Pleisureworld recently visited twelve unique attractions and sights across England: a tour that not only has brought a wealth of information, but also plenty of inspiration that we can benefit from in the Netherlands. In the coming weeks we will publish a series of articles in which we tell widely about our experiences and highlight the most exceptional lessons. Each location will be provided with an extensive photo gallery where many colleagues of the branch can gain inspiration. The following locations have all been personally visited by us and a report of these visits will be discussed: Leeds Castle – Kent Life – BaseJump – Willows Acivity Farm – 360 Play – Gulliver’s Resorts and the Adventurers Village – Liverpool Docks – Mattel Liverpool – Chester Zoo – Blackpool City – Blackpool Pleasure Beach – Sand Castle Indoor WaterPark – BeWilderwood.
Lots of impressions and wise lessons
The intent in forging our plans was to get the most out of this trip. The goal was to visit up to eight destinations within a week across England. We, (Hans van Leeuwen on behalf of Pleisureworld and Walter Jonker of Pretwerk) could not imagine that our enthusiasm had such influence that we eventually went to 12 super sites – and we won’t even refer to the remarkable landmarks such as a Ferris wheel or even the new Beatles Museum! As kind of superheroes, we were welcomed with open arms; an extraordinary experience. That Brexit also has its advantages is something we noticed on the Pond which became cheaper during the trip.
Those who want to play a significant role in the leisure industry can learn a lot from what is happening in England. Peeking at the neighbours provides inspiration. It is the cradle of international tourism: what happens in the leisure industry, very often has its origin in the UK. Also the number of Dutch tourists is growing, this year already 380.00 countrymen have visited the other side of the North Sea. It is also not that bad the other way around. The Efteling sees the English as a serious new target; they all know Holland. Of the people we spoke to in England: many have been to the Netherlands or are planning to visit our country in the coming years. Did you know that we let ourselves be influenced by concepts in the Netherlands which have been proven in England for years? Just think of Madame Tussauds, Ripley’s, Country Side Farm Activity Centers and the appearance of trampoline parks. Also the use of IPs (intellectual Properties) as Peter Rabbit and Pappa Pig is something we have copied, for example Thomas de Trein or Sam de Brandweerman. Enough reasons for us to plan our inspirational tour here
Day 1: Leeds Castle – Kent Life – BaseJump
Leeds Castle: this estate with castle, not far from London, can operate without subsidy thanks to several sources of income (like admission, festivals, boat, train, glamping, hospitality, B&B, climbing park, Segway rental…). What we immediately notice: the parking is free. For the smaller attractions you need to pay extra. The full events calendar with pop music, theatre, dance and culture ensures a constant stream of visitors buying a ticket and where the castle serves as a decor.
Kent Life – farm attraction: We don’t often see a farm that is designed for daily recreation in the Netherlands (with the exception of a petting zoo). In this old malt farm they developed with relatively rare resources a versatile range of play areas, contact with animals, a tearoom, workshops and they even serve as a special wedding venue. Interestingly, the agricultural products are still grown here and are part of the whole experience.
Base Jump – Trampoline park: Although there are many trampoline parks open in the Netherlands (and the next years we will see a rise), they are often minuscule compared with this great example: Base Jump in London, with at least a size of 10,000 m2. Also, new attractions are being introduced in line with the sporting target group, like a Ninja Challenge and a soft play area for toddlers. But there are also Jump matches and fittnessJump on the agenda. There are separate trampoline themes for almost every target group such as specific themes for toddlers and seniors. Obviously, children’s parties are also provided. Interesting to mention is the use of music and the way in which groups are using the same wristband to get a whole trail presented.
Day 2: Willows Activity Farm – Gulliver’s Resorts and Adventures Village – 360 Play
Willows Activity Farm: farming is the basis for this day attraction. A farm wagon makes its way across the ranch and there is a goat race where children can fully bet on goats according to the English tradition. Most remarkable are the theme weeks of, for example, the pumpkins. Not Halloween, as the target group consists young kids. But during these two weeks, visitors can grab the pumpkins out off the land themselves. Previously, we wrote about the investment of £ 1 million in theming and introduction of Peter Rabbit (Intellectual Property). The detailed elaborate branding creates a professional image. You will not find fairground attractions, but activities that remain close to the farm DNA. The foundation is the creative team of Lappset that also included Yalp Sonar in the master plan. Most unique are the theme rooms where children take on the role of baker, carpenter, fireman or paramedic. This latest development will undoubtedly gain its ground in the Netherlands.
Gulliver’s Resort & Adventures Village: this regional attraction is split into a number of sections for which separate admission is charged: Gulliver’s Land Theme Park, Dinosaur & Farm Park, waterpark Splash Zone, indoor Nerf Zone, high ropes attraction SFear and the Burtonwood Heritage Centre combined with a dinosaur themed Holiday park. A good example of the development of smaller regional day attraction parks combining glamping with their existing offers. Thanks to the amusement park, consisting of four different themes, the guests can enjoy something different every day.
360 Play – Of course indoor playing areas aren’t new. 360 Play, however, is a chain of companies that know how to hit the right topic. With the addition of several major attractions and a roleplay shopping street made the difference. An outdoor section has been added. Here, Big Data already proved its value: visitors register on arrival, departure and also orders in hospitality can only be done with a customer card. This way all data of visitors is being recorded regarding their staying period, consumptions and where they come from. Based on these details, owner Duncan Phillips is soon opening his fifth 360 Play. The best location was chosen after analysing all the data. Such tracking system will also gain more ground in the Dutch recreation. SuperFun in Amersfoort is using a customer card like that for years now.
Day 3: Liverpool Docks – Mattel Play – Chester Zoo
Mattel Play: toy manufacturer Mattel has developed an indoor day attraction at the renovated docks of Liverpool (a vibrant tourist area). Central elements are Mattel’s famous brands such as Bob the Builder and Thomas the Train. Only time will tell whether this will be a success internationally. It’s all about the brands. Here it is a booming success for the grandfathers, grandmothers and the parents who are proud of their (grand) kids jumping behind the wheel with the fire helmet from Sam. The recognition of television heroes is the power of this concept. Actual playing is quite limited and the tension is short-term. The fun is soon gone, once they get in their leading role. It is suitable for the little ones with a maximum age up to about 6 to 7 years. This can only be successful on a top location with lots of traffic. There is room for such a Brand Store in the Netherlands. There are only two of these Mattel Play locations in the world. We are one of the few that have now visited both locations, in Liverpool and at the City Walk in Dubai.
Day 4: Blackpool City – Blackpool Pleasure Beach
Blackpool City: when hearing the name of the British seaside resort of Blackpool, I immediately had the association with the cosmopolitan resort in our country Bloemendaal aan Zee, mainly due to the historical significance of this seaside resort for the British at the beginning of the last century. I didn’t think much had changed in the meantime; it was not only a deception but above all a big mess. The gambling rooms become overcrowded, even by little children, who can eat for free up to 12 years. It gave us the shock many tourist destinations have when there is no policy given. The boulevard is dominated by gambling rooms and cheap eateries. Hotels and restaurants have to compete strongly on price and too many businesses are being neglected. Even the existing quality brands (as Ripley) can’t make a difference. We learned that 10 kilometres further south, in the town of Lytham, a lot is invested in a luxurious looking seaside town. Is this a sign that Blackpool has been abandoned by many entrepreneurs?
Blackpool Pleasure Beach: another mysterious destination in the seaside town is the famous Blackpool Pleasure Beach, which once nearly counted five million visitors. This family business is the largest British theme park which is usually not reflected in top charts of the European parks. The numbers of visitors (5 to 6 million) are difficult to compare because also an access pass is available to ‘non-riders’, which doesn’t allow access to the attractions. The park was established in 1896, we can speak of the law of the disadvantageous lead. Many old facilities provide a fairly untidy appearance. However, there are many spectacular attractions. Those have been built up well over the years and there are forty rides for all ages. It is definitely not Efteling, Phantasialand or even Duinrell. If we look at the quality of all the popular attractions of this inspiration tour, we can see that this is one of the, unfortunately, dated amusement parks that, despite the arrival of a themed area, will not turn the tide. There is no soul left in this business.
Day 5: Sandcastle Waterpark Blackpool
Sandcastle Waterpark: a striking building with a thirty year old blue colour and transformed from a municipal public swimming pool into an indoor water park is situated next to Blackpool’s promenade. It turned out to be one of the surprises of this study trip to England. This water park is worth the trip for all Dutch lifeguards, aldermen and amusement parks as a significant example how to make something special from an old brick with water. Sandcastle ranks among the top five water parks in the world with 370,000 visitors in 2015 (despite a few months of closure). Most impressive is the theming into the finest detail. Spectacular is the Master Blaster; this slide of 250 meters gives ‘water boosts’ during the slide that gives you extra speed. There is an extensive luxury spa present and the VIP cabanas (excluding book for € 200.-) are continually sold out. The park will double it space in the coming years. We also ensure an extensive report of this location in one of the series articles of this study trip.
Day 6: Bewilderwood
Bewilderwood: our first outdoor nature experience of this trip! Bewilderwood is a nature-oriented attraction in a swamp area, good for around 150,000 visitors annually. The basic principle is that parents and children can play together here. So Mom and Dad not only go along down the slide, but also high through the trees on rope bridges and even on an aerial runway. There is a story linked to the nature in which three forest nations play the leading role. You come across their homes at various locations. Environmental education is included in a playful manner, but is not the main thing. It really is an unusual park in which the Netherlands is already interested. Personally, I see enough potential in restoring outdated nature attractions such as the existing Boomkroonpad in Drenthe.
Five key observations
Looking back on the visits to the attractions there are five key observations that emerge repeatedly, and which can provide new impulses for the recreation entrepreneur:
- Increased use of Intellectual Property. ‘IP’, well-known characters from TV series, even in small scale businesses.
- Branding and theming to the smallest detail. It is no longer sufficient to create a so-called atmosphere with few pieces of scenery and mural paintings. There is more attention to detail these days. You see the corporate identity even in the toilets, clothing, camouflage of systems and the entrance area of the attraction.
- The choice of a clearly defined target audience. In a crowded leisure market it’s smart from a marketing perspective, to optimise your offer for a niche market. Who wants to satisfy all audiences is actually not special to anyone. A new developed concept will be tested on forehand whether it meets the target group.
- Do not make it too small. In our country we don’t dare to go mad when it comes to investing in larger venues. We noticed that specifically extremely large sites with many amenities and a wide range of offerings provide a larger number of visitors. They respond to multiple age groups, but all with the same experience.
- Innovation. The Netherlands has room for several Farm Activity Centres. The indoor playgrounds will develop more theme rooms or develop exclusive roleplay attractions. Big Data has long been accepted in England, which is still in its early stages in our country. We also see a real chance of success for a unique attraction based on the theme of BeWilderwood.
What have we learned?
When you visit twelve specific locations over a week and being welcomed with a lot of enthusiasm, I can assure you that it brings a lot of new information. It’s often a small detail but we have also made significant new discoveries. We have learned how to make money and also to see when it threatens to go wrong.
If you want to know more about a particular location after reading this, do not hesitate to call. We are, after all, here for the recreation entrepreneur who would like practical advice, rather than just writing an occasional report with a theoretical story that disappears at the bottom of the drawer.