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Why is it that thrill parks struggle more than family-focused parks? What makes them different?

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Hi guys. In a Thorpe Park trip report thread I was just reading over on CoasterForce, Serena from CoasterForce made this really interesting post:


Okay, I'll bite.

Families with young children who go to Thorpe Park simply don't do their research. It's not the parks fault if they have a disappointing day. It's like going to a vegan restaurant and moaning there's no meat options.


If you look at their marketing, Thorpe don't bill themselves as a family park. It's almost always groups of young adults / teens in their photos. That's their target demographic, clearly.


When talking about "what is there to do for families" at Thorpe - I also think we forget that many older kids love thrills. When I worked there last year, the majority of the best feedback was from 10 - 13 yr olds loving the big coasters. Again, families who do their research and bring thrillseeking kids over 1.4m in height will likely have a fantastic time.


So when we ask: what is there for families to do - the question is too broad. What type of families? Families with 4yr olds? 8yr olds? 11yr olds?


The southern UK Merlin park trajectory for families is clearly intended to be Legoland then Chessington then Thorpe. Thorpe isn't a massive cater-for-all place like Alton Towers, in the same way that Chessington and Legoland aren't there to cater for thrillseekers.


We don't criticise Chessington for having no thrilling rides. So why do we criticise Thorpe for having a small selection of tame rides? Parks that are only 30 miles apart are supposed to be different from each other and have contrasting ride offerings.


It's a bit like critising a horror movie for being too scary. Thrills are the purpose of Thorpe, that's why they're building the UKs tallest coaster. And families with thrillseeking 1.4m kids will LOVE it. As will the majority of their teenage / young adult / groups of mates clientele too. Celebrate it for it's purpose.


Now I didn’t just cite Serena’s post for no reason. To a degree, I do agree with her, and her post did get me thinking; why is it that thrill parks often don’t seem as successful, and often receive a lot of stick compared to parks that go solely for young families, for instance? Why is it that enthusiasts constantly bemoan the fact that Thorpe lacks family rides, but never bemoan the fact that Legoland and Chessington lack thrill rides? And why is it that thrill parks often seem to struggle compared to solely family-focused parks? Why is it that thrill parks aren’t simply accepted as another genre of theme park with a different target market in the same way as children’s parks are, and are often told that they need to change and appeal to young families more?


I’ll admit I’m a bit stumped, and I’d be intrigued to know your thoughts. I’ve often heard it said that families have more disposable income and money to spend on park than thrill seekers, but the more I think about it and the more I hear, the less I agree with that statement.


As another poster in that same thread mentioned when I raised that point, a lot of families visiting the Southern Merlin parks are working off of a tight budget; many of them will be MAP holders who visit on a regular basis with their own packed lunches and don’t buy any merchandise or extra goodies, and even if they aren’t MAP holders, many families are on a tight budget, and whatever they buy on park will naturally cost more due to an increased group size, thus possibly deterring them from making the spend. The park gets no money at all from those MAP guests, and less money from those types of families even without MAPs.


With thrill seekers, on the other hand; while there are of course plenty of thrill seekers who fit the description of “MAP holder who visits every weekend and doesn’t spend any money”, this audience might have less of a tight budget for a theme park day, and things will naturally cost less for them due to them usually paying for less people than a family group, so they might be more inclined to spend that little bit of money on in-park food, for instance. Yes, I know that a big family group would generate more money per purchase than a smaller thrill seeker group or single thrill seeker, but if the families aren’t making those purchases and the thrill seekers are, then the smaller thrill seeker purchase is financially preferable to the non-existent family purchase.


As Serena also says, thrill seekers and families are not necessarily mutually exclusive groups, so that makes the struggle of the thrill park all the more interesting.


What do you guys think?

P.S. Here’s the thread I’m referring to, in case you’re interested: https://coasterforce.com/forums/threads/thorpe-park-how-crap-is-it.45495/

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I think this is a really interesting point, and I agree.


I must admit for a few years I did have the opinion that a "family park" would attract people with more money to spend...

I always thought that teens and young adults would spend less, and families more..


But now I've got a little Inferno myself.. I'm not actually sure that's the case.  I'd estimate I might actually have less disposable income than ever - even back when I worked part time in Starbucks I had more disposable income, and wouldn't think twice about filling up the car and heading to Thorpe every other week, buying lunch and merch there etc..


When little Inferno (I guess I'm going with this now) is old/tall enough we'll definitely head to the appropriate parks, but I can't see we're going to have the money to buy food and merch there very often. Tickets alone will be a budget-blower to be honest with you, and I imagine many others are in a similar position to me. (I know there will be many families with loads to spend, just from my perspective)


Anyway... ahem, TANGENT.

I agree - I don't see the issue with having a "thrill park" actually.

Yes, having a mixture of attractions (like Towers) will attract a wider audience, but they've proven that targeting 'thrill hunters' works. 2009ish was an unbelievable success for them.


I don't think Thorpe's problems are that they don't attract enough families.

I think the problems are

   a) the fact it's a bit of a sh** hole... (the "no drugs, our rides are thrilling enough!" sign above the entrance says it all)

   b) the lack of investment, meaning the "young people" aren't as compelled to book and travel there like they were when there was a new ride.



It will be interesting to see what effect the energy crisis and cost of living increases have on this situation actually.

I expect the traditionally expensive 'family day out' (Legoland / Chessington / etc) might be affected, meanwhile Thorpe with their new coaster might still attract a lot of teenagers who might still live with parents or shared housing etc.

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Apologies for the double post.....

One more argument in favour of a "thrill park"..


No matter how much a Theme Park invests, realistically they don't change that much, do they?

If I look back to my childhood, many of the rides I enjoyed as a kid are still at the parks today. Which is great by the way, but bear with me.....


One of the good things about Merlin's 3 park cluster near London is that they keep theme park visits suitable and 'fresh' for many years.


For example... You'd take your young kids to Legoland for a few years, and get to know the place, ride everything. That's great.

Then as the kids get slightly older, Chessington is just down the road. Again, an entire 'new' park to experience for a few years.

After a while the kids will want to go on some bigger rides, well... Thorpe is right there next door, and once again offer's a full park of 'new' attractions to ride.


A new park to experience every few years!


If for example all 3 parks offered a range of thrill and "family" rides, that would be great too, however might guests feel they're always going back to the same places after a few years?


I think it's a really nice way for kids/families to have something different to visit every few years rather than keep going back to the same places.

You can't beat that "first time in a park" feeling, and that's what kids get with Merlin's London 3.

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I'm not against a thrill park, the issue is that the park itself has to near constantly refresh itself and that takes a lot of money and resource to do. You also have to ensure your thrill rides have a wide range of appeal. Thorpe's coaster line up, the only real outlier is Stealth. The others are just a variant on an upside down rollercoaster. You kind of made that point for me Inferno, Thorpe a little bit of a s**thole because it hasn't changed that much. If it wants to be 'the thrill park' the demands of its target audience constantly want more, the new, the bigger, the better. The new coaster is not going to be enough to change that perception for the rest of the resort. 


A family park is far less focused on constant updates and investment because the line up itself has universal appeal. I see it on forums and social media all the time 'Thorpe gets no investment, its last rollercoaster was 10 years ago.' Whilst forgetting Chessingtons last rollercoaster was 18 years ago. And we don't talk about the removal of Vampire or Dragons Fury in the same way that we talk about Colossus going to the skip. So yes, I think family parks are far easier to manage and run and actually more profitable. A 13 year old visiting Thorpe with his school pals just doesn't have a disposable income, whereas a family going to a theme park, will. It may be stretched in the current climate but it exists. And they spend money, all those little extras such as toys, ice creams when it's hot. A meal for everyone at the fast food outlets. it quickly adds up


And thats before we even get to overnight stays....





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To come back to your horror movie analogy, this actually does explain why thrill parks can sometimes struggle.


Generally movie studios will try to keep their movies with a lower age rating because statistically movies available to more people perform better at the box office. This is not always the case, but generally this is the case.


Horror movies have to try very hard to appeal to the more niche audience because they cannot get a wider audience due to their ratings.


Teenagers going to thrill parks likely spend less than a larger family (which may also include some teenagers!) going to a family park. Everyone can go to a family park, but not everyone will go to a thrill park.

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