One of the greatest challenges faced by theme parks, zoos, museums, and other visitor attractions is that of getting one’s visitors to keep returning. While adding new rides, exhibits and enclosures can help to draw repeat patronage, their prohibitively high costs make such strategies unfeasible over the short term.
What then should one do to renew one’s product and keep guests coming back?
This question was tackled at a panel discussion at the Conference “Staying Relevant in the Ever-changing Tourism Landscape”. Moderated by Kelven Tan of Playmaker Investments Corporation, panelists Teo Sio Hoon (Singapore Workforce Development Agency), Kevin Cheong (Chairman, Association of Singapore Attractions), Tom Mehrmann (Chief Executive, Ocean Park Hong Kong), and Tom Bisignano (Owner/Producer, MeetingBiz) offered some useful ideas.
For a start, wildlife parks like zoos and aquaria can explore animal exchanges with other zoos overseas to renew product interest. Other than new births, the introduction of new animals (like panda bears) often helps to stoke fresh public interest.
Events and festivals, both large and small, are critical in rejuvenating one’s attraction. These should be orchestrated such that they’re highly experiential to create new peaks of traffic, focusing not just on hardware alone but the accompanying programmes and activities.
Excellent guest services are vital in sustaining visitor interest. The best way to do so is to start with how you manage your staff. Treat your frontliners with respect and give them due recognition and care so that they can lavish the same level of attention to your visitors. To prevent employee burn out, conduct regular engagement surveys, listen to what they’re telling you, and proactively engage them.
Offering good value to one’s customers is also important. In the case of Ocean Park, they throw in additional events to ensure that guests are happy if less than 85% of rides/exhibits are available due to rehabilitation of hardware. By keeping guests in a park for longer periods, one is able to increase per capita spending by up to 50%. Keeping guests continually happy helps generate positive word of mouth, while making it more justifiable for one to raise prices later if necessary.
While attractions shouldn’t be afraid to blaze new trends in the industry, they should take calculated risks (ie being at the cutting edge rather than the bleeding edge). What this means is that adequate market research and cost-benefit analyses should be done before investing in new attractions (rides, animals, exhibits).
A good way to suss out consumer interest is to get one’s employees to be members of the focus group as they could be the best source of information for the market that one serves.
On a related note, people are now heavily into interactive experiences, ie rides and exhibits that allow them to physically engage with the product. Incorporating a hands-on component is thus critical in enhancing one’s attraction.
While innovation in one’s product mix (rides, exhibits, retail & F&B) is key, it is also important to take note of one’s target customer segments.
Las Vegas learnt the hard lesson that the family and gaming markets do not mix, with only 50% of its revenue derived from non-gaming sources. With a chiefly adult demographic, “Sin City” is primed more for adults than families and kids. In this regard, it will be interesting to see how Singapore’s experience with the Integrated Resorts will pan out.
In any endeavour, one should also try to forge an emotional connection with one’s guests. It isn’t the technology or the hardware but the storytelling which makes a visit to a theme park, zoo or museum memorable and delightful. By tugging on the heartstrings of guests, attractions are able to generate positive word-of-mouth and loyalty. Disney and Universal Studios are both masters at this game.
Finally, attractions should learn to band together in order to renew themselves. By working together, smaller attractions can gain greater economies of scale and package themselves as a more complete offering. Learning from each other is especially useful in a small market like Singapore.