On a recent study trip to Universal Studios Singapore (USS) at Resorts World Sentosa (RWS), I had the privilege of learning how the theme park – arguably the most popular in Southeast Asia – creates, develops and manages memorable and delightful guest encounters. While these strategies do not cover all aspects of a world class theme park’s operation, they do form an important component of their visitor experiences. These help to trigger positive word of mouth and generate repeat visits.
Extensive and Immersive Theming
Being a theme park modelled after Hollywood’s various movies and its characters, USS is relentless in every dimension of its theming, from building architecture, décor, shops, restaurants, streetscapes, merchandise, staff uniforms, costumed characters, rides, exhibits, parades, and shows. Apparently, Stephen Spielberg the billionaire uber film director was involved in the theming of USS as its creative consultant!
The park has a total of 7 themed zones, namely: The Lost World, Far Far Away, Madagascar, Ancient Egypt, Sci-Fi City, New York and Hollywood. The names of the shops, rides, shows, and menu items at restaurants and cafes are also themed accordingly.
Beyond visual design, music creates an important aspect of the Universal experience. Each zone in Universal Studios have a different thematic music which blended in with their zone and helps to set the mood. The anthem like opening of Universal Studios, heard in thousands of movies showing in millions of screens, help to reinforce that feel at the entrance.
Catering to Families and Youths of all Ages
Focusing on families, youths, and tourists from age 6 to 60, Universal Studios is geared towards the mass market. Surveys are regularly conducted to ascertain visitor profiles and determine their behaviours and spending patterns.
An interesting point I noted was that each zone within the park is slightly nuanced towards the anticipated visitors. For example, Far Far Away (Shrek) is heavily focused on kids and offered kiddy friendly rides, whereas Sci Fi City seemed more geared towards teens and youths with the high thrill Battlestar Galactica and Transformers rides.
Amenities for Visitor Comfort
From numerous restrooms, wheelchair and strollers for hire, to lockers, the needs of theme park visitors are catered for in USS. Mobile snack bars offering drinks, sandwiches, and snacks can be found everywhere, helping to slake the thirst and satisfy hunger pangs.
To shield visitors from Singapore’s notorious tropical Sun and torrential rains, an extensive Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) shelter is built in the New York and Hollywood zones of the theme park. Seats, pram parking zones and other resting spaces can also be found throughout the park.
Experiential Retail and Merchandise Mix
Each retail outlet within the USS and MEMA offers an experience in itself. They are full of photo opportunities, with wall décor, character statues, and merchandise that suits each zone down to a T. In fact, they are so attractive that they sometimes draw walk-in customers directly without them going for the rides which are associated with each outlet.
From a casual glance at the clothes, toys, stationery items, games, and gifts offered for sale, it is clear that they are tailored towards their core audiences of families, kids, youths and tourists. Priced at a slight premium (due to licensing and royalty fees), the items are mostly catered for the mass market. Its interesting to note that the Universal Globe (priced at about S$24) is a hot-selling item and can be found at retail shops throughout USS.
Food and Beverage
F&B outlets, though less crowded than the snaking queues for rides, are also heavily themed according to sets in the movies where they drew inspiration from. As in most visitor attractions, the price points of food and beverage items are at a premium of about 20% to 30% higher than what you can buy in the city. A meal costs between $10 to $15 which includes a main course, a snack and a drink. This is expected as in-park spending normally forms an important component of an attraction’s revenue stream, and it is costly for attractions to provide such services.
Ticketing and Membership Revenue
In USS, roughly 70% of their revenue comes from ticketing with the remaining 30% from in park spending. Ticketing income is derived from one-time tickets, annual memberships and bundled packages which include shows, hotel stays, F&B vouchers and other benefits.
To move their annual pass and VIP programmes, USS employs a clever strategy of allowing park visitors to offset their single $74 ticket against the cost of a membership. This reduces the psychological barrier for customers to upgrade. Combo tickets with USS, MEMA and the future Marine Life Park are planned to encourage visitors to stay for 4, 5 or 6 days as each attraction takes at least half a day to fully experience.
At other theme parks around the world like Disney, the offering of 2 day or 3 day passes allowing guests to visit the parks multiple times are often done. Each additional day of extension is priced more cheaply incrementally speaking to incentivise multi-day pass holders to upgrade. By making guests stay longer at the park, they can encourage more in-park spending.
Operational and Frontline Efficiency
Finally, to ensure that the entire visitor experience is smoothly choreographed and curated, every single aspect of a theme park’s operations are taken care of. To leave nothing to chance, USS hires highly experienced operation managers, some of whom have prior experience in other world class theme parks like Disney World and Universal Studios Orlando.
Like all good theme parks and attractions, every single aspect of a theme park’s operations are catered for. This covers the management of queues with fast-passes and VIP queues (an almost universal feature), handling of customer complains, park maintenance (from cleaning of toilets, painting of exhibits to fixing of broken lamps). Interactive stations – a common bugbear for us in the business – are quickly fixed (average of half an hour) once it has been determined that they have broken down.