How could Merlin make the two Southern Resort Theme Parks (Thorpe & Chessington) coexist in harmony?

Discussion in 'European Parks and Attractions' started by Matt N, 23rd Nov 2021.

  1. Matt N

    Matt N TowersStreet Member

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    Hi guys. Since Tussauds' purchase of Thorpe Park in 1998, Chessington & Thorpe Park, two of the UK's largest theme parks, have operated under the same corporate umbrella (Tussauds from 1998 through to 2007, Merlin since 2007) within very little distance of each other; both parks serve the London area, and they are only a very short drive away from each other.

    Tussauds' initial reasoning for purchasing Thorpe Park was in order to eliminate Chessington's closest competition within the South (Thorpe was a family park to the same, if not a greater, extent than Chessington at the time, and as John Wardley put it, Tussauds' mentality was one of "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em"). While acquiring Thorpe did clear this particular roadblock for Tussauds in the short term, I believe it created them a rather different dilemma to grapple with in the long term; both Tussauds and Merlin seem to have had real trouble getting the two parks to coexist happily alongside one another.

    Now given that both have operated alongside one another within Tussauds/Merlin for 23 years, that might seem like an odd thing to say. But what I mean is; whenever one park in the duo succeeds from a business perspective, it seems to have the unwanted side effect of sending the other into a downward spiral.

    For evidence of what I mean, let me cite the UK Merlin park attendance graph shown during the Project Amazon consultation:
    [​IMG]
    (For reference, Chessington is the blue line and Thorpe Park is the red line; if you want a clearer image of this graph, here's a link to another thread on TowersStreet: https://towersstreet.com/talk/threads/uk-merlin-park-guest-figures-through-the-years.5778/)

    If we take a look at this graph between 1998 and the present day (well, 2020), I think it unveils some extremely interesting trends, and implies that a rather odd dynamic is at play among Merlin's southern RTPs.

    For instance, the first period where Thorpe's attendance really skyrockets on the chart is 2001/2002... which is exactly where Chessington's attendance starts to sharply decline. By the Merlin buyout in 2007, both parks had gone in vastly opposite directions attendance-wise, with Chessington having dropped right down to 1 million flat (from a solid 1.5-2 million prior to this period and very close to 2 million in the late 90s) and Thorpe having skyrocketed to nearly 2 million (from slightly below 1 million prior to this period).

    However, the tables began to turn in the late 2000s and early 2010s. Chessington's attendance began to steadily rise again during this period... while Thorpe's substantial growth began to level off and eventually turn back to decline. By 2019, Chessington was on an upward trajectory and had offset the losses of the 2000s entirely, reaching an attendance level of slightly above 1.5 million; this is roughly on par with 2000, the year prior to this cycle starting. Thorpe, on the other hand, was on a downward trajectory and had offset the bulk of what they gained during the 2000s; 2019 attendance was 1.5 million or a touch below, which is around on par with 2002, one of the very first years of the cycle. Chessington actually overtook Thorpe Park again in 2019, for the first time since the cycle began in 2001/2002.

    I don't know about you, but I personally think that this shows that a vicious cycle is at play within Merlin's two London area Resort Theme Parks; whenever one park prospers, it seems to be at the expense of the other. While Thorpe initially prospered in the 2000s, Chessington really struggled. While Chessington prospered in the 2010s, Thorpe really struggled. The two parks seem to cannibalise each other's attendance to an extent, and I can't think of any other situation in the world quite like it (in the sphere of theme parks, at least).

    So my question to you today is; can you think of any ways that Merlin could make this duo of parks coexist happily, and kick the cycle of attendance cannibalisation to the curb? Are there any other similarly situated groups of parks that have made it work? Why did this cycle begin in the first place?

    I'll admit I'm struggling to think of things myself, so I'd be really intrigued to hear some of your thoughts.
     
    Last edited: 23rd Nov 2021
    Posted 23rd Nov 2021
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  2. Jb85

    Jb85 TowersStreet Member

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    They need to target different audiences, which to a certain extent they already do

    personally I feel Chessington is the better theme park - and Thorpe is an amusement park. Market it as such then you’ll be fine. The issues is when both parks target the same audience.
     
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    Posted 24th Nov 2021
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  3. Themeparksandy1981

    Themeparksandy1981 TowersStreet Member

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    I don’t know what it is with Chessington but I not been since 2008 it could be the distance from Birmingham and they added new attractions since but nothing to make me even collect the tokens for the sun free tickets.
    I not been to Thorpe park since 2011 but that’s been down to waiting to my daughter hits the 1.4m height but even they only added 1 coaster, 1 dark ride, Many failed IP attractions and some 2nd hand kids rides.
    Think in 2023 will do a weekend away to both and will judge them both again.
     
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    Posted 24th Nov 2021
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  4. jon81uk

    jon81uk TowersStreet Member

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    I don't think there is an issue with the parks "co-existing". Just that they don't invest often enough in Chessington so when they do it gets a big increase that the park then can't cope with.
    Whereas Thorpe just isn't operated well and makes too many changes too often. They just need to market to families with kids over 11 and cut back a little on some of the more adult stuff like walking dead.
     
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    Posted 24th Nov 2021
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  5. Benjsh

    Benjsh TowersStreet Member

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    Merlin have been too busy building midways and Lego parks and have totally neglected these staple parks in their group. It's a shame to see really.

    Thorpe Park is a small park as we know but so is Phatasialand in Germany. Look at the gulf in quality between the two parks. It's night and day.
     
    Posted 24th Nov 2021
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  6. JAperson

    JAperson TowersStreet Member

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    Well that saved me writing my reply. Thanks @jon81uk basically what I was going to write. Thorpe have some serious issue's be really just need to stick to what they are and Chessington should be improving capacity and working to make the park as family friendly as possible. That doesn't mean they can't have thrill rides either as they should be able to cater to the whole family. In the same way Thorpe should have a few kids rides for the same reasons. Realistically, Merlin wants guests to visit both so making them focus on different area's while having something to do for all ages makes perfect sense for me.
     
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    Posted 24th Nov 2021
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  7. Jb85

    Jb85 TowersStreet Member

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    I think attitude may have changed now with the Merlin takeover but I actually see Chessington getting the most investment in the coming years. For me the park is well designed, in terms of layout not hardware, is more appealing to a larger proportion of the population due to having more varied rides, and is easier to get to (just) for the majority of people.

    a few solid family investments / refurbs and maybe 1 / 2 family thrill rides and they’ll be back on the map. It would not shock me if the £50m investment rumours are true. I’d love to see it become a valid alternative to Alton again like it once was.

    As for Thorpe, there is so much wrong with the place, where do we start?

    everything is set up for 16-25 year olds in my opinion. Not only will they need to change the ride hardware significantly to make it a family day out, they’ll need to change the parks cultural image.

    on that basis, yes the parks can coexist as they are totally different beasts
     
    Posted 24th Nov 2021
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  8. Benjsh

    Benjsh TowersStreet Member

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    It's a park aimed at families and that's where the money is right now in the UK Theme park industry. IP's and family attractions. Investing in Chessington makes a lot of sense.

    With Thorpe, even if they build a Mack or B&M hyper in 2024, you just have a feeling that the park will still not be economically sound. Us enthusiasts will go and be very happy with it but I doubt the attendance record will shift too much. Doesn't feel like they know what to do with Thorpe Park.
     
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    Posted 24th Nov 2021
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  9. Jb85

    Jb85 TowersStreet Member

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    Totally agree with your post here. Alton gets the customers due to prior investment - Chessington could match AT attendance wise over the next few years with some good solid investments
    I do think they need a thrill ride / coaster though if they are going to go for the all round family market

    With Thorpe - of any park is going to be disposed of from the group, I suspect that will be the one. You needs masses of investment to make it an all round park- it’s not economically viable
     
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    Posted 24th Nov 2021
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  10. jon81uk

    jon81uk TowersStreet Member

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    I don't think Thorpe need to change hardware significantly an 11 year old child should be 1.4 and can therefore ride everything if they want to. They just need to stop with the horror themes as much.
    The next big investment definitely does need a 1.2m restriction to open up the park better to older families, but they should be fine concentrating on over 10s. Its more that they need to add more non-inverting attractions instead of removing existing ones. Although changing Walking Dead back to X would help.
     
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  11. John_P

    John_P TowersStreet Member

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    It's always surprised me they don't sell packages, say 1 day at Chessington, 1 day at Thorpe with a hotel stay (either on site or a partner hotel).
     
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  12. Thameslink Rail

    Thameslink Rail TowersStreet Member

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    Why don't they stretch it to a three day package adding Legoland, perhaps start running shuttle buses between the three parks?
     
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  13. JAperson

    JAperson TowersStreet Member

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    I suppose originally the Merlin pass was cheap enough to just do the two parks and that effectively be a 2 park ticket. Now with the increase in price I agree there should be a Thorpe + Chessington ticket marketed heavily on each parks website. It makes a lot of sense as both the young and the old of the family get a day out that suites them.
     
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  14. John_P

    John_P TowersStreet Member

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    Legoland doesn't need the extra custom or discounted tickets to get people in.
     
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  15. jon81uk

    jon81uk TowersStreet Member

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    Because they aim the two parks at different audiences.
    Thorpe is aimed at families where most children are over 11 and adults.
    Chessington is more for families with children under 10.

    Offering a combined ticket is pointless when the two parks have very different ride selections and don't have a huge overlap.
    Although in a sense the Merlin annual pass is the combined ticket for those who do want to do both.
     
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  16. pluk

    pluk TowersStreet Member

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    The three parks each need something for everyone but with a distinct primary target audience, making multi centre visits worthwhile for whole families.

    They currently seem to want to actively alienate anyone who isn't their core target.
     
  17. Benjsh

    Benjsh TowersStreet Member

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    I think if somebody made them a reasonable offer to buy Thorpe, they'd bite their hands off. That's not really a good endorsement of them is it and how they feel about the park?
     
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  18. Thameslink Rail

    Thameslink Rail TowersStreet Member

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    I would like to see the three of them operate like a Disney/Universal resort in that the parks are separated by their theme rather than by age group.
    Chessington is the animal park, it could do with some investment on the family thrill side as Vampire and Rattlesnake are showing their age but adding a new coaster should help.
    Thorpe is the party park, with a bit of work on the family line-up and security (and if they stop buying horror IPs), it could be an amusement park with a fun atmosphere.
    Legoland of course sells itself and has had a lot of investment recently so probably needs the least work.
    If they took those three parks and made them into a package holiday with a day at each of the parks, two nights in one of the five hotels and transport between the parks then they could have themselves a good deal.
     
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  19. Skyscraper

    Skyscraper TowersStreet Member

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    Fixed it for you ;):p
     
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  20. Matt.GC

    Matt.GC TowersStreet Member

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    I think strategising too much for coexistence is the actual problem. Heavily targeting thrill and scares whilst almost completely alienating the family market is just stupid. How many times do Thorpe keep doing the same thing expecting a different result? They can build all the B&M hypers they want but they'll always get a poor ROI when they have a park that's downright uncomfortable for even older families to visit.

    Meanwhile, at Chessington, no matter how much low capacity hell they unleash on guests - they can knock up any low throughput tat and people still come back for more. The low visitation numbers a decade ago seem like they were a direct result of neglect more than anything else and I think they have very little to do with Thorpe.

    That tells me that they can easily coexist, especially on the edge of a city of 8 million people. It's the coexistence strategy that's the issue. Chessington and LLW are a stone's throw away from eachother and you don't see much cabalistic activity between the 2 there.
     
    Last edited: 24th Nov 2021
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