22 Sep 2023 World leisure: news, training & property
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Attractions Management
2023 issue 1

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Leisure Management - On the right track


On the right track

US theme parks are seeing growth again and with innovation in key areas, they could appeal to a wider clientele, according to new research. Mintel’s Mike Gallinari makes sense of the numbers

Universal is tapping into gaming IPs with the launch of Super Nintendo World photo: universal theme parks & resorts

It’s been a rollercoaster few years, but the US theme park industry is broadly back on track against its pre-pandemic growth trajectory, having generated an estimated US$22.9bn in revenue in 2022.

As parks reopened, sales rebounded from the pandemic decline, however, the recovery isn’t complete, as international travellers have yet to return in full. While only accounting for 10 to 20 per cent of guests, they tend to spend more than domestic guests on high-margin items; as a result, the full potential of theme park revenues is still waiting to be realised.

According to Mintel, year-on-year growth for theme park holidays is projected to be a little slower than in the years preceding the pandemic. The steadiness in growth, however, doesn’t mean the industry is without headwinds due to economic factors. Inflation continues to dog consumers, making them reconsider their discretionary spending.

Travel’s roaring rebound has brought about a reorganisation of holiday priorities, meaning theme park trips have been pushed down the list of desired options. So while theme park visitation has recovered in general, the rebound has come on the back of single-day visits, leaving multi-day trips with ground to make up.

Mintel’s consumer research confirms the challenges the industry faces. The reality is that for many, theme park holidays aren’t a top travel priority. Only 34 per cent of Americans say this would be one of their top five choices in the next year and in returning to travel, consumers are instead setting their sights on beach holidays and road trips.

Theme park visits are also considered a big undertaking by some. Among travellers considering this kind of holiday, 76 per cent say such trips are expensive and nearly half say they’re exhausting to plan, so making the experience more frictionless could help business.

Game-inspired attractions represent a largely unrealised IP at theme parks, which have historically been built on the back of movie properties, harking back to Disneyland’s leaning on its animated film characters.

Just as media has evolved in the years since that park’s opening in 1955, so too have media preferences. To this end, potential theme park vacationers say that video game IPs (39 per cent) are second only to movies (47 per cent) when it comes to seeing IP-inspired rides and attractions in parks. With relatively few video game IPs appearing in theme parks, there’s potential for partnerships, such as that being undertaken by Universal with its Super Nintendo World launches.

Prospective visitors were also asked about secondary spend. Fast pass/line skipping (56 per cent) took priority, followed by dining/drink deals (52 per cent) and early entry (44 per cent).

These responses show holidaymakers aren’t just concerned with moving through the park quickly; otherwise, early entry would hold more weight. Rather, they’re thinking about the quality of their visit. A park-affiliated travel provider that can provide for this will be more appealing to travellers.

Offering deals on fast passes or early entry could convince guests to choose to stay on-property, as opposed to in cheaper, unaffiliated hotels. The same can be said for offering in-park dining credits, which can be appealing given that over half (58 per cent) of the sample say they’d rather eat at the park than at an affiliated hotel.

All these changes will help parks to increasingly welcome back greater numbers of theme park travellers as the market continues to strengthen.

Mintel’s Mike Gallinari

Originally published in Attractions Management 2023 issue 1

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