Wonderla Holidays Limited is one of India’s largest and most popular amusement park operators. The company currently owns and operates three amusement parks in Kochi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and a resort in Bangalore named ‘Wonderla Resort’. Many of its rides are custom-made and imported from reputed international suppliers, making them unique in India. Visited by over 3.5 crores of visitors since 2000 making them the most visited amusement park in India, Wonderla is among the top-ranked amusement parks in India and Asia.
T&E Editor Anirban Dasgupta speaks to Arun K. Chittilappilly, Managing Director, Wonderla Holidays. Arun took the responsibility from his father Kochouseph Chittilappilly and has witnessed the steady growth of the amusement park.
- The global market for Amusement and Theme Parks is estimated at US$54.9 Billion in the year 2022 and is estimated to grow at a very high rate. However, in the Indian context, it is still a rather unconventional vertical in comparison to the other sectors in the tourism industry. When and how did you decide to be associated with this?
In the early days, I had travelled to various parks in India along with my parents and brother. Unfortunately, there were no good parks in India. My father first came up with the idea of launching an ideal amusement park in the late 90s. He did realize that there was no proper ecosystem to build up a world-class amusement park in India. Being a capital- intensive business along with a lot of safety measures involved it has always been a challenging proposition in our country. Even today, most of the equipment is imported. So, he did realize that we needed to build up expertise in the sector and accordingly he spent a lot of time studying the details and planning accordingly. It was not less than five years after that we had our first small park opened at Kochi. Thus, we started with a small park focusing on aspects like safety, cleanliness, and hygiene and with a vision to be the best in the country.
I joined the journey when I was two years old. We all were extremely excited with our stay-up being almost a new concept in the country and yet with lots of potential. So, that was how we started and built up from there.
- Considering the element of uncertainty in mass acceptance and the gap in standard when we compare with the World, one needs to be extremely well-planned and confident to invest in Amusement Parks in India. Your thoughts on this?
Yes, I have mentioned earlier, we did focus on building up on the various expertise, and equipment, expertise, continuing to be updated about what is happening in the industry, trying to learn from the best amusement parks in the world. Unlike running a resort, there are lots of operational movements involved eg. water treatment, maintenance of rides etc. We focussed on the basics since the early days and that has really helped us. The Amusement park industry is very evolving and fast-changing and thus it is important that one needs to be constantly updated.
- When the Hospitality industry seems to be picking up from the ruins of the Covid-related slowdown, what do you think are the possible challenges and prospects of growth for Amusement Parks in India?
COVID was too big a challenge to face and for many to overcome. We were lucky that our finances were pre-planned before COVID itself and because of that, we didn’t really have to struggle to that extent. However, getting people’s confidence back to bring them to the park has been a big challenge for us.
Although things are slowly coming back to normal, in order to bring people back to parks we need to do a lot of marketing initiatives involving customer outreach, discounting tickets, lots of offers and similar activities to stay in the news. The lack of desired external support did not make things easier.
As for the growth prospects, our industry is still at a nascent stage and niche. On the brighter side, things seem to be changing with the State Government realizing the aspects of sustainability of employment, long term employment opportunities with each of the parks can have more than 1000 – 1500 employees. Also, there are no bureaus of Indian standards for the amusement park sector. We follow the European system. As this is a brick-and-mortar kind of business, we need to literally build everything from scratch so those kinds of things tend to be a little harder here than in other countries.
So those challenges will remain but I think overall optimism and in terms of setting up new projects would help us grow from here. After COVID there has definitely been a change in customer preferences in terms of people wanting to go more holidays and more outdoor natural places. Also, there is an upward trend of family vacations, women travellers, etc. which are positive signs for the industry.
- Who is your target audience?
For us, it is mainly Middle class and Upper middle class in Urban and semi-urban demography.
- What are the projects that you are currently working on?
We are working on the expansion plan throughout the country. There is one project in Bhubaneswar in Odisha and one in Chennai. Also, we are looking to expand in tier 1 and tier 2 cities and talking to various state governments on the possibility of partnerships in setting up the parks. Some of the locations which are in the pipeline include Indore (MP), Chandigarh (Punjab), Goa, Maharashtra etc.
- What would be your preferred marketing and media vehicle for communications?
In the present context, the focus is to expand the reach and work on multiple projects based on the location of each park. We are also working on Digital media platforms and customised products based on the spending capacity of the target population.
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