Sunway Lagoon keeping the experience fresh

AS theme parks go, the Sunway Lagoon Theme Park in Bandar Sunway, Petaling Jaya, is not all that young, considering that it was officially opened in 1993. However, the park has evolved significantly since the early days, when it mainly catered for parents with young children.

Today, it aims to please people from all walks of life. The key was to shift from a two-park attraction – it started with the Water Park and the Dry Park (now known as the Amusement Park) – to become a bigger collection of thrills and spills.

At present, there are five parks. The Wildlife Park, the Extreme Park and the Scream Park were added in stages. The investments seem to have paid off. Sales for financial year 2007 increased by 16% to almost RM44mil, while sales for financial year 2008 jumped 37% to RM60.4mil.

Sunway Lagoon Sdn Bhd chief executive officer Aaron Soo says the past few months had been record-breaking.

“It is a combination of many factors as we have so much to offer now than we had back then. Many people will come back because there is so much more to experience,” he adds.

The company operates the Sunway Lagoon Theme Park, and is a 51% subsidiary of Sunway City Bhd, which is listed on Bursa Malaysia’s main board.

Soo now expects a 7% growth for Sunway Lagoon this year. He attributes the theme park’s success to the commitment of keeping the Sunway Lagoon experience fresh for visitors.

And the changes keep coming. There are plans for new attractions such as a surfing simulator for the water park; a lights, laser and sound show for the Scream Park; and a face-lift for the amphitheatre.

He adds that the park has diversified by venturing into the staging of product launches, private parties, corporate dinners and even weddings.

“A beautiful ‘beach’ wedding can be held right smack in Kuala Lumpur. Not everyone can afford to fly guests to Bali for a romantic seaside wedding. At Sunway Lagoon, we can make that come true for you for a fraction of the cost,” says Soo, adding that there are many attractions within the park that can make any event special.

While 80% of Sunway Lagoon’s revenue is from park visitors, the events held at the park will grow. The park is also one of the region’s hottest venues for international sporting events such as the Asian X-Games and the annual Quiksilver Revolution Tour.

About 40% of the park’s visitors have gone there to attend events. About 660,000 of the visitors are local, while an estimated 440,000 are international visitors. Soo says the analysis of the visitor data helps in identifying the appropriate media for advertising.

The operator does not plan to cut its ad spending of RM3mil but will instead be more focused and targeted in its advertising, which will be skewed towards tourists via local hotels. Soo adds that joint ventures with credit card companies, magazines and even AirAsia have helped boost the park’s visibility.

“We will not decrease our ad spend. Logically, we should, due to the downturn. But I feel that even during the downturn, we still need to take a break. So instead of spending much more on an overseas location, why not come to Sunway Lagoon for a break?” he suggests.

To Soo, there are two major concerns when managing a theme park. It is not easy, Soo says. One is the business itself, and the other is safety.

When executed well, advertising and promotions can bring in business, but safety can only come with vigilance. He says, “Our marketing tagline is ‘Come Feel The Fun’ but our operations tagline is ‘Safety, Safety, Safety’ and then ‘Come Feel The Fun’. Safety is always top priority for us and now with five parks, we have a much larger area to cover.

“One of our key objectives in our park is to minimise the number of incidents. In the Chinese New Year period this year, we are proud to say that there were zero incidents.”

He points out that a fatal accident at the theme park will affect the livelihood of almost 500 employees. Therefore, safety is important to all of them.

Soo says that all park attendants are trained to be friendly yet firm to ensure safety for all visitors. All rides and attractions undergo stringent routine checks throughout and after operating hours every day.

So what is next for Sunway Lagoon? For Soo, who is looking forward to his company providing management services to other theme parks, the sky is the limit.