How to make theme parks successful in competitive markets

By Piers Lee

Singapore and Malaysia are becoming the theme park capitals for Southeast Asia.

Warm weather is often a prerequisite for theme parks, particularly for water parks, which makes Singapore and Malaysia ideal locations for such parks.  We also see this in other regions such as Florida and California in the USA.

Many of the theme parks are marketed as family-friendly attractions and for educational experiences and less about the white-knuckle roller coaster rides, although these ‘adrenaline rides’ still appeal to many segments of the market.

A recent survey we conducted shows that the leading parks visited in Malaysia include Sunway Lagoon, Genting, and LEGOLAND, with LEGOLAND having the highest number of visitors expected in the next 12 months.  In Singapore, Universal Studios followed by the Singapore Zoo are the top attractions.  But again LEGOLAND is high in the consideration set for future visits being just across the border in Southern Malaysia, and with heightened interest in LEGO following the LEGO movie and increasing interest in LEGO products.

In Malaysia, the Movie Animation Park Studios (MAPS) has recently opened, Resorts World will soon open 20th Century Fox World with attractions based on Fox films, and Video game producer Ubisoft is planning to open a park in Kuala Lumpur by 2020.

In Singapore, consumers are enjoying theme parks more than ever, with people recommending a range of theme parks to their friends and family.  This is a category that is highly dependent on word-of-mouth marketing with 48% of visitors referring to friends or family to get recommendations on theme parks (up from 40% in 2016).  Word-of-mouth is even higher in Malaysia at 61% (up from 55% in 2016).  Theme parks is also a category that people like to talk about – this year 44% of consumers in Singapore had heard people talking about new parks, attractions, or new rides/attractions, and 64% in Malaysia.

Singapore has the restrictions of space, which is why there are fewer theme parks under development compared to Malaysia.  But Singapore does benefit from being a major hub for the region, a popular ‘city break’ destination, and a useful stopover on long-haul flights from Europe to Australia where a theme park visit can be a nice inclusion to a trip.

However, theme parks are facing challenges in both markets.  Theme parks are still dependent on local markets, and both Singapore and Malaysia have modest populations (5.8 million and 31.2 million respectively).  Singapore’s declining birth rates could impact the supply of children to these theme parks in the long term, although Singapore does have a high non-citizen population at about 28% of its total, who often have young families.

In Malaysia, intentions to visit theme parks in the next year are down compared the previous year suggesting that Malaysian families are cutting back on their entertainment spending.  At the same time, there will be increasing competition for the share of families’ entertainment budget with new theme parks about to open.

Part of the solution to this challenge is to reach out to the international market.

Clearly, a very large market is Chinese inbound tourists, and many theme parks are investing in marketing their parks to this target audience and providing facilities to them such as Chinese payment apps that can be found in attractions like the Singapore Zoo.

But to provide more regular and sustainable business, theme parks also need to grow their domestic markets.  Parks are choosing strategic locations, e.g. next to malls, such that adults can go shopping while kids are left to be entertained in the theme park.  All-inclusive packages are popular for giving consumers a seamless, stress-free experience.  Parks are offering transport, park entrance and hotel packages, for example, if there are two theme parks requiring two days to visit (as in the LEGOLAND and its adjoining waterpark).

Based on in-depth research conducted by BVA BDRC, theme parks need to manage the visitor experience.  From this research, we developed five guidelines for visitor attractions:

  1. Create the context: all marketing material needs to be consistent with the theme such that the patron knows what to expect.
  2. Remove anxieties: engagement levels tend to be higher when physical needs are met, e.g. good F&B facilities (with well-known F&B brands), air-conditioned areas, sufficient seating/rest areas, etc.
  3. Categorise where possible: if the park is of an educational theme, make these bite-sized pieces and with mini-themes within the park. The more that attractions make language and information user-friendly, the more visitors are likely to connect.
  4. Relatability: parks that use well-known characters or movies are popular because people can relate to them better.
  5. Remove the effort: almost an overarching guideline covering many of the above, make it easier for the patron to ‘use the park’, including transport to the park and within the park, a range of payment options, the facility to leave and re-enter the park, fast track queues, etc.

To find out how we can help your visitor attraction, please contact me at piers.lee@bdrc-asia.com.

You might be interested in our White Paper exploring the media habits & preferences of Gen Z & Y consumers in Singapore:



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