What does the future of the UK theme park industry look like?

How do we feel the UK theme park industry will change and develop in the years to come?

It’s no secret that 2020 has likely seen one of the most challenging years that theme parks and attractions will have faced here in the UK in decades.

With that in mind the question of their future and future development has never been more relevant than it is now, therefore we ask the question “How do we feel the industry will change and develop in the years to come?!”

to first explore this we have to consider how the year of COVID has affected how theme parks and attractions operate, not only here in the UK but abroad as well.

The current pandemic has really forced the industry to develop and adapt in order to still maintain their business settings and this is none more evident than the introduction of stringent social distancing measures and a reduced capacity overall.

That does however mean that as a result, the reduced foot fall within resorts and attractions will have prompted one of the most challenging years financially that any will have witnessed or being subjected to in recent times.

This therefore begs the question “How will this affect future investment within our beloved parks and attractions in the years to come?”

It’s not unreasonable to expect that with the impact all will have very likely suffered it will be a very long time before we see a brand new major coaster or ride introduced anywhere within UK parks, however the one thing we can look forward to as we enter 2021 (times and the current situation permitting of course) is the introduction of the delayed 2020 investments such as Paultons Park’s exciting new area Tornado Springs (which includes the UK’s first ever Mack Family Spinning coaster) and the highly anticipated new addition to Flamingo Land Resort ‘Inversion’ (a next generation Intamin Multi Inversion Coaster formerly planned for introduction at Hopi Hari in Brazil, now relocated to the UK.) to name but a few.

The one project however which has continued to dominate UK headlines is of course the London Resort which has been an ongoing pipe dream of a major investor for quite some time now.

The resort was originally slated to open in 2019, however due to constant hold ups and other contributing factors the project has yet to see an approved planning application, let alone initial ground works.

That may however all be set to change in the coming years! As of August 2020 the resort officially held it’s official public consultation.

The consultation not only showcased the full extent of the investors plans for the redevelopment of the Thames Peninsular, however it also gave the general public a first official taster of what they could expect from what has been hailed as “the UK’s Disneyland” should the project proceed as planned.

The mission statement for the brand new world class resort as per the official statement made by the development team behind it goes as follows;

“Our vision is to create a world-class entertainment resort founded on sustainable and low carbon principles. We have always been committed to ensuring that the London Resort works for local communities as well as our visitors.”

This therefore means that in order to achieve their goal the resort have teamed up with energy giants EDF Energy in order to ensure that the resort’s overall carbon footprint is as ecologically sustainable as possible.

Through looking at initial plans for the resort we can also see that not only will the resort feature two separate parks, however it will also showcase world class entertainment district, a ‘main street’ area featuring a full array of bars and restaurants and what will officially be the UK’s first ever fully dedicated E-Sports center as well.

This does therefore mean that should this project proceed as planned and open it’s gates to the public in 2024 (with official planning applications set for submission in mid 2021) the rest of the UK’s industry will very likely face it’s strongest competition in decades in order to keep their guests interested and engaged whilst a world class level resort sees introduction to UK shores.

It’s become no secret that when it comes to introduction of major rides and  attractions Merlin (the world’s second largest operator of entertainment and leisure attractions aside from Disney) are definitely falling short of other investments within the worldwide market.

The US alone saw the planned introduction this season of well over 10 brand new major coasters including some truly jaw dropping additions such as the highly anticipated Iron Gwazi over at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay (now officially announced as postponed until 2021) and incredible looking B&M Giga (or Hyper depending on how you look at it) coaster Orion located at Kings Island.

The last major coaster to open here in the UK however was Icon at Blackpool Pleasure Beach back in 2018. Indeed some parks such as Thorpe Park have been waiting well over eight years now for a major new coaster, and in the eyes of the UK enthusiast community this is simply unacceptable!

It’s therefore fitting to expect that should The London Resort open as planned we will very likely be seeing a major spike in other UK wide investments in a bid to compete for guest attendance and win back the hearts of their long term patreons.

This is however all dependant on how the rest of the current situation we are all in plays out as the longer we suffer the harsh restrictions we do, the more severe the long term financial impact will be!

The main problem currently faced by all attractions is of course the compulsory need for social distancing which means that as a direct result all theme parks and attractions must lower their daily capacity to a minimum.

This of course remains the main cause for the steep downward turn in revenue, however the one main thing the park’s can rely on is the loyalty of the customers and their love for the parks and attractions they attend.

This is of course reliant on keeping those individuals concerned interested and engaged with the parks and attractions they attend, and without any major future investment taking place interest will likely plummet once this brand new London Resort opens it’s gates.

It is therefore imperative in our opinion that the likes of Merlin and other smaller UK park operators preempt this by introducing more major rides (especially at the likes of Thorpe Park and Blackpool Pleasure Beach) in the years to come.

With this they can be reassured that people will still continue to visit once the resort does open as there is always major peaks in interest where new investments and rides are concerned.

You only have to look at the continued success of Alton Towers’ GCI wooden coaster Wicker Man to see this is the case. Even now over 2 years down the line this brilliant ride still receives constant queue times of 60 minutes upwards at most points throughout the day.

With regards to the effects and restrictions of the current situation being estimated as last up to 18 months/ 2 years minimum it’s fair to say that all parks and attractions need to do all they can to keep their visitor numbers up and the foot fall at its highest.

We estimate that it will likely take a good few years (possibly 2 to 3) for parks and attractions to recover financially after the pandemic comes to an end which would therefore mean we would likely see a minimum time frame of 4 to 5 years before any more major investments take place.

This doesn’t however mean that we won’t be seeing any investment as there is still much parks and attractions can do when it comes to bringing new rides and experiences to their beloved public in harder times.

What is clear though is this – There will always be a need for theme parks and attractions the same as there will always be a demand for tourist attractions and tourism in general.

We as humans are by our very nature inquisitive and we are always on the lookout for new experiences or places to visit. We are explorers and as such we will always need something a little more ‘out of the ordinary’ to experience.

Theme parks and attractions not only offer this, however as a whole they offer the chance for escapism from our mundane and abismal everyday lives, and for this reason (no matter how hard current times may be both mentally as well as financially) we can rest assured that our UK industry will continue to operate and flourish in the years to come.

It’s clear that with the prospects of the London Resort on the horizon as well as other new additions for 2021 there has never been a more exciting time than there is at present to be a theme park enthusiast here in the UK!