It has traditionally been the mid-range, families with growing children, theme park in Merlin Entertainments’ portfolio of UK theme parks.
But with Thorpe Park this year shunning its “thrill capital” approach and moving towards the family market, what could this mean for Chessington World of Adventures?
Located in the midlands and with a worldwide reputation to boot, Alton Towers place as Britain’s number one attraction seems assured indefinitely.
The Staffordshire park has always been notes for being able to attract both the adrenaline junkie and family markets.
CBeebie’s Land’s introduction this month will further cement Alton Towers’ jack-of-all-trades appeal, by targeting youngsters a year after the thrillseekers were given The Smiler rollercoaster.
In the south east of England, Merlin has three theme parks – Chessington, Thorpe Park and Legoland – on the outskirts of or just outside Greater London.
Their relatively close proximity to one another on the west side of the capital means that targeting each one at different groups of people has always made sense.
Legoland Windor’s target market is the very small child, with parents and grandparents typically accompanying.
Chessington has generally catered for those whose children are starting to develop an interest in bigger rides and rollercoasters.
Thorpe Park’s inverting rollercoasters and thrill-type flat rides have up to now primarily been enjoyed by teenagers visiting with groups of friends, and adults who continue to enjoy the bigger rides.
At first glance it is not clear why Merlin have elected to potentially try and step on Chessington’s footsteps in the family area.
Despite some misconceptions, the parks do not have the discretion to decide their marketing strategy independently of Merlin bosses – it would be counter-productive to have the parks competing against one another.
The latest television advert – and its new ‘an island like no other’ tagline – strongly suggests that Thorpe Park is trying to present itself as a place of wondrous escape as per Alton Towers.
Chessington’s return on last year’s Zufari ride investment is strongly suspected as being disappointing to Merlin’s managers, and its recent shareholders following stock market flotation last year.
It is possible that bosses have identified that the park is the weakest link within the south east and the long-term strategy is to close the park.
However, following the recent completion of a new hotel, and the obvious devaluing of the Merlin Annual pass closure would have, would suggest that it is unlikely.
What does seem likely to be the case is that Chessington is to undergo a new change of marketing direction itself.
A greater emphasis on, and expansion of, the the park’s animal and wildlife offerings, as well as themed overnight stays would almost certainly be at the core of any such move.
Indeed, there is already evidence that the new approach is in motion, with the Safari Hotel’s arrival adding much needed and high quality escapism to the park’s accommodation offerings.
A full-blown transformation into an outlet of Merlin’s ‘WILD LIFE’ brand – the current moniker of Sydney Zoo in Australia – is also not beyond the realms of possibility.