Andrew Mellor explores a noticeable change, as operators are…

No matter what type of visitor attraction – be it a theme park, waterpark, zoo, museum or even a children’s play centre – one of the key ingredients to success is to keep a careful eye on the market it is trying to attract and what those within it want to do on a day out.

Different types of venue will target different sectors of the visitor market, but without doubt the key area today for many is the family unit. Whereas, certainly in the theme/amusement park industry, we have in the past seen a number of operators catering more to young adults, for example, in many cases there has been a perceptible swing back to families which operators believe offer the most potential for success.

And there are many reasons for this move back to focusing on the family unit, not least the fact that families are very much looking for places to go where they can enjoy and take part in activities together. As leisure time continues to be an ever more precious commodity, this is an opportunity parks are very well placed to take advantage of – and they are doing so more and more.

At Farup Sommerland in Denmark, for example, Søren Kragelund says that the family market is “absolutely” the most important one for parks and other types of visitor attraction.

“You can see this in Denmark very much,” he notes. “It is a little different at Tivoli (Copenhagen) where there are more teenagers but in general it is the same for all types of attraction. But we are also losing a lot of foreign visitors to Denmark, while the Danish people are visiting Danish attractions more in the summer and then going abroad at other times. Parks, zoos, aquariums and museums are all the same.”

In northern Germany, at Hansa Park, CEO Andreas Leicht agrees that the family market has always been, and remains, the most important one for the majority of parks, but he adds: “A completely different question is which park managers have realised this and have acted consequently due to this fact. We saw even in Germany some big parks who thought that this rule is not the one they have to consider when investing. Now they see that they have lost the families. And they have to accept that the families will not come back within the next few years when the park’s image has fundamentally changed during previous years.”

At Walibi Aquitaine in France, managing director Corinne Sedeau believes the family market is the most important for parks because families have the best purchasing power, a view shared by Roby Gasser at Conny-Land in Switzerland. In the UK, Paultons Park managing director Richard Mancey comments: “There are two distinct markets at the moment. We feel Paultons suits the family market rather than the likes of Thorpe Park (where teens and young adults are now the main focus). But not every visitor attraction finds itself targeted at the family market. Stately homes, for example, are not so interesting to families, although even these are now aligning themselves more to this market.”

From a manufacturer’s point of view, Bruno Lancetti at Zamperla in Italy believes the family market has grown much in recent times, particularly since 2005. “Our minds are now focused on both parents and grandparents as targets,” he says. “Their daily life is busy and the parents are busy with their jobs. Often only the grandfather and grandmother can therefore accompany kids to amusement parks, fairgrounds, malls, FECs, etc.”

“The family market is the key market for Legoland parks as we focus on families with children aged two to 12,” says Legoland California press officer Kelly Schwartz. “With the variety of parks, rides and attractions available today there are opportunities across the spectrum of markets, but the family market has been identified as a crucial component of many theme parks’ success.”

David Camp, at the London office of Economic Research Associates, adds another angle.

“The family market is probably the most important to the majority of venues but it depends on your focus in terms of breadth. But also, what is a family? It’s generally two adults and children, or grandparents and grandchildren, but nowadays there are many single parent families too. The reason for the visit is a child or children aged from four to 14, that’s the motivating factor, and then it’s the parent group. The concept of the family needs reconsidering.”

The right mix

The family market inevitably means a very wide age range of guests so operators need to give careful thought to the mix of attractions and entertainment they provide if they are to successfully cater to the many different requirements of such a broad audience.

“It is tricky,” confirms Søren Kragelund, “but the big parks are getting bigger and increasing in their guest numbers so they must be getting it right. I think it is more the indoor attractions that are losing guests, not because they have a bad product but when you have seen an aquarium, for example, you don’t necessarily want to visit again very soon. It is easier for parks to get more people.

“It can get very crowded at indoor attractions too,” he continues, “so they are limited in this way. Also, we see that now we have added a 4D theatre for example, it is very popular so parks are continuing to go over to new attractions that we didn’t used to have, which helps.”

However, Andreas Leicht believes it isn’t too hard to satisfy such a wide age range.

“It’s not so difficult,” he says. “It’s just a question of a long term strategy. It takes time. Hansa-Park has focused on the families since being founded in 1977, with no change to this strategy. Now we are the number one family park in northern Germany and after Europa Park, number two in Germany as far as the quality is concerned. We see in our surveys that for our competitiors who are now trying to get the families back in their parks, it’s too late. They cannot make the turn around from a park with a white knuckle image back to a family oriented park.”

Roby Gasser notes that it is important to speak to visitors to find out what kind of attractions they are looking for, something which has proved a successful format for Conny-Land, while Richard Mancey adds: “It’s not that difficult (to entertain different age groups), so long as you provide a mix of attractions. It’s important to ensure if you have a ride a child of six can’t go on, that right next to it is one they can go on. It needs planning and thought but there is no excuse for not catering to the whole family.”

Bruno Lancetti agrees, saying the right selection of rides is important, while Kelly Schwartz says: “At Legoland California we aim to offer a wide variety of rides and attractions that will suit all ages of the family. In addition, many of the rides we have opened in the last few years are rides that the whole family can enjoy together – such as Splash Battle and Fun Town Fire Academy. These rides have little or no height restrictions and can hold up to four riders (in each vehicle), making them ideal for families.”

ERA’s David Camp agrees that catering to the broad age range families cover can be a problem, but cites the Lego target market as one way of handling the conundrum.

“Lego has quite a tight age range but it’s a nice niche,” he observes. “However, if you are a family with a wide age range it’s a tough choice sometimes (of where to go). From the park perspective, one thrill ride won’t make it work for teenagers, though. It’s more challenging if your park is niche oriented, but also if you have a broad offering it could end up being too broad. Most parks seem to cover it pretty well though.”

As far as actual hardware is concerned, water based and interactive attractions are highlighted as the most popular with the family audience, along with others they can ride together as a group.

“Venues are very different,” says Richard Mancey, “and they are all going to offer a core reason to come so it’s important to provide a theme as a reason to visit. We provide a mix of rides, indoor attractions and we are fortunate to have a beautiful setting and lots of birds and some animals. We offer a full day out experience in a nice environment which is critical to our type of market.”

Kelly Schwartz: “In order to attract the whole family, rides and attractions should be suitable for all age types and offer entertainment value to all ages.  At Legoland California we opened a whole new area of the park in 2006 called Pirate Shores. This opened with four attractions that are suitable for fun for the whole family. As a result, Pirate Shores was incredibly popular and we are adding another ride to it this year.  

“Legoland California offers a variety of interactive rides that really capture families’ attention,” she continues. “They fit perfectly into the hands-on, minds-on entertainment that Legoland is known for. Water rides are also extremely popular at the moment. Pirate Shores is based around water play and helped drive our attendance in 2006.”

David Camp emphasises the importance of providing rides families can enjoy together as a group, medium thrill rides such as rapid rivers, log flumes and family coasters, noting that it is important to bear in mind height restrictions. And he warns against some simulator and dark rides which, because the guest cannot see what’s inside, may put some people off them.

“The more intense they are the less appealing they are to the older market, even though the younger ones may like them,” he adds.

Andreas Leicht cites walk-through attractions as another popular option, along with those guests can watch while others in their group participate, while Roby Gasser mentions animal attractions and shows. But above all it’s those that they can enjoy together that top the popularity stakes.

The manufacturer’s role

Influences for family oriented attractions are many but of course manufacturers have a major role to play when it comes to the development of new ideas to help parks attract visitors. So are they recognising the importance of the family market in the attractions and equipment they are offering?

“Some of them are,” says Søren Kragelund. “They can see a lot of the market is family based but many are still doing ‘higher and faster.’ So there is still room for more from the manufacturers for attractions where people can ride together. People don’t have much time together but they want to have fun together in a park when they visit and be together during this time.”

Andreas Leicht believes “extreme rides cause extreme costs” both in development and operation and that manufacturers and suppliers will see that the family market has more of a future, while Corinne Sedeau feels manufacturers are “very attentive to trends and try to respond in the best way they can to the market.” In general, it would appear, operators do feel the majority of suppliers have recognised the increased importance of the family market to parks and Zamperla is a good example of one company that offers a wide enough range to cater to all tastes and ages. Indeed so wide as to be able to create complete family areas.

“We are now developing some popular big adult rides in a family version,” reveals Bruno Lancetti, “for example a junior twister coaster and also a mini twister coaster. Now we are riding the family wave and we hope to boost this segment again for a couple of years or more.

“Silver Dollar City (in the US) is a real example of a good Zamperla family area,” he reveals, “while we will soon also complete an area at Mer De Sable in France with 10 new Zamperla rides.”

Theme parks, of course, are able to offer an abundance of excitement when it comes the their offering, but it’s a different ball game for educational based venues such as museums and heritage sites, particularly in the hi-tech world in which children are being brought up.

“It’s about providing something that’s interesting,” says David Camp, “like shows, films and other media. The big museums, for example, all have lots of things children can do. The stimulus has to be attuned to a modern child and teenager. They play computer games, have mobiles, chat to their friends on MSN, etc., so if you don’t offer similar types of activities they won’t be attracted to that venue.

It doesn’t mean everything must be computer based and venues don’t need to spend a fortune doing this. Also, there must be things people can touch, for example, where displays can be made more personal instead of everything being behind glass. Museums and similar places must make themselves relevant from a personal point of view to youngsters.”

Brand recognition

One area which is particularly applicable to the family market and which is being used increasingly by operators is branding and branded attractions. Parks, and other types of visitor attraction, are creating and promoting their own brands as venues, but they are also using branded attractions to bring in the guests. So just how important is branding in relation to the family market?

“It does help,” notes Richard Mancey. “It’s another reason to visit and another way of increasing footfall during quieter periods. It’s also another reason to buy a season ticket to the park and is something that can be marketed separately and particularly to season ticket holders.”

Søren Kragelund believes branding is enormously important in Denmark, not only for the parks themselves but for others in the tourism industry too, with the park brand often being the initial reason for people to come to a region.

“We are in a vacation area,” he explains, “and we had 69,000 people looking for places to stay in the area last year when they were planning to visit. So there is much more interest and parks will be the driver for more accommodation. There are a lot of small places to stay owned by families who can’t afford to market themselves too widely, so parks will help them by recommending these places. We do this at Sommerland by offering all-inclusive packages with park tickets, hotels, etc.”

Although they don’t use branding or licensed attractions at Conny-Land, Roby Gasser agrees it is an area that would help increase attendance, while at Legoland California, not surprisingly branding is a big thing!

“Branded attractions bring recognition to theme parks and are able to aid the popularity of a ride or attractions by their reputation,” says Kelly Schwartz. “At Legoland California Volvo Driving School is an example of a well-branded ride that adds credibility and recognition to our track-free car experience, especially with our family visitors.”

But not everyone agrees. Andreas Leicht feels branded attractions aren’t as important as others believe. “We don’t think that branded attractions really help very much because, with the exception of the Disney and Universal figures and the French Asterix (figures) there are no characters which are timelessly popular in a similar way.”

At ERA, David Camp raises other considerations. “Creating a destination around one brand can be very challenging. Bringing in a specific brand can work very well for a certain target audience, but does put a strong age profile on it. Branding is great if you can meet the expectations of the audience, so has to be done well.”

Marketing, of course, is another key area of operation for all attraction venues, family oriented or otherwise, but to who do family based venues target their marketing efforts when such a wide customer base is involved?

“We go by the mothers,” says Søren Kragelund. “We do surveys on who decides where families go for a day out and it is absolutely the mother first, then the children – and dad drives! All our TV and other commercials are aimed at the mother and then the kids.”

“We don’t have specific marketing techniques,” explains Corinne Sedeau, “but we try more to be up to date in the way we communicate. We are focusing a lot on our mascot Walibi which is very popular and our goal in all our communications is to make people imagine the special ambience they can find in the park.”

Among the special marketing efforts Walibi Aquitaine will be utilising this year will be “street marketing” where the park will be promoted in the surrounding cities to families in its core market, while the park mascot will also go outside the park to participate in an international tennis tournament for 12-year-old children.

Conny-Land targets its marketing efforts at both children and their parents, while Legoland California employs a variety of marketing techniques “designed to excite the whole family” according to Kelly Schwartz. At Hansa-Park, it’s the children who are targeted first and foremost.

“Children are the most important guests,” says Andreas Leicht. “If the children are happy the parents are as well. And they decide to come back.”

This last comment sums things up perfectly and from first hand experience I know it’s absolutely true. But it’s also a fact that families increasingly want to do things together on a day out and enjoy and share different experiences as a group. Understanding and recognising this fact will be a major key to future success, but the vast majority of attraction venues would appear to have done so…or are at least working hard towards it.