, they were still 13 pc below the pre-pandemic level. The world’s largest operator of theme parks, Disney Parks, part of the Walt Disney conglomerate, reported that it nearly tripled its revenues in the quarter ending October 2, 2021, with a 99 pc increase in net increase in operating profits. For the full year, Disney Parks reported an operating profit of USD 640 million, compared to a loss of USD 945 million a year earlier.
It is not just Disney that has reported an encouraging 2021. French theme park and hospitality firm Compagnie des Alpes that owns about a dozen theme parks in Europe, notably Parc Asterix near Paris and Futuroscope, about 330 km southwest of Paris, reported a handsome four-fold jump in sales in leisure parks business in the quarter October 1-December 31, 2021. CDA says its leisure parks generated total revenues of EUR 99.4 million as against barely EUR 24.7 million in the same quarter of 2020, when the pandemic had forced a prolonged closure of the park.
“Since the reopening of our parks in 2021, we have received an important number of visitors with a high level of attendance for both Grévin Paris and Parc Astérix. During the last summer and during Halloween holidays at the end of October, we had positive results with a high level of occupancy in Parc Asterix Hotels,’’ Frederic Gouguidis, International sales director of Compagnie des Alpes tells India Outbound.
“The majority of our visitors were from the domestic market, European markets like Central Europe, Belgium, UK and Spain, and also the Middle East,’’ Guoguidis adds.
Strong recovery projected in 2022
In 2022, despite the scare over Omicron variant, most analysts predict that the revenues would climb back close to the pre-pandemic level, with sales of about USD 71.6 billion, rising well over 9 pc.
And beyond 2022, many experts predict the growth will accelerate dramatically, perhaps on the back of pent-up demand, translating into more visitors and more frequent visits by the loyal fans. Another factor that would help boost revenues is part of a trend that was already seen in 2020 and in 2021, higher spend per person. Experts believe that even without the same number of visitors, theme parks can meet their revenue targets as an average visitor is now willing to spend more time and more money during the visits.
Statista, a global data firm, cites reports putting the total sales of theme parks to reach USD 89.2 billion by 2025, a healthy growth of over 39 pc over the sales achieved in 2021 and a promising 21 pc over the pre-pandemic level.
Yas Island in Abu Dhabi has been taking numerous steps to ensure that it is right in the front when the boom in return of tourists to the parks does start. Besides upgrading its existing facilities and equipping it with the wherewithal for the new norms like sanitisation and social distancing, Yas Island has also been busy planning and implementing new parks.
In addition to the existing three world-class theme parks, Yas Island has also announced a new park, the SeaWorld Abu Dhabi, in collaboration with SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. ‘‘On track for completion in 2022, SeaWorld Abu Dhabi will bring the next generation of marine life theme parks to Yas Island. It will feature the world’s largest and most expansive marine-life aquarium, housing more than 68,000 marine animals. It will feature six different realms in a unique design offering immersive experiences as well as dynamic habitats that will house different species together, as they are in their natural habitat. The SeaWorld experience will tell a unified “One Ocean” story based on the interconnectivity between all life on earth and our oceans,’’ Liam Findlay, general manager, Experience Hub, Yas Island tells India Outbound.
The Island, just off the coast of Abu Dhabi, has become a popular global destination for theme park lovers, notably the visitors from India, for whom Yas Island represents a comprehensive family destination. It has some unique attractions such as Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, the one-of-a-kind waterpark, Yas Waterworld as well as the immersive indoor theme park Warner Bros. World, Abu Dhabi. The three parks have enabled Yas Island to make a prominent place for itself in the bucket list of a number of Indian families.
Home to the world’s fastest rollercoaster, Formula Rossa, as well as the recordbreaking Flying Aces, the first bi-plane themed rollercoaster, Ferrari World Abu Dhabi is the world’s first Ferrari-branded theme park. It comprises thrilling rides and family-friendly attractions and continues to attract guests and families from every continent. ‘‘Located in the heart of Yas Island and in close proximity to one another, Yas Theme Parks cater to many preferences and complement each other with a myriad of options for the whole family to enjoy,’’ adds Findlay.
Yas Island also became one of the first global tourist destinations to open for fully vaccinated tourists post-pandemic. The destination, Abu Dhabi, has taken several measures to ensure seamless travel for fully vaccinated tourists. ‘‘While there is no quarantine for fully vaccinated tourists travelling to Abu Dhabi. Upon arrival, Abu Dhabi has implemented strict precautionary measures to protect all community members in the emirate,’’ he says.
Almost next door to Yas Island, and in the UAE itself, another major theme park cluster is Dubai Parks and Resorts, which has been increasingly adding attractions to its collection. The latest such addition came on January 21 at Motiongate Dubai, the region’s largest Hollywood-inspired theme park. Motiongate now is home to the world’s first rollercoaster inspired by Lionsgate’s global hit action John Wick franchise and the world’s fastest single-car spinning rollercoaster inspired by the popular twists and turns of heist thriller franchise Now You See Me, both in the Lionsgate zone in the theme park.
The launch of these two, world first rollercoasters will earn Motiongate Dubai the impressive record for the most rollercoasters in a single theme park in the Middle East, says Fernando Eiroa, CEO of Dubai Holding Entertainment, the holding company of Dubai Parks and Resorts.
“Dubai continues to be a leader in the travel and tourism sector, with a reputation for delivering pioneering projects and landmarks. The opening of the world’s first John Wick rollercoaster, the world’s fastest spinning rollercoaster and the region’s only LEGO themed Hotel are an example of the breadth and diversity of entertainment experiences in Dubai. We are confident that these new offerings will contribute to further enhancing Dubai’s competitiveness as one of the leading international tourism destinations in the world,” says Eiroa.
Growth opportunities abound
Going ahead the focus of theme park operators would be in realising better margins, irrespective of the number of visitors. This is a trend that has already been recorded by Disney Parks since the outbreak of the pandemic where the average spending by visitors has risen. One opportunity that is ironically the outcome of the pandemic is that with lesser crowds and shorter queues, visitors would be tempted to try multiple rides and here through dynamic pricing and use of blockchain and Artificial Intelligence the park operators can maximise their customers’ experience as well as their own net margins.
Another significant change which has been coming since before the pandemic is the development of onsite stay options. Over the past couple of years, almost all the parks have added stay options in order to maximise their revenues and get the customers for repeat visits. Compagnie des Alpes, for instance, has opened a four-star property inside the Parc Asterix.
Called the Quais de Lutèce, the hotel reconstructs Lutetia, the Roman name for Paris, which was even then a vibrant trade and cultural centre around the Seine. The hotel tries to recreate the experience of the epoch connecting both banks of the Seine in tribute to the Roman lifestyle in Lutetia. With 150 rooms that can sleep up to 5 persons, the hotel is a big pull for families wanting to maximise the experience of the visit to the Parc.
Besides Quais de Lutèce, Parc Asterix has two other properties. A 150-roomed three-star hotel, Les 3 Hiboux, and La Cité Suspendu, with another 150 rooms.
Across the world, the Dubai Parks and Resorts is also set to open the region’s only Legoland hotel, transforming Legoland Dubai into an all-encompassing Lego adventure, including a Legoland Theme Park, a Water Park and a 250-room hotel offering themed rooms to accommodate up to five persons.
The advantage that the parks offer to those staying include easier and earlier access to the rides as well as opportunities to meet with the characters of the parks, every child’s dream.
Another shift that is likely to gather pace in entertainment and theme parks is use virtual reality and 3-D to enhance the experience of the visitors, by making the visits more immersive and experiential. Though it is increasingly becoming common, but many park operators are now working on the notion of an entire park with VR and 3D technologies.
The theme parks, like other global tourist attractions, are now looking at the upcoming travel season to the rush of Indian tourists, notably those with families. While some parts of the world, notably Yas Island and Dubai, have already received numerous Indian visitors since the reopening of travel earlier in 2021, others are waiting eagerly for the first significant arrival of the much-vaunted Indian tourists.
‘‘We hope to receive more visitors and families from India in May and June 2022 in FIT and small groups. Group series maybe in 2023,’’ hopes Gouguidis.