THEME PARK BOSS CALLS IT A 'ROAD TO NOWHERE'

Written on the 13 March 2015 by Jenna Rathbone

THEME PARK BOSS CALLS IT A 'ROAD TO NOWHERE'

YEARLY passes to Dreamworld, WhiteWater World and Skypoint could become more expensive if CEO Craig Davidson has his way, after declaring the heavily-reduced-in-price annual passes are a "road to nowhere".

More than 250,000 Gold Coasters spend just $80 a year to have unlimited access to Ardent Leisure-owned theme parks and, while the Dreamworld boss says yearly passes should always be part of the mix, he says there needs to be price growth in order for the company to continue investing in experiences.

"Yearly passes have changed the playing field and we are still learning and still recovering from the impact of what those passes are," says Davidson.

"Quite simply, annual passes at $80 a year is too cheap when you are trying to reinvest capital and when we have labour costs like we have in Australia and when we have food costs like we have - you just can't sustain that.

"They need to be a win, win - a win for the customer and a win for the business.

"I would like to see day passes drop off a bit in price, but there has to be a corresponding increase in annual passes - you can't keep continuing to deliver products that are deeply, deeply discounted."

Yearly passes currently make up close to 50 per cent of the park's visitation.

In addition to this, a number of new initiatives have been and are set to be put in place following the appointment of Davidson, who has a strong background in tourism including successful appointments at SPHC Hotels and Ayers Rocks Resorts and Hamilton Island.

He says his aim is to keep it customer focused and base decisions on what customers want.

Last year the Gold Coast theme parks opened a number of new rides and slides, but Davidson says the most significant change at Dreamworld was diversifying the offering in food and beverage.

The park is now offering Campos Coffee, a gourmet pizzeria, fresh sandwiches, sushi and salad and plans to open a gourmet burger and beer bar by the end of the year.

"It is about making our food and beverage offering more contemporary and less 'theme parkish' and making it more of a destination for our customer base," he says.

In addition, a retail review is currently occurring which will focus on how the business can work well online with unique merchandise.

"I think we have got lazy and we haven't had that eye for detail; we haven't thought everything has to be perfect, but we are changing and taking that view now," he says.

The business has also invested in technology for queue lines, putting in place televisions to entertain customers who are waiting for rides.

Looking forward, the company continues to focus on international growth and recently launched a seven-day Kiwi holiday pass which has been launched within the travel trade in New Zealand.

"Our largest international market is still New Zealand," says Davidson.

"For us it is about how do we appeal to them and how can we get them to our park, and that is about being active in their market and putting products in front of them."

The other market that is proving successful is the Chinese, who are flocking to the Gold Coast to take advantage of the offerings of the collaboration of Skypoint and Dreamworld Corroboree - an interactive walk-through experience celebrating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and wildlife.

"Again, we have good on-the-ground sales activity through an agency rep in China and that is giving us good market penetration," says Davidson.

According to first-half earnings report for FY15, Ardent Leisure attracted an extra 100,000 visitors to its Gold Coast operations in the six months ending December 31.

As a whole, Ardent Leisure theme parks drew 1.17 million visitors in the December half, up 10 per cent from 1.064 million a year earlier.  Spending per capita fell to $46.49 from $52.37 during the same corresponding period, leading to a 1.8 per cent fall in total revenue to $54.78 million.

SkyPoint Observation Deck also continued to perform well, with attendances driven by increased tourist traffic, growth in events and climb revenue.


Author: Jenna Rathbone
About: Jenna Rathbone is a Queensland-based journalist who writes on a range of issues including business and property affairs and social issues.
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