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Why theme parks are the new venue of choice for event planners

Can a rollercoaster ride close a deal or ignite a spark of creativity among colleagues? A new trend for hosting business events at theme parks seems to suggest so

Galactica at Alton Towers is the world's first virtual reality rollercoaster 

Hurtling through the air at accelerating speeds, eating clouds of sugar, plummeting down synthetic mountains, and racing tiny plastic jockeys in the hope of winning a stuffed caricature – nothing is quite like the childhood joy of spending a day in a theme park. Such happy memories fill most of us with a fond nostalgia for rollercoasters that carries on right through to adulthood.

Given the partiality that we have for theme parks, it is perhaps unsurprising that a new trend has emerged in the business world, which is broadening the scope of these fun-filled spaces. In the search for unique business destinations for meetings, conferences and team building days, a growing number of companies has begun venturing into these thrilling playgrounds. Consequently, several large theme parks are now marketing their sites as the ideal places to foster better working relationships or host an unforgettable event, which has opened up a whole new realm of business for this particular segment of the entertainment industry.

Beyond the boardroom
Being able to offer both unique experiences and versatility is the holy grail of the MICE industry. As a result, when a new opportunity arises that can provide something different and functional in addition to being exciting, event managers go flocking.

“We do of course host a lot of meetings on the site, but the fantastic part of being a theme park resort venue is that delegates can break out of these indoor functions and enjoy the rides and attractions, waterpark, Enchanted Forest Tree Tops Quest high ropes course, Extraordinary Golf golf course and even our onsite spa”, said Karen Johnson, Conference Office Sales Manager at Alton Towers Resort, one of the most popular theme parks in Europe. “There’s nothing worse than a room of dozing delegates, so we do try and get people outdoors and active to keep them alert and motivated on their corporate away days.”

Alton Towers promises to provide tailor-made packages for companies, which include fun and engaging training games such as treasure hunts, in addition to leadership programmes. While participating in such activities helps to boost company morale, improve bonding and give companies an edge that helps them with talent acquisition and retention, what makes theme parks unique as a MICE destination is the rides themselves.

“There is research suggesting that adrenaline is highly beneficial for meetings and events: for example, the high altitude and extreme speed of a rollercoaster releases heaps of endorphins”, Johnson told Business Destinations. “And there’s no arguing against the fact that a happy employee is a successful and productive employee.”

Business add-ons
In response to their growing popularity as a MICE destination, several amusement parks are expanding their corporate facilities and range, as well as increasing privileged access for business visitors. For example, Chessington World of Adventures – a UK theme park that receives more than two million visitors a year – has introduced team building packages where clients can gain VIP access to the park’s biggest attractions.

“Our Sea Life Package offers a drinks reception among our aquatic residents in a completely unique venue, while our Trail of the Kings drinks reception package will see you mingle among our jungle giants – from lions, tigers and gorillas to lynx”, Sarah Brammar, Head of Corporate Sales at Chessington, told Business Destinations. “We are constantly reviewing our offering to ensure we can offer meetings and events that have the wow factor and a unique appeal. From adding in a VIP giraffe hand-feeding experience before your day of meetings begins, or concluding the day by putting a rhino to bed with our Rhino Snores VIP Experience – there’s something to suit all group sizes and all budgets.”

According to Johnson, offering flexibility and a wide range of activities is crucial to business acquisition for theme parks. Alton Towers can cater for anything from day meetings for 10 delegates to a takeover of the entire park for over 6,000 guests. In fact, offering large spaces is a key factor in attracting event organisers: Disneyland Paris offers themed evenings for 15,000 guests, with a heavy focus on providing bespoke experiences for potential corporate customers, while the Europa Park in Rust, Germany boasts facilities for an incredible 100,000 business delegates. However, in order to compete with the stiff competition from the rest of the MICE world, theme parks cannot rely solely on their pre-existing attractions: instead, they must continue to add that little something extra.

“A great example is our brand new Rollercoaster Restaurant”, said Johnson. “It wasn’t enough to introduce a standard dining option, but instead we have launched the UK’s first restaurant where food is delivered from the kitchen to your plate via 400 metres of twisting rollercoaster tracks.”

In April, Alton Towers also launched Galactica, the world’s first virtual reality rollercoaster: “[It’s] something that keeps us at the forefront of the virtual reality trend that is becoming ever more apparent and relevant across all sectors, using the most cutting-edge technology to create the most realistic and multidimensional ride experience in existence. It’s that twist on normality that sets us apart and keeps us exciting and interesting for business customers compared to our competitors.”

Offering something more
The growing tendency to use theme parks for business trips ties into the rising trends of promoting happiness and wellbeing for employees, and doing away with the stuffy corporate image. Nowadays, companies are required to offer more to their staff than just the four walls of an office and the traditional nine-to-five: they need to provide stimulation, memorable experiences and perks, all while encouraging an amiable atmosphere that is conducive to productivity and innovation. Naturally, this kind of treatment does not stop within an organisation, but needs to go far beyond it as well in order to garner successful partnerships, gain invaluable long-term custom and earn an industry-wide reputation.

What’s more, in a world where colleagues of all levels are encouraged to socialise with one another and more CEOs are doing away with their stiff suits, theme parks provide the perfect playground for business events. With endorphin levels at a high and the reminiscence of happy childhood memories, rollercoasters and fairground games can bring out the best in us. In fact, a day at a theme park can do so much more than just any average day out, so it’s a wonder the corporate world only relatively recently started taking advantage of these unique spaces in their mission to impress and inspire.

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