Friday, October 31, 2008

Ode to Joy: The State of the European Attractions Industry

What's this? Even more info from EAS? This is not a trick, it's pure treat. The annual "Ode to Joy" seminar is a highlight of any EAS, and this year's version gave volumes of great information, which I will attempt to distill into a few bites below. David Camp of ERA hosted this year's session, which featured Richard Golding, CEO of Parques Reunidos, and Roland Mack, managing director of Europa-Park. Here's some of what was discussed:

How was your 2008?
Continuing a trend that I've been so pleased to hear from many corners of the industry, both Golding and Mack said their organizations had good years, despite worldwide economic turmoil. Mack said Europa-Park overcame a dreary Easter holiday with the park's best-ever July/August. Golding said Reunidos properties in the U.S. were up 25 percent, and Europe was up like-for-like 16 percent.

What about 2009?
Mack probably summed it up best: "We have quite strange times at the moment. … It's an unsure situation." He was talking specifically of Germany's political situation, but could have been speaking for everybody, I'm guessing. He returned to the theme of 2008, though, saying he feels Europa-Park—and the industry at large—handles downturns in the economy because people still make time for short-break vacations. "I'm optimistic," Mack said. "You can't put your head in the sand. There's always opportunity."

What's your view on gate price vs. attendance?

"Our driver is maximization of cash flow," Golding said. "It's a wrong kind of reaction to lower prices." He said, instead, parks need to make the case for why their experiences are worth the money being asked at the gate. Mack said Europa-Park sets what he feels is a fair gate price, so he doesn't offer discounts.

How do your companies utilize the Internet?
Golding and Mack said the Internet is only just now becoming more important in Europe among potential guests, so they use online marketing in moderation. They both said capturing guests' e-mail addresses is crucial so their facilities can use specially targeted marketing materials. Golding said he offers online discounts on items such as food, but not the gate.

What are your thoughts on how park developments in the Middle East will affect the industry in Europe?
Golding said the industry will be exposed to more people than ever before and will create new park fans, which is good for everyone. "I think it will add, rather than subtract" from the European business, he said.

Mack—again, "always optimistic"—agreed. He feels the spotlight on the Middle East will help draw attention to the entire industry: "If you have good parks and do good business, everybody's happy."

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