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. Thameslink Rail

    Thameslink Rail TowersStreet Member

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    Whilst Horror works for the odd attraction (particularly during fright nights), you cannot build a park on it without alienating a lot of people.
     
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  2. Skyscraper

    Skyscraper TowersStreet Member

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    Indeed, as not everyone likes horror themes.
     
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  3. AT86

    AT86 TowersStreet Member

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    The bigger horror at Thorpe Park is the clientele and their behaviour. I wouldn’t be surprised if it has put off a lot of repeat visits over the years. That is a harder problem to overcome than sticking in a new coaster.
     
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  4. Matt N

    Matt N TowersStreet Member

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    I’d argue that Legoland is a rather different proposition to Chessington, what with the IP. I’d also argue that Legoland is aimed at a slightly younger demographic than Chessington (although I’m admittedly not sure based on some of their recent investments being a bit more thrilling).

    With regard to Thorpe; why couldn’t the construction of a big new coaster give them a real boost? Yes, it wouldn’t instantaneously solve all of their problems, but I certainly think it could set the wheels in motion to solve some of them if it were a success; while the ride itself would likely be a more thrilling ride based on rumours, it could have some family rides built alongside it, and if the new installation made Thorpe a fair amount of money, then that could give Merlin a greater incentive to invest into it.

    As for whether or not a new Thorpe coaster would be a success; I don’t think that one would necessarily be as doomed to fail as some make out, personally. Saw still succeeded even though the park was much the same as it is now in 2009. Ditto with Stealth. Colossus & Inferno are admittedly a bit more of a grey area, as the park was still right at the start of its “thrilling up” stage at that point, but my point is; as much as many don’t like the way things are, I don’t think Thorpe being like it is now would be enough to prevent a new coaster from being a success on its own. Rightly or wrongly, the park is one of the most well-known and revered parks in the UK, and I think that an attention-grabbing new thrill ride would get people flocking back there.
     
    Last edited: 24th Nov 2021
  5. Matt.GC

    Matt.GC TowersStreet Member

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    Lego does generally have a slightly younger target audience than Chessington, true, but there's far more crossover between the 2 than there is with Thorpe. Far more. The Lego IP is irrelevant to this, they're both family parks, one of them has a bigger IP draw than the other but then it's pretty much down to which one you prefer after that. The decision to choose between a day trip to Chessington or LLW is not as different as choosing between whether to go to either OR Thorpe. So if there is cannibalisation going on, it'll be more between Chessington and LL I would have thought.

    I didn't say a coaster wouldn't give Thorpe a boost. It enevitably will. I was specifically talking about ROI. Spend £15 - £20m on yet another thrill ride (maybe even horror themes knowing them), will you get enough back from that? I'd say no.

    Thorpes problems aren't routed in hardware as much as they are in branding, theming, atmosphere and many other things that I won't repeat as it's been discussed to death. Ask yourself if a big expensive new thrill coaster and not addressing any of the other issues will change the Yobbos with little cash/family unit with big credit cards ratio. If the answer is no, then I don't see it getting a good ROI and ending up as a Swarm situation. Remember that guest numbers increasing doesn't always make a new investment a success.
     
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  6. Matt N

    Matt N TowersStreet Member

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    Fair points, and some that I'll admit I hadn't thought of. Chessington and Legoland are more similar than I sometimes think; I guess the IP and the style of park that LLW is makes me categorise it differently to the others in Britain. So with their similarities, I guess you'd expect more cannibalisation to be going on than there is.

    I only cite guest figures because that is the key metric that Merlin always uses to determine attraction success. They put a lot of onus on guest figures in terms of determining whether things are a success or not (for instance, I remember seeing a mood board for Swarm saying that to be successful, it would have to increase attendance by 120,000), so I was trying to think of it from Merlin's perspective.

    In terms of ROI; larger guest figures would also likely result in larger revenue to a certain extent, as even if spend per guest is limited, revenue would increase simply due to there being a greater amount of guests. Other things to do with a new coaster could also contribute to upping ROI. For instance, if the new ride had a good enough brand image and marketing campaign, then I think it could get very high merchandise sales; you only have to look at the amount of people wearing Smiler & Wicker Man shirts, hoodies and other merchandise around Alton Towers to see how a strong brand image can really generate a lot of merchandise money, therefore if a new Thorpe ride had a strong brand generated through effective marketing (and perhaps something like a UK record wouldn't hurt), then I think it could increase spend per guest, which would also contribute to ROI.

    I dare say that a new coaster could also stimulate repeat visits if it were well-liked enough; a great crowd-pleaser of an attraction could really encourage people to return, and maybe bring their friends with them to see the attraction for themselves. And surely repeat visits, as well as visits spurred by word of mouth surrounding an attraction, can only equal greater ROI for Merlin?

    My basic point is; I agree that a new coaster wouldn't solve all of Thorpe's problems. It would be unfair to expect one attraction to do that on its own, as I think changing some of the things you've talked about would be a slow, steady process that would take quite a few years as opposed to something that could be solved in one hit.

    However, a new coaster could reinvigorate interest in the park and get more people visiting, which will be the key to setting the wheels in motion for some of the problems you cite to be solved. If a coaster were to be a big success and bring in loads of new guests, then that would give Merlin an incentive to invest more into rounding out the experience and solving some of Thorpe's other problems in order to keep these newly gained guests returning and to perhaps try and attract even more new guests. At very least, it would go some way towards making Thorpe more profitable and more successful, which would surely unlock a greater budget for making change in other areas.

    Do you get where I'm coming from? If you want me to clarify anything, just ask, and if I'm annoying you; I apologise, and I'll stop immediately.
     
    Last edited: 24th Nov 2021
  7. pluk

    pluk TowersStreet Member

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    If, and it still is a big if, this is going to take the UK height record that really is the sort of thing that will drive huge numbers of visitors to the park, from all walks of life and from all demographics. Mums and Dads will want to ride and family days out will happen.

    At the moment the park is not suitable for that sort of attention. It isn't the new ride as a standalone attraction that'd keep people coming back, its the day as a whole. You attract all and sundry to the park as it is and all you do is give them a reason never to return again.
     
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  8. Matt N

    Matt N TowersStreet Member

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    That's a very fair point (I know that big, successful new coasters can sometimes have that effect if they attract too many crowds; for instance, 1995 at Towers was much less attended than 1994, and 2011 was much less attended than 2010), but what I was getting at is; if a new coaster was a big success, surely the extra money and renewed momentum could be the catalyst for development of the wider park in order to solve the smaller problems?

    I do think a crowd-pleasing coaster could stimulate repeat visits and visits spurred by word of mouth, though; for instance, Wicker Man was a big crowd pleaser, and raised visitor numbers at Alton Towers by a lot (it could be said that it almost single-handedly made people forget 2015), but it clearly kept people coming back to at least a certain degree, and word of mouth may have had an effect too, as attendance only rose further in 2019 in spite of many on here having large-scale bugbears with Alton's overall experience in 2018 similar to those being raised in this thread (and also in spite of there not being tons in terms of marketable new additions, might I add).

    As much as I know that one coaster alone can't make or break a day in most cases, I do think that the impact of one really great attraction can often be underestimated; that great crowd-pleaser of an attraction can sometimes be the cherry on top that could spur a family to book that next visit.

    Do you get where I'm coming from?
     
    Last edited: 24th Nov 2021
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  9. pluk

    pluk TowersStreet Member

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    That's not how Merlin works. If a park makes loads of money that money goes towards building a new park in Asia and its deemed the park that is making money can have its budget cut because its already making money so doesnt need any more.

    And if you disappoint people you have to work twice as hard to get them back again.
     
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  10. Matt.GC

    Matt.GC TowersStreet Member

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    I 100% get where you're coming from and I don't think you're wrong per se. Again, at a basic level a great new attraction that guests love (especially one that takes a height record or is unique to the UK in some way) will always bring people in and encourage return visits. But in order to spend your money wisely and get the best return you need the back ground goodies to back it up. You mentioned the cherry on top, but you need a cake to put the cherry on. And Thorpe is more like putting a cherry on a cream cracker.

    It's a party trick Merlin repeat time and time again and it shows in all their RTP's. Install an expensive headliner, market the hell out of it, guests come but what is the whole park experience like outside of that? Bearing in mind this is a thread about Chessington and Thorpe coexisting in harmony and not about the simple question of will a big new coaster increase attendance at Thorpe or not. The answer to that is yes.

    You mentioned Wickerman and yes some of the same classic Merlin tricks were used there, where they out in an expensive headliner but did bugger all about the state of the rest of the place at the same time. But Wickerman is different. It filled a gap in Alton's lineup on terms of its theming, overall experience and height restriction. It also came with heavily discounted park entry.

    Installing yet another thrill machine isn't a problem if all you want to gain from it is solidify and grow your current customer base. Will families who haven't been stung in the past be lured in by this new attraction? Yes. But if I think of my own family here as an example, we're exactly the kind of market Thorpe should be attracting.

    We're becoming an older family now with money to spend, the youngest over 1.2mtrs tall who loves her thrills who has mostly outgrown Lego Land. A middle wild child who's still in primary school who can't get enough of thrill machines - Paultons and Blackpool tick most of the boxes for us as a family group, so does Towers (but not when they were younger) and maybe even Chessington at a push. But no way am I dragging my daughter round Thorpe again. There's hardly anything for her to do with all the horror themes and height restrictions everywhere. She enjoys the likes of Wickerman, Wodan, Vampire, Speed, Storm Chasers, Big Dipper, Gangsta Granny, Hex, Valhalla, a good rapids, a good flume etc. She doesn't want to go on Mr Bananas boat ride, an old Rock 'n tug, Flying Fish and then spend the rest of the day waiting outside thrill coasters with horror themes with teenagers pushing her out of the way dropping F and C bombs.

    It was uncomfortable taking my 10 year old this year. He's exposed to the internet (how do you even stop this these days?) and spends most of his time murdering his mates in Call of Duty on Xbox Live. Yet on our visit to Thorpe he was apprehensive of getting on Saw when he saw all the darkness, blood and screams of pain in the queue line and took some convincing that he'd love it (we purposely watched humerous videos on YouTube to make Jigsaws Billy doll more of a comedic character to him as I knew he wouldn't be keen on the horror when we got there). Some of his comments were - "I don't think I'd go on that ghost train or that zombie coaster if they were open it looks too creepy - why is that man in the track suit no listening to the man controlling the ride? - Dad those teenagers nearly pushed me over - Dad why is that boy feeling that woman's boobs and shouting out the F Word?"
     
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  11. jon81uk

    jon81uk TowersStreet Member

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    There is a slight chicken and egg situation too. That the families won't come unless there are the right attractions, but the atmosphere will improve once there are more families that just adult groups.

    Adding more family attractions (like they sort of did with Angry Birds) is the right way to go but they then basically stopped doing that with the addition of Walking Dead.

    Keeping Saw but removing Walking Dead and changing the marketing would be a good first step. Then adding a non-inverting coaster and a family friendly indoor attraction.
     
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  12. Jb85

    Jb85 TowersStreet Member

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    none of us know the strategy that management have for the park

    I suspect that Thorpe is being setup to be aimed exclusively at the 18-30s market - and I can’t see that changing
     
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  13. jon81uk

    jon81uk TowersStreet Member

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    I don't think Thorpe's management know the strategy for the park.

    Everytime they get a new director it seems to change. One minute they realise that they need more family attractions and add Angry Birds, then they go back to adding more horror IPs.
    Marketing does seem to be 18-30s recently, but going back a few years they definitely were using families with teenagers in their videos etc.
     
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  14. Matt N

    Matt N TowersStreet Member

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    Firstly, sorry for the late reply.

    Secondly, I do appreciate your anecdote, and I can empathise with it myself to a degree. When we first visited Thorpe Park as a family, I was 11 and my older sister was 13; this was in the infancy of my theme park enthusiasm, and I had wanted to go due to reading and hearing about the amazing thrill rides they had on offer. Thorpe was not somewhere I was ever bought up visiting, and had I not been a theme park enthusiast, I highly doubt it would have been a place my parents would ever have taken us. At the time, the park was perhaps less horror-based than it is now, and my sister and I were a little older than your two children, but even then, there were certain drawbacks for us; for instance, I did not ride Saw when I visited at 11, nor when I visited at 12, and that was for very similar reasons to your son; I didn't brave it until my 3rd visit 3 years later, by which point I was 15 (so I'd say your son was incredibly brave to go on it at 10!). Also, even though I never really noticed anything untoward, my parents were (and to an extent still are) very critical of Thorpe's atmosphere and clientele, and I don't think they found it a particularly family-friendly day out. They do say that Thorpe has grown on them with more visits, in fairness, but I know they weren't too enamoured the first time we went.

    This was before the recent horror stuff like TWD and DBGT being built (this was 2014, so at the time, Saw was the only ride that I'd say was overtly horror-based), and I still haven't touched TWD or DBGT even as a fully grown 18 year old; I can handle horror themes fine now, but the whole scare attraction-style, full-on horror dynamic of those two doesn't really appeal to me at all, personally.

    In the long term, I do think it would perhaps benefit the park to revert to a similar target market and brand image to what they had in around 2014-2015; I did really like the "Island Like No Other" brand, and I think that things like the entrance area and the great new IMAScore soundtracks around the entrance area would fit really nicely with an underlying island/beach style theme! In terms of the demographic this targeted; Thorpe was very much still considered a thrill park in this marketing, but they did also aim it at families with older children as well. The 2014 adverts and videos actually had a lot of kids and families shown in them, and had a very upbeat vibe:



    If they reflected this type of branding in some additions alongside the thrills (for instance, I think a 1.2m coaster, as well as perhaps a more universally appealing dark ride than DBGT, would work wonders), as well as some minor changes (for instance, I'd change TWD back into something more family-friendly, similar to the 2013-2017 X), then I think they could make a big success out of this model without necessarily having to do anything too drastic. Although I guess Merlin are the ones with the KPIs, surveys etc that determine this kind of thing, so if this strategy would have been a success, I'm sure they would have pursued it more aggressively after 2014; I shouldn't really question them.

    However, I do wonder if many of Thorpe's problems are caused by it not knowing quite what it wants to be as opposed to the fact that it's targeting itself at 18-30 year olds and horror fans. Given how popular things like scare events are, I do reckon that a full-on horror park could be a big success if it were done, as much as it wouldn't really appeal to families; if Thorpe took the horror vibe/theme and properly ran with it, then I think that such a move could be very popular. As things stand, I think Thorpe is more held back by the fact it's in a bit of a limbo in terms of what it wants to be; it's in somewhat of an identity crisis. Much of the branding/marketing is very chillaxed and upbeat, while many of the additions are very horror-based. Although I think it would be very hypocritical of me to go telling someone to be more decisive given how indecisive I can often be, so I should probably close my argument there...
     
    Last edited: 25th Nov 2021
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  15. Matt.GC

    Matt.GC TowersStreet Member

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    @Matt.N Why would you not question them? The whole point in this thread is to discuss mistakes made balancing out 2 parks close together, which you yourself have identified a problem somewhere. If they were a perfect business with all the data and always made the right decisions then this thread, and many others on this forum, would not exist.

    Business simply isn't as binary as that. I analyse all manner of statistics, graphs, trends and general data at work as I'm sure many other forum members do also. The first thing when looking at things like that is to question whether the data is showing the right things/asking and then answering the right questions. What isn't it telling us? Why do things not match and link up in places? Is it useful? Are we looking in the wrong places?

    Then it's a case of devising a strategy when you've settled on what the information is telling you Looking at market trends, the economy, political landscape, competitors, legal and planning issues etc and many many other things. Then, you look at cost and the ins and outs of everything. If it was as simple as getting a yes or no answer on a spread sheet then setting a up and running a successful business would be easy. Hundreds of year's of economic history tells us it's not that simple.

    Investment doesn't always equal higher turnover. Higher turnover doesn't always equal higher margins. High guest and customer satisfaction "results" do not always mean your potential or existing guests and customers are satisfied.

    You're right that Thorpe don't seem to know what to do with the place and who their target market is for those very reasons. All we can do is speculate and debate from a laymen's perspective with whatever little info we have: some of which you have provided above and some of which is what we see on the ground. You're right to set up a thread about an interesting topic and should 100% question a business who's viability relies on asking you to hand them over your own money in return for a service that they provide you in return.

    Anyway, in terms of an identity for Thorpe, if there is a problem with thrills and horror (I say there is) holding the park back, then they should probably stop digging the hole they're in. Spending millions on a 1.4mtr height restriction thrill machine will be like getting rid of the spades and replacing them with an expensive JCB to continue the dig with instead. I see a Swarm 2 situation on the horizon.
     
    Last edited: 26th Nov 2021
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  16. QTXAdsy

    QTXAdsy TowersStreet Member

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    Late for the party on something on TS, again.

    However I have been reading through this topic and did get me thinking on how they could coexist and the answer is that they could do...if under separate owners.

    We've all said about the monopoly that Merlin has on the UK theme park scene and that this has led to them becoming complacent and the two London based parks seem to be causing problems for each other for being owned by the same company. Both are clearly aimed at two different audiences, though Thorpe maybe a bit all over the place, and in theory could succeed in this but the problem I feel is that with the juggling Merlin is doing in terms on who gets investment has led to problems with it looking like, from someone here who has never been to either park and looking at it from a distance, it does seem that both have ended up affecting each other badly in terms of who gets money with Thorpe seeming to get the most of it while Chessie seems to get nowt. Though the former from what I've seen seems to have a quite a mixed bag of success.

    It seems if both were getting joint investment yearly with them clearly aiming at their target audiences and things were going good then we wouldn't be having this conversation, though the fact that is quite clear that Merlin can't seem to manage two parks being fairly close to each has proven their business plan to be heavily flawed. So it seems that if things can't seem to pick up for one or both parks then one of them would have to be sold off though it depends on this new big coaster at Thorpe for if it does bring in the success the park expects then I think they're fine though if not, well...

    I honestly can't say much as I really I'm not that clued up with either park as I am with Towers though if one of the southern parks were sold off then it would likely have Merlin focus on just one park in the south which might not be a bad thing as I'm suspecting that this might be a thing as in the wake of Covid everything will downside with all business and I've not doubt Merlin are in this too though I agree selling one of those parks would be the nuclear option though strange things have happened and it might not be far fetch if this idea has been mentioned once in some Merlin board meeting but nothing other than that.

    In conclusion if that were to happen, which of the two parks would Merlin be more likely to let go off in the future?
     
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  17. Matt N

    Matt N TowersStreet Member

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    As much as I do personally prefer Thorpe out of the 2, I do think it's the one Merlin would be more likely to sell. The park overall hasn't been as successful under Merlin's tenure as it was under Tussauds' (particularly since about 2012), and I get the outside impression that Merlin struggles a little with working out quite what to do with Thorpe Park, whereas Chessington seems to have been thriving and growing under Merlin, and don't quote me on this, but I actually remember hearing that it's one of their most valuable properties in terms of MAP sales and MAP visits, so I shouldn't think it's one they're too keen to let go of any time soon.

    So while I'll confess that I have little to no idea about how Merlin's thought process would work in this regard, I feel like they'd have less to lose if they let go of Thorpe than if they let go of Chessington.

    Interestingly, sacrificing the monopoly isn't an idea that has passed Tussauds/Merlin by, as Chessington was apparently very close to being offloaded during the late Tussauds era, under the tenure of DIC. The park was struggling visitors-wise (as I said in my opening post, Chessington only just scraped the 1 million mark in the mid-2000s), and the amount of investment required was sharply increasing due to the decay of much of the park's original theming and attraction lineup (I don't know for sure, but my hunch is that this is what eventually led to much of the original park getting some form of refurbishment, replacement or change during the 2010s; correct me if I'm wrong there); the cost was reaching a level that DIC didn't want to pay for a struggling park. The park was retained due to the Merlin takeover/the MAP increasing visitor figures by a fair amount and proving that a success could be made of it, but the thought was definitely there at some point, and that perhaps proves that maintaining the monopoly isn't as important to Tussauds/Merlin as you might expect.

    Now in fairness to Tussauds, I do understand why they went for the full Southern monopoly in the first place; Thorpe Park was their main competitor to Chessington in the South, and with their much more free planning restrictions, Thorpe had far more growth potential. Chessington initially wanted to appeal to everyone, but they were kind of stuck in the thrill rides department after Vampire opened and the locals staunchly refused to let anything else of the same size get built again. As such, I can understand why they snapped up Thorpe, as that purchase allowed them to have a thrill park in the South and tackle a market that Chessington was simply unable to; having Thorpe in their arsenal allowed them to appeal to everybody in the South as they originally wanted Chessington to, albeit across 2 parks instead of having it all in 1 park like at Towers and like what was originally desired at Chessington.

    However, in spite of that, I would personally have taken a slightly different route to the one Tussauds took. Controversially, I would have purchased Thorpe as Tussauds did. However, instead of selling PortAventura to fund the purchase as Tussauds did... I would actually have sold Chessington. Yes, you did hear me right. I know that idea might sound bonkers, but hear me out for a second.

    Yes, this move would have sacrificed the monopoly, but from my outside perspective, I do think it could have benefitted Tussauds in other ways:
    • Chessington in 1998 was still fairly new and getting fairly high visitor figures, so I can imagine its asset value would likely have been quite high, thus generating a not insignificant sum of money; certainly more than enough to fund the £15m they paid for Thorpe as well as some additions to Thorpe, anyway. When you're dealing with a fairly new park that's already been fully built, has already done the job of attracting guests and generating a reputation, and is still pulling in fair guest figures, who wouldn't want a piece of the pie?
    • Having offloaded their existing Southern theme park, it would have given them a greater scope with which to develop Thorpe within; the worry of competing with themselves wouldn't have been there, and the park could have been developed to target all ages, from small children right up to thrillseeking teens and adults. Thorpe could have been an "Alton of the South" of sorts.
    • In spite of them not having a monopoly, I personally feel that having Thorpe would have given Tussauds the upper hand over their competitors (whoever purchased Chessington). I say this because while Chessington are stifled by planning restrictions, thus unable to target the thrillseeker market beyond a certain extent, Thorpe would have effectively been a blank canvas for Tussauds to develop to target all ages. So Tussauds would have been able to boast "we target families just as much as Chessington, but we also target the thrillseeker market while Chessington doesn't" to give Thorpe the upper hand over Chessington and truly offer a day out for all the family. So that way, they could still have built thrill coasters that set them apart from Chessington, but they could also have targeted the same families as Chessington without worrying about treading on Chessington's toes; they wouldn't have been part of Tussauds, so the worry of competing with themselves wouldn't have been there.
    Does this sound completely nuts, or do you think I'm onto something?
     
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  18. Jb85

    Jb85 TowersStreet Member

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    I reckon build a load of rides and make them one giant park ;-)
     
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  19. JAperson

    JAperson TowersStreet Member

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    What have a massive roller coaster to connect them you reckon?
     
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  20. Jb85

    Jb85 TowersStreet Member

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    I thought about a giant rapids ride tbh - and a huge bench for spectators
     
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