Leisure parks face the challenge of profitability after recovering visitors

One of the roller coasters at Parque Warner in Madrid. / r. c.

They have offset the decline in tourists with greater national demand and demand treatment from the Government commensurate with their contribution to GDP

jose antonio bravo

After the storm caused by the covid-19 pandemic for your business, amusement and theme parks have already recovered a good part of their visitors. The sector's expectation was to approach the 30 million visitors registered in 2019 at the end of 2022 – its best year – and even exceed them, but a worse-than-expected end of the year in the national and European economy may force us to postpone that goal until 2023.

In any case, operators in this industry are more focused on achieving profitability, something they were getting closer to before the global health alert. In 2019, the ten main companies had a national turnover of almost 486 million euros, in 2020 388 million were left behind compared to that amount and in 2021 they were still 20% below.

By 2022, the initial estimate was to recover a level of business similar to that of three years ago, which at the sectoral level would mean generating 4,900 million euros gross (between direct, direct and induced income through, for example, taxes) for the Spanish economy. However, the figures for November "suggest a turnover slightly below expectations, between 5% and 10% less," says Francesc Rufas, a professor at EAE Business School.

"The cause -he warns- would be the reduction of Russian tourists -important for the first national park, PortAventura- and the impact of inflation on consumers". The recovery of visitors has been carried out "mainly" with great contribution from national clients. According to Rufas, this has meant that in coastal parks such as the one referred to in Tarragona or Terra Mítica in Benidorm, which are more dependent on tourists (more than 50% of their public is international), recovering demand is slower than in other parks. interior that, however, "due to their lesser financial strength they have suffered more from the impact of the covid and started from a more serious situation."

Until October –according to the latest INE data– 63.1 million tourists had visited Spain, which represented 84.6% of the people who had arrived in the country in the first ten months of 2019. However, with that level With a lower influx, the comparison with the disbursement they made was better, since with a total of 76,433 million euros it represented 93.4% of the expenditure made in the same pre-pandemic period. The latest report from the Exceltur tourism alliance indicates that leisure parks improved their income by 8.9% from July to September compared to the third quarter of 2019 according to the valuation of their companies.

One of the roller coasters of PortAventura in Tarragona. /

R. C.

Regardless of the effect of inflation, from the sector they provide light. "The pandemic made it necessary to improve economic efficiency and optimize resources, while customers required more individualized experiences, more VIP products," explains Diego García, regional director of the Parques Reunidos group for southern Europe and executive manager of Parque Warner Madrid. "We have changed the way of managing, so that we prefer fewer visitors -the maximum capacity of the park is 30,000 people and the maximum of the year, on Halloween, did not exceed 20,000- and higher per capita spending". The figures support it: this 2022 will have 20% fewer visitors than in 2019, although its billing will rise more than 10%.

The hotel factor

As in a good part of the sector, this group recovered its benefits in 2021 after the heavy losses of 2020. Next year Parque Warner will launch a new roller coaster with the character of Batman. Although his most desired project is to open his first hotel establishment, which is still "on the table". Urban procedures aside, an economic injection such as the VAT reduction would be important.

The sector demands that the Government lower its current rate from 21% to 10%, as in other tourist and cultural services, to be competitive. And remember that they contribute 3% of tourism GDP, key for the country. According to a KPMG study, for every euro of direct impact, leisure parks generate 42 euros of indirect and induced impact.

PortAventura is the only Spanish venue in the 'top 10' of the most visited in Europe, according to the annual report by TEA/AECOM, a small statistical 'bible' for the sector. In 2023 it will also premiere a new attraction (another roller coaster, in its case based on the video game 'Uncharted') and will abound in its link with LaLiga –in the medium term it will have a themed attraction– and the music channel MTV. Its hotel offer, which generates more than a third of its income, now has seven establishments, the last of which is external.

In this increasingly digitized industry –85% of its sales are already via 'online'–, a different bet like Puy du Fou has carved out a stable niche in Toledo. "This year we will close to 900,000 visitors," says its CEO, Erwan de la Villéon, who plans to exceed the "symbolic milestone" of one million in 2023. Its offer clearly inclined to the cultural and emotional will include two new shows. Not surprisingly, performances in leisure parks host almost 19 million spectators each year compared to the 14.1 million who attend performing arts performances throughout the country.

Next up: active nature and a record-breaking artificial beach

The theme park sector has recovered its dynamism after the pandemic and already has new projects, some more advanced, others still in the initial planning phase. Spain will host two of them who aspire to set new records.

The closest in time is also the closest to a large city. The largest artificial beach in Europe will be located in the municipality of Alovera (Guadalajara), just 50 kilometers from Madrid and in a 2.5-hectare complex where various water sports can be practiced, such as sailing or surfing. After an investment of 15.6 million euros, it is scheduled to open in the summer of 2023 and expects to receive more than 300,000 visitors a year.

The second major project underway is also located in Castilla-La Mancha. The North American group Toro Verde plans to open in 2025 the largest nature adventure park in the world. It will have several attractions with which they hope to break 'Guinness records', such as the longest zip line that will exceed 2.83 kilometers from the installation that the same company has in the United Arab Emirates. The planned investment is 37 million (it will include a luxury hotel) and the complex will occupy 1,200 hectares of public forest in the Sierra de Bascuñana, near Cuenca.

At the end of 2023, the first Real Madrid theme park will open in Dubai –Barça has had a promotional space on the Chinese island of Hainan since 2018–, along the lines of the 'resort' that Ferrari already has in the area. In addition to a museum and sports skill games, the construction of exclusive roller coasters is planned.