Editorial: The erosion of UK thrillseeker offerings

The Ultimate, Lightwater Valley

Lightwater Valley’s recent announcement that four of its thrill rides will not be coming back in 2021 marks the latest stage in the decline of offerings to the UK thrillseeker.

Given that is literally the description of RideRater’s target audience, the fact is a somewhat sad one for us to recognise.

The American Adventure closed three years before we were founded, but it set off a now-familiar trend.

The Derbyshire theme park, like Lightwater Valley, decided to move towards the ‘young family’ market, abandoning the signature thrill rides to which it owed its success.

However, the maintenance of large rollercoasters – particularly ones such as Lightwater Valley’s famous and completely original Ultimate – does not come cheap.

It is likely to be a relatively simple calculation that has to be made. Is, for argument’s sake, £100,000 of annual operation and maintenance costs offset by a greater revenue amount coming from people that will only visit if X ride is in place?

Sadly in increasingly many cases, the answer seems not – or at least not any more.

New thrill rides can of course still capture the public’s imagination. Thirteen, The Smiler and the Wicker Man were as popular at Alton Towers as any major ride there has been.

But the smaller parks are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain a foothold in the thrillseeker market.

While a park like Alton Towers can replace one thrill ride with another, or even net-increase their thrill offerings, the independent parks are rarely in a position to do the same.

Even Blackpool Pleasure Beach made the decision to retire an old and iconic ride in the Wild Mouse to make way for the impressive Icon rollercoaster.

So while Alton Towers is net-increasing its thrill offerings and the Pleasure Beach is holding steady, across the UK there is still a continuing net-reduction of thrill offerings.

Thrilling offerings are also being consolidated into fewer parks.

For the UK thrillseeker, Lightwater Valley’s decision to change direction represents the ongoing erosion of what many ride fans were once captivated by.

It is worth noting that capable businesspeople run Lightwater Valley. The doom and gloom from some this month predicting the park’s imminent closure seem likely to be way off the mark.

But there is precedent for the writing to be on the wall once such strategic changes of direction are made.

Only time will tell whether or not the strategic shift to the family market is a wise one, and there will surely still be time in future for Lightwater Valley and other parks to review their offerings and potentially change direction once again.