Heart and Soul: A Conversation with Wuthichai Luangamornlert
Ask Wuthichai Luangamornlert to describe his family’s theme park in Bangkok and his eyes grow wide with excitement and pride.
“It’s one of the best parks that I’ve seen,” Luangamornlert says of Siam Amazing Park.
“It has a soul within itself,” he says of the 118-acre property located in the Khan Na Yao district of Bangkok near Suvarnabhumi Airport.
Like the mission of the amusement park his father created, Luangamornlert has one goal as IAAPA chairman: “I want to bring people closer together,” he tells Funworld.
With a last name stretching 14 letters, Luangamornlert is often called Wuthi (pronounced “Woo-tee”) by friends in the industry. He believes in volunteering, becoming vested in the industry, and the value of tourism and travel.
At IAAPA Expo 2023 in Orlando, he will begin his one-year term as IAAPA chairman of the board. The event in Orlando will serve as a pilgrimage for Luangamornlert, who first attended IAAPA Expo in 1986 at age 10 alongside his father. His upbringing in the industry leaves Luangamornlert poised to take on the role.
Luangamornlert is quick to give his father, Chaiwat Luangamornlert, credit for creation of Siam Amazing Park and growing the attraction into one of Thailand’s largest theme parks.
“I think he loves the park more than anything else in the world. You can see his dreams and desires in the park,” Wuthichai says of his father. He affectionately speaks of the 84-year-old’s drive, self-confidence, and success.
“He grew up from nothing, penniless basically, and built himself into what he is today,” Wuthichai says.
Wuthichai maintains that his father is still at the helm of the family-owned company. Chaiwat first invested in breeding and marketing freshwater fish, before entering the real estate business in Thailand.
“Once he had the dream of building a park, he forewent those businesses to focus on the park,” Wuthichai says. Chaiwat opened Siam Amazing Park in November 1980. Throughout the years, the park introduced several innovations to southeast Asia, including one of the first suspended looping coasters (with five inversions), a 13,600-square-meter wave pool, and seven-story-tall water slides.
The Family Business
The Luangamornlert family owns and operates their theme park as a family business. Collectively, they own 97% of their resort, with the remaining percentage owned by legacy investors. Wuthichai explains that by law in the 1980s, when the park opened, seven additional people needed to serve as advisors of the company.
The family respects Chaiwat as their leader and will present information and research to him before he renders a decision on capital improvements.
“We have to trust that decision making,” Wuthichai says. “Different families will have a different approach, a different way of doing things.”
That approach includes making mistakes and learning from them as a family unit—and not placing blame. One mistake Wuthichai feels other leaders can learn from procrastination in making a decision.
Using his own experience, he says attraction leaders need to be balanced: they cannot become too complacent, but also need to listen and not become too decisive.
Rolling Up His Sleeves
On big attendance days while growing up, Wuthichai remembers being sent out into the park to help.
“It was fun. But then, as I got older, it was not fun anymore,” he says with a laugh. He recalls feeling there were “too many cooks in the kitchen” inside certain revenue locations. The situation allowed him to generate a theory on balancing staffing levels. “It’s nice to be helpful, but you have to be efficient as well,” he says, adding when employees are stepping over each other, it reduces efficiency.
He came back to the family business at age 23 after time away. Upon his return, he had no proper role or defined responsibilities, rather a title: assistant managing director. “It was quite frustrating and difficult because I was not given exact responsibilities, rather I was told, ‘Just do what you think is right.’ And that is difficult,” he says.
While his father trusted him, Wuthichai says he still needed dad’s approval before taking action at 23 years old.
Rooted in IAAPA
Before Wuthichai was a teenager, he was roaming the IAAPA Expo trade show floor in Florida with Chaiwat. At age 10, he first saw how Siam Amazing Park connected with its vendors and suppliers.
“It was fun. I knew fewer people then, so I was able to participate in giveaways and go on all the rides across the show floor,” he remembers. He also recalls scouting for free popcorn and cups of complimentary soda. “I didn’t want it to end!” he says with a laugh.
The 1986 Expo was just the beginning. His volunteer service with IAAPA began when a member in IAAPA’s Asia-Pacific region extended an invitation to Wuthichai to join a committee. Since then, taking part in the Asia Pacific Advisory Committee, governance committee, Asia-Pacific education subcommittee, relocation task force, water park committee, and joining the IAAPA Board of Directors have prepared him for the role as chairman.
In addition, Wuthichai has also served as the president of the Thai Amusement and Leisure Park Association, hosted the 2015 IAAPA Safety Institute in Bangkok, and aided in the creation of the Thai Safety Standard for Amusement Rides (Ministerial Regulation on Amusement Ride Control). He applied for the position of IAAPA second vice chair in 2021. “Luckily, they felt like I was a suitable candidate,” he says with a laugh.
With a record of dedicated service to IAAPA, Wuthichai says “when I see second and third generation of owners, I ask them to volunteer [for a committee].” He also feels excited when a second or third generation attractions employee comes to him and asks for his advice.
The Luangamornlert family and the Thompson family—storied owners of Blackpool Pleasure Beach in the United Kingdom—became friends several decades ago.
Amanda Thompson, OBE, CEO of the Blackpool Pleasure Beach group of companies, who produced ice skating shows for Siam Amazing Park, tells Funworld she is excited for Wuthichai and what his chairmanship represents to IAAPA members around the world.
“It is so important that IAAPA has true global representation, and it is very valuable for the association to celebrate international chairmen from all the regions of the association,” Thompson says.
Wuthichai’s chairmanship will initiate three years in a row of international chairmen for IAAPA, with Massimiliano Freddi, founder of the pair of Wonderwood attractions in Italy, assuming the role in 2025, and Luciana Periales, CEO of Neverland Park in Argentina, becoming chair in 2026.
“I think this brings a true feeling of globalization,” Thompson says. “We can clearly take global issues, share, and resolve challenges within important areas such as safety, security, and sustainability.”
The Value of Family and Volunteerism
Wuthichai believes in a strong family unit. He and his wife, Vorapan, have been married for 24 years. “She is the one who gave me the peace of mind to go for it and become chairman. You can’t do this without trust,” he says of Vorapan’s support.
The couple have a son (23) and daughter (20). And while Wuthichai would like them to be involved in the family business, he’s cautious on timing.
“I’ve kept them out. I want them to go out and learn something else first,” Wuthichai says, adding he would like them to develop skills outside the business, before bringing that knowledge home.
Simultaneously, he believes IAAPA offers its members the opportunity to grow their own career through participation on committees, webinars, and at EDUSessions at IAAPA Expos.
“If you stay where you are, you will only focus on your business, KPIs (key performance indicators), profits, and the return on investment. And business is important—don’t underestimate that. But once you’re in this community, and you share it with your friends, and you share of yourself, the industry grows,” he concludes.
Funworld sat down with 2024 IAAPA Chairman of the Board Wuthichai Luangamornlert at IAAPA Expo Asia 2023 in Singapore for a one-on-one interview where he shared his leadership approach, investments, and perspective on the industry.
What was your father’s best piece of advice to you?
Keep dreaming…and dream big. He always accused me of not dreaming big enough. He basically grew up from nothing, and he built himself into what he is today.
What type of leader are you?
I am a bit less aggressive. A lot will say in some way, I am aggressive, but compared to my dad, I am less aggressive. I think I allow people more freedom to do more things. I will let go. I always give trust to them. I give them goals and let them do things. [The outcome] may be good; it may be bad. But we’ll talk about it later.
What is the best investment you made at Siam Amazing Park that provided a great return?
One day we found an advertisement for equipment in Brunei. So we went and bought plenty of rides—about 16 rides. A majority of them were still operational, so we sat on them. We bought in bulk, brought them back to our park, and installed them. That transformed us from a majority water park into an amusement park with a water park.
What do you perceive as some of the greatest threats to our industry?
Not to become too profit-driven and not deliver the feeling of happiness to the consumer. Sometimes our guests are spending too much time in line. Can you imagine spending three or four hours queuing up? That is not a nice experience. I hope that operators and owners of attractions will give way to happiness and put a smile on the consumer’s face.
What do you want people to remember about your year as chairman?
This association is not mine. It’s not one single person’s. I want to be the one that hopefully can bring people together and attract more talent from the Asian side to join and volunteer IAAPA. And I hope that one day, people in IAAPA and friends in the industry will look back at my tenure as chairman and say, ‘Well, this guy is not half bad!’”