Trends in Europe: Longer Stays at European Parks

by Juliana Gilling

Making guests linger a little longer is one of the challenges facing parks and attractions. European operators are coming up with a range of solutions, from enriching their offerings to creating seasonal late openings, staging special events and providing convenient accommodations.

Targeting longer stays can be effective, with many companies reaching new audiences and reporting rises in attendance and spending. For guests, it’s an opportunity to take their time and see attractions in a different light.

Evening Shows
Liseberg in Sweden is naturally “an evening park where, depending on season and programming, more than 50 percent of the business can be after 6 p.m.,” says Andreas Andersen, the park’s president and CEO. Liseberg achieves this by spreading out its entertainment program and ensuring guests can eat an excellent dinner.

This approach works equally well at Efteling in the Netherlands. Its 2012 show, “Aquanura,” a water fountain extravaganza, is scheduled at the end of the day. “Aquanura” is situated near restaurants that remain open after the rides close. Combined with Efteling’s live show “Raveleijn,” it gives guests another reason to stay.

Extended Operating Hours and Special Events
Efteling has experimented with operating hours, as well. Park spokesperson Karin Koppelmans says Efteling extended its day two hours past its regular 6 p.m. closing during this year’s “Seven League Summer” promotion and included midnight closings on seven Saturdays. “We had live entertainment on seven stages and extra restaurant capacity throughout the park,” she says. “This worked very well and attracted many guests.” The park also ran extended openings on four Saturdays this fall.

“Big Saturday Nights” were back at the UK’s Adventure Island park for the third year this fall. Music, dance, and street theater acts were scheduled at the park on nine Saturday nights from Sept. 8 through Nov. 3, combined with illuminations and firework displays. “As Adventure Island is a free-admission fun park, nobody has to pay to enjoy the ‘Big Saturday Night.’ It’s a wonderful opportunity to give something back to our regular visitors while attracting new people,” says the park’s executive chairman, Philip Miller. The park sold half-price ride wristbands after 6 p.m.

Investindustrial introduced a strong program of special events at PortAventura. During July and August, the Spanish park extended its opening times by four hours (until midnight) to attract evening visitors. The success of this formula led the park’s team to create new themed events in 2012. Three “White Nights,” developed by artistic director Gianfranco Bollini, ran this summer. The events included “an exclusive program of more than 70 performances and an opportunity to enjoy the rides until 4 a.m.,” says Sergio Feder, president of PortAventura.

“For the autumn, we have a themed party based on Munich’s ‘Oktoberfest,’ which will entertain visitors with music and shows until 2 a.m. Also, in recent years, we have had late openings for Halloween,” says Feder.

Feder and his team are seeing a significant impact on Port¬≠Aventura’s business: “There is a special nighttime ticket aavailable; however, most clients prefer to spend all day in the park. The result is a considerable increase in the maximum daily attendance. Late openings are also resulting in a greater number of hotel guests, as they are provided with an extra incentive to stay overnight.”

Accommodation
Chessington World of Adventures sees its safari-themed hotel as a key driver to get guests to stay longer: “The growth of the short-break market has had a positive impact on visitor numbers and spend per head,” says resort spokesperson Tom Jacobs. Visitors staying at the hotel can receive additional benefits including early rider access and animal meet-and-greets. 

At Futuroscope in France, 45 percent of visitors stay two days or more. “For a year we have been offering a three-day visit with the third entrance day just €10 (US$12.50),” says Laure Mosseron, Futuroscope’s marketing and communication director. The park tempts visitors with package deals, she says; these include 10 hotels within walking distance and 10 within driving distance. A nightly laser-light show is included in the entrance ticket. Guests staying two nights or more report higher satisfaction rates, according to Mosseron. Futuroscope is located away from cities, and 85 percent of visitors live beyond two hours’ drive time, so the packages allow people time to enjoy the attractions. “We have really developed our catering and hotel business—more than 40 percent of our turnover is generated through it,” says Mosseron.

Halloween Still Hot
Warwick Castle will undergo a day-to-night transformation this year, as the historic attraction hosts its first Halloween opening (Oct. 27-Nov. 4). “From 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. we’ll be putting a new twist on some areas, working with the dark, the weather, and the eeriness that exists around the castle,” says GM Tim Harrison-Jones. He and his team will be “ramping up the scares” in “The Castle Dungeon” live-action attraction (based on Merlin Entertainments’ Dungeons brand) for the over-10s. It will feature more gruesome characters including a plague doctor and a barber surgeon. Smoke and air-blast effects will add to the atmosphere. Visitors walking through the Warwick’s “Royal Weekend Party” exhibit will encounter a live séance. For younger visitors, the Princess Tower turns into the Witches Tower. A castle driveway becomes the Haunted Hallows, taking guests past carved pumpkins, a graveyard, and a spider’s lair. Roaming characters will enhance the spookiness, while the castle’s trebuchet (giant catapult) will throw fireballs.

“We’re hoping to see the uptake of the post-5 p.m. ticket, which is £10 (US$16) for the castle for adults and children, or £15 (US$24) for the castle and Dungeon,” says Harrison-Jones. He wants to tap into wider audiences, including the after-work and student markets: “It’s about making sure you have something different that guests will want to drive half an hour to see, even if they have visited in the summer.”

For the UK’s Thorpe Park, late openings are as much about increasing guests’ enjoyment as they are about lengthening stays: “We’re always looking at improving the guest experience,” says Kate Godber, Thorpe’s press officer. “Our over-18s ‘Ministry of Sound Ride & Club’ nights began this year, and since June we have hosted a sold-out event every month. Also, we recently held our first ‘Ride & Rave’ event. Our biggest late-night opening success, though, remains our October ‘Fright Nights,’ which is now in its 11th year.” Thorpe Park achieves longer stays without a resort hotel, although it operates a short-break website (www.thorpebreaks.com), which allows visitors to add a hotel stay to park tickets from £6.50 (US$10.50) per person and an extra day at the park for £6 (US$9.50).

Concerts and Dances
Concerts and dance nights are an integral part of business at Gröna Lund. The Swedish climate only allows the park to open from April to September, so “because of our short season, we have to attract more than just the family target group, which is why evening events are crucial,” says Mattias Banker, co-owner of Parks & Resorts Scandinavia. “About 23 percent of our visitors arrive at 6 p.m. or later and 27 percent of the total spending is done between 6 p.m. to midnight.”

Gröna Lund has a reputation for hosting big stars, including Elton John and Lady Gaga on its main stage. This gave the park the confidence to launch a loyalty card for music lovers: “The Gröna Kortet (green card) gives you free admission all season, including concerts and dancing, for only SEK199 (US$30). Last year we sold over 104,000 Gröna Kortet, giving us a turnover for that product alone of about SEK20 million (US$3 million),” says Banker.

Communicating the benefits of the card required patience and the ability to host high-quality concerts, but now “availability and affordability have become our main strength,” says Banker. “If you buy our loyalty card this year you will get 52 concerts and free admission to the theme park all season. With traditional concert venues charging about SEK500 (US$75) per concert, this is an outstanding offer.

“Once you’ve bought the Gröna Kortet, you’re more likely to visit the park spontaneously, since you don’t have to spend money on admission or stand in line at the gates. Also, when it comes to PR, Gröna Lund gets mentioned every week due to a new concert,” he says.

Another revenue source for Gröna Lund is the pentathlon package, mostly used for corporate events. It combines admission, five games vouchers, ride tickets, and food and drinks after 5 p.m. “It gives us guaranteed income, even on rainy days, as you book your package in advance,” says Banker.

During the summer months, ZSL London Zoo hosts “Zoo Lates,” an over-18s event, every Friday evening. “It’s a fantastic way to attract people to the zoo who wouldn’t ordinarily think of the zoo as a place for them. One of the most common responses we receive is how great it is for adults to enjoy being big kids,” says Sarah Barron, ZSL’s events manager. “Our face painters work nonstop and people come in more elaborate animal-inspired costumes every year. We have cabaret, improvised comedy, jazz, funk, and acoustic performances, and a silent disco.

“We build popup bars and host an international street food festival each week. There’s a program of animal talks, feeds, and demonstrations tweaked for the adult audience. The animals are still the stars of the show—they always rate as visitors’ favorite part of ‘Zoo Lates,’” she says.

“Zoo Lates” brings in an extra 60,000 visitors a year, serves as a fundraising tool for ZSL, and encourages repeat visits. “More than 75 percent of our ‘Lates’ visitors say they would visit the zoo during the day,” says Barron.

Operators who want similar results will have to reimagine their day visitor experiences with a new audience in mind, creating a compelling offer for guests that also makes commercial sense. For Barron, late openings are “a great opportunity to showcase what your attraction does and to try new things on a small-scale or a pop-up basis, which may turn out to be good for business in the longer term.” 

Contact Contributing Editor Juliana Gilling at julianagilling@gmail.com.