What is the future for independent theme parks?

Nemesis InfernoThe year is 2024 and Alton Towers is preparing to open its gates for the new season with its admission price of £69.

The park remains Britain’s most popular theme park, with over 3 million visitors coming through its gates last year to see the new £27 million world-first rollercoaster.

Following the acquisition of Flamingo Land by Merlin Entertainments in 2019, the UK has only four major independent theme parks left.

Lightwater Valley, Pleasure Island, Pleasurewood Hills and Fantasy Island all went the way of Camelot during the past decade.

The great survivors are Blackpool Pleasure Beach – currently in administration, Drayton Manor, Adventure Island and Paultons Park – all without a major ride investment for five years.

Merlin’s attractions have continued to dominate the market, with competition coming from the new Paramount theme park in Essex only quickening the departure of the smaller parks.

Downward trend

While the above is an admittedly elaborate extrapolation of the future, there are increasing number of signs that the odds of such a fate may not be as remote as what we would hope.

With the smaller parks failing to make major investments capable of clawing some of the attention away from Merlin’s huge marketing might, you could be forgive for thinking that a losing battle is being fought.

The Merlin Dreadnought’s formula of attracting the most guests, extracting the most money and building the best new attractions seems unbreakable.

The opposite is true of the smaller parks, stuck in limbo for years as they struggle to break even.

The only way to capture a significant proportion of the public’s imagination is via creativity, innovation and ingenuity.

Endless chasing of intellectual properties such as Angry Birds seems to be short-term fixes which only seem to be postponing the inevitable.

The solution is neither easy nor simple, but in a world where banks are once again warming to lending – the old adage of speculate to accumulate may have to be a consideration.