Water Parks in Asia - June 2014

by James Careless

Solid growth and proven popularity—that’s the story for Asia’s booming water park industry. The numbers tell the tale: “The Asian water park market showed 7.4 percent growth over the past year, with total attendance at 16 million,” says Sohret Pakis, director of marketing and communications at Polin Waterparks & Pool Systems in Istanbul, Turkey. “That’s about 1 million more than North America in 2012.” The latest “Global Attractions Attendance Report,” compiled by AECOM and the Themed Entertainment Association, backs Pakis’ statistics.

For water park equipment manufacturers like Polin, growth in the Asian water park market contributes directly to the company’s bottom line. “In 2010, Asia sales were around 10 percent of all of our sales,” Pakis says. “However, those numbers have grown substantially. Last year, 30 percent of our sales came from Asia. And, over the next five years, we expect the same trend to continue.”

WhiteWater West Industries is seeing similar growth. “Asia now accounts for more than 40 percent of our global sales, a dramatic increase from 20 percent in 2010,” says President and CEO Geoff Chutter.

Neptune-Benson, maker of the Defender water filtration system, has experienced healthy sales growth as well. “We have seen double-digit growth in the Asia market,” says Michael A. Turner, Neptune-Benson’s vice president of international business development. “The largest growth is in China and the surrounding countries.”

What’s Driving Growth?
There are many factors driving growth in the Asian water park market. Most important is the emergence of an economically viable middle class, with enough disposable income to enjoy what water parks have to offer.

“What you’re seeing is the growth of an entirely new consumer class in China and the Asian market that has the means and the desire to enjoy water parks,” says Joe Bevk, vice president of sales and marketing for ProSlide Technology. ProSlide has sold water slides and other water attractions into the Asian market since the 1990s. “In China alone, this consumer class has grown to about 200 million people,” he says. “Based on current predictions, it may get as large as 600 million.”

“It’s not just China; we are seeing the middle class expand in countries such as Malaysia, Vietnam, and Southeast Asia, in general,” adds Phil Hayles, ProSlide’s vice president of  business development. “These new consumers want to experience world-class water parks that have the absolute best rides.”

The Sanderson Group, an Australian theme park design/construction company serving the Asia market, hasn’t missed this requirement, either. “With the emerging middle class in Asia, park guests have higher demands for the new experiences a lot of the water slide suppliers are now designing toward,” says Luke Riley, The Sanderson Group’s director of business development.

It’s not just the growing middle class pushing Asian water park growth , though. Another reason is changes in annual weather patterns, says Taku Higuchi, president and CEO of the Toyko-based water park design/development firm Wing Productions. “Summers have become longer in recent years, and the sweltering heat has certainly led to more people visiting water parks. People in Asian countries are also enticed by the gigantic waterslides made in ever larger sizes recently.”

Add Asia’s rising population and living standards, and the scene is set for continued water park attendance growth. “As we’ve seen from experience in the United States, amusement parks are a favorite activity for domestic travelers,” says Polin’s Pakis. “Thus, with Asian consumers’ greater purchasing power and the fun and affordable entertainment value amusement parks provide, we expect Asian water parks to become a huge draw for vacationers.”

Combining High-Quality Facilities with Cultural Awareness
Succeeding in the Asian water park market is not just a matter of build it, and they will come. To profit, water park operators must combine world-class facilities and attractions with culturally sensitive operations.

The first major difference is demographics. According to the “Global Attractions Attendance Report,” the U.S. water park experience is directed to families and children. “But in Asia, the typical water park visitors are young adults, often on a group outing,” the report states. “It’s a day out with work colleagues, fellow students, or friends.” Successful Asian water parks cater to this fact, as well as to family groups.

The second difference is the Asian water park’s focus. In North America, water parks tend to be amusement-centric with rides and food dominating the facility. In Asia, “there’s something of a crossover with the culture of spas and hot springs,” says the report. “The settings tend to be more tranquil with premium elements available—food service, massages, concerts, entertainment: things that extend the average length of stay and raise per caps.”

The third consideration is the Asian way of life. To satisfy clients, Asian water parks must be sensitive to “accommodating cultural and religious dos and don’ts,” says Mikael Ding, general manager of Waterbom Jakarta in Indonesia. The Asian culture also includes a sharp eye for value: These consumers are “very sensitive to price yet [they] enjoy [the] best quality service,” Ding says. They show a “willingness to spend more if [you] exceed expectation.”

Given that all cultures have their particular traits, showing proper respect is just a matter of doing one’s homework. This is certainly the case at Legoland Malaysia. “When we first embarked on the theme park project in 2012, and subsequently the water park and hotel in 2013, we put in a lot of effort to work with local partners. It gave us a good understanding of the market’s wants and needs,” says Deviga Doreraja, Legoland Malaysia’s public relations manager. “As part of our understanding of the local culture, we have incorporated various features within the park such as a prayer room, restaurants serving Asian cuisine, [and] more shaded areas perfect for the tropical climate.”

The booming success of the Asian market can be a hazard itself. As with any rapidly growing sector in this industry, great success draws the attention of innovators and the potential for intellectual property infringement alike. “Because Asia is so attractive, lots of companies are targeting the region. We must be particularly attentive to issues regarding our patents because fraudulent companies will try to copy our designs,” says Pakis. “But we are used to facing challenges, so we don’t expect any of these issues to deter us from being active in the market.”

Pakis’ observations apply to the allure of the Asian water park market as a whole: This area is so vibrant, so economically healthy, and so poised for continued growth, the potential rewards can’t help but outweigh the risks for everyone involved.

Success Stories
Since opening September 2012 in Nusajaya, Johor, Legoland Malaysia and its Legoland Water Park have ridden the wave of Asia’s consumer-class growth. In its first year of operation, the overall facility had more than 1 million visitors. “We have received tremendous support from our target market [of Johor and Singapore],” says Doreraja. “Our visitors also come from other parts of the country. There is good infrastructure that connects us for an easy drive, travel by bus, or even a direct flight to the nearest airport at Senai, just 20 minutes away.”

Indonesia’s The Jungle Waterpark opened in 2007 in Bogor, West Java. Located on Mount Salak, it gets an average of 1 million visitors annually. Besides the high quality of its attractions and natural grounds, The Jungle Waterpark succeeds by aligning itself to Indonesia’s family-oriented social culture. “Our customer focus is on big groups of family and [their emphasis] on eating together as the main activity in their spare time,” says Latayana Tjendra, The Jungle Waterpark’s COO. To this end, “The Jungle Waterpark is equipped with facilities for big family groups to have picnics inside the water park under cool shades, where they can experience the fresh mountain air,” Tjendra says. “The Jungle also provides a wide variety of food on the premises for their convenience.”

The Waterbom Jakarta water park also opened its gates in Indonesia’s capital in 2007. Its mission was to offer “a fresh, modern, international outdoor destination for tourists and locals to escape” from hectic metropolitan life, says Ding. The mission is paying off: Waterbom Jakarta operates daily with annual arrival exceeding 200,000 visitors.

At the end of the day, success in this market all comes down to one simple truth: “Asia is not the ‘Next Big Market,’” says Sanderson Group’s Riley. “It is ‘The Big Market’ right now.” 

James Careless covers the water park industry for Funworld.