Exploring Terrific Thailand and its Thriving Attractions
A river forms in an instant on stage. A dozen performers—angels in brightly-colored, ornate costumes and traditional Chada crowns—fly effortlessly through the sky. The production at Siam Niramit Phuket, which recounts 700 years of Thai history, culture, and beliefs in an entertaining 80-minute show, is stunning.
The stage is one of the largest in the world. Ten meters high, 40 meters deep and with a width of 65 meters, it encompasses the audience. The set is also gigantic. More than 100 pieces, each based on real paintings, architecture, and temples, are moved seamlessly on and off stage, thanks to a 150-person crew that only Broadway could dream of hiring.
“I can claim that this is one of the best shows in the world,” says Pannin Kitiparaporn, the chief executive of Siam Niramit Phuket.
Kitiparaporn, who served as an IAAPA director in 1976 while she was running the newly opened Magic Land amusement park, is not prone to boasting. Magic Land has since closed, but Kitiparaporn owns another amusement park outside Bangkok named Dream World, as well as a chain of 150 family entertainment centers.
"I've made like a million mistakes, maybe more,” she reflects, “but the amusement park taught me a lot about entertainment. It has given me that gut feeling of what people would like.”
Pannin says staging, special effects, and a storyline showcasing the beauty of Thai culture are among the reasons why Siam Niramit Phuket is popular with foreign visitors. Yet, she explains ensuring that the show is entertaining and “hits the heart of the audience” are perhaps most important when meeting guest expectations.
Pannin spent an additional ten months editing the show to create a product that visitors would like. There’s no question that travelers to the popular resort island of Phuket are enjoying Siam Niramit’s magic. Ticket sales are solid and online reviews are overwhelmingly positive.
Kitiparaporn’s first venture into theater attractions did not fare as well. On opening night in Bangkok in 2005, only 60 people bought tickets to attend the show representing a US$75 million investment. While attendance improved and Siam Niramit Bangkok survived for 15 years, COVID-related losses forced its closure.
Before the pandemic transformed travel patterns, about 40 million people visited Thailand every year, making the nation one of the most popular Asia-Pacific travel destinations outside China. During the first half of 2023, only 11 million people traveled to the ‘Land of Smiles.’ Industry experts say it will likely take until 2025 for Thailand’s tourist industry to fully rebound.
Ticket sales at several parks interviewed by Funworld have also yet to regain their pre-COVID-19 levels. At Vana Nava Water Park, in the coastal town of Hua Hin about three hours southwest of Bangkok, weekend attendance is only about one-third that of pre-pandemic times. Siam Amazing Park, located about 50 kilometers north of the capital, is expecting 600,000 visitors in 2023, down from more than a million people prior to the pandemic.
Lower visitation does not always mean lower revenue or profits. Vana Nava reports relatively stable turnover, thanks to more team building and group sales. Its sister park, Andamanda Phuket, which launched 18 months ago, has added night events to its calendar.
Outside Pattaya at Ramayana Water Park, which has cut back to six days a week of operation instead of seven to save on labor costs, annual sales are expected to rise 8-10% this year to US$8.5 million, thanks to higher ticket prices and more in-park spending.
Adapting to Challenges
Attractions operators were forced to adjust their businesses in other ways too. In 2019, Wuthichai Luangamornlert began construction on an ambitious tourist attraction called Bangkok World, located on the grounds of Siam Amazing Park. The initial concept was to offer visitors a taste of many of the city’s best attractions in one place. There would be handicrafts, food, a floating market, and more.
“We wanted to help small entrepreneurs who are unable to find a suitable marketplace,” explains Wuthichai, 2024 IAAPA Chairman and the second-generation owner of Siam Amazing Park. “We have 1-2 million people coming through our gates every year, so we thought we could build and rent retail space, at a reasonable price, and they could sell their products to our customers.”
The launch of Bangkok World was designed to solve another challenge as well: seasonal attendance. Siam Amazing Park is open year-round, but locals tend to visit during school holidays and on weekends. By building a tourist attraction, the park could expand its target market and create a steady inflow of visitors.
The effects of COVID-19 led Wuthichai to pivot, at least partially. He converted one of the buildings into a convention center, and he is marketing the facility to exhibition and event organizers in Thailand and overseas.
Meeting Market Needs
The Thai attractions industry is dominated by water parks and family entertainment centers. Dream World and Siam Amazing Park are among the few traditional amusement parks in the country.
The most obvious explanations for this trend are the weather and economy. Most investors believe amusement parks are too expensive for the Thai market, where the average per capita income in Thailand is about US$7,500. Water parks and indoor attractions are not only less expensive to build, they are also well-suited to Thailand’s climate, providing locals and tourists alike the opportunity to cool off on a hot day.
Culture may also play a role. At Ramayana Water Park, one of the most popular attractions is the River Slide, a tube slide that connects to a lazy river.
“It is a natural, easy ride in the middle of the park, something that you can go on with young kids,” says Ramayana Water Park CEO Andrea Galeazzi. “It’s a very quiet ride, yet there is a long queue. It's incredible. Thai people just want to enjoy. They are a little bit scared about going on something more extreme. They are not in love with adrenaline rides.”
Thailand’s attractions industry is largely segmented into two target markets: locals and international visitors—though the lines have blurred over the past few years. The choice of which group to target dictates decisions about content, branding, and pricing.
Consider the food options at Vana Nava and Andamanda water parks, both of which are owned by Proud Group Real Estate. Vana Nava’s guests are largely local weekenders from Bangkok. Andamanda, on the other hand, attracts an international crowd composed of visitors from Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Australia.
“Thailand has some of the most amazing food, for the best cost, at street vendors. So, at Vana Nava, we've really kind of catered to that. Instead of having sit-down restaurants or offering the typical hotdogs and hamburgers, we have a lot of smaller kiosks, with dishes like grilled pork on a stick with sticky rice,” explains Lois Robbins, who served as the company’s director of operations until a few months ago, when she moved to Dubai to take up a new post.
At Andamanda, the food and beverage offerings are more international—halal chicken wraps, breaded chicken cutlets, pizza, and Haagen Daaz. Donuts, popsicles, and other snacks themed to look like the park’s mascots are also popular.
Andamanda has also successfully vanquished single-use plastic—a difficult feat to achieve in a market where buying plastic water bottles and drinking with straws is common. The attraction now distributes rice-made straws, which hold up well in both hot and cold temperatures, as well as stations that offer refillable water bottles.
Andamanda’s mascots—the underwater blue dragon deity Nagon; the Muay Thai hero Chaiya; the beautiful Kinnaree, Nora—are all steeped in Thai mythology. There is a strong element of being ‘proudly Thai’ in almost every park in Thailand, both in front and behind the scenes. The show at Siam Niramit Phuket, for example, was developed almost entirely in-house.
“To do a big stage production, usually you need to bring in specialists from foreign countries,” notes Pannin. “I am proud that our whole team is Thai.”
While international flights and tourist numbers have yet to return to their pre-pandemic levels, several parks are still expanding. At Ramayana, a 35-million-baht zone with body slides, a 3-meter-deep landing pool, hanging wall, wiggle bridge, and cliff diving tower is scheduled to launch in time for Songkran, the Thai New Year holidays in April 2024. The park also opened a new $240,000 kiddie play area in October with slides for children aged 5 and below.
“We need to have more excitement for our guests. Competition in Thailand is high,” says Ramayana Water Park CEO Andrea Galeazzi. “To be a leader in the market, we have to always invest to ensure that guests keep coming back.”
Other attractions are expanding as well. Vana Nava is building condos next to the park and upgrading its lazy river. San Francisco-based Ballast has also enhanced Vana Nava’s virtual reality Master Blaster. While existing parks are expanding, the Thai attractions landscape may not currently be ready for new parks.
“I receive a lot of requests from friends who want to add an attraction to a shopping mall, hotel, or property development,” notes Wuthichai. “As the housing and retail markets grow, you will see a lot more attractions. I don’t foresee many new standalone attractions, though.”