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Travel & Tourism sector has a unique opportunity to refresh its business models: Dhimant Bakshi, Imagicaa

Navigating the shift in entertainment from physical confinements of parks to digital has helped bridged the gap between Imagicaa and its consumers, says Bakshi.

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Amusement parks form an integral part of the global leisure and entertainment industry and in India attract over 3 crore visitors annually. They contribute a major chunk of the total leisure industry turnover and hence are key drivers of growth among the service sector in India.

Most of the amusement parks had to suspend operations in the interest of social security and following orders given by respective state governments. Hence, resulting in over mounting fixed costs that are difficult to cope with due to zero revenues. 

Apart from business losses, the diminishing consumer confidence towards hygienic travel is the biggest challenge the entire industry will need to work towards in the coming time.

To give us a perspective of the industry and how it managed to tackle various challenges, we spoke to Dhimant Bakshi, Joint CEO, Imagicaa World Entertainment.

Excerpts from the conversation: 

What has been the impact of the pandemic on Theme & Amusement Park Industry in India?

Theme and Amusement park industry’s major amount of annual business season essentially spans across 6 key months i.e. April-May-June (AMJ) & October-November-December (OND). On receipt of government orders for lockdown; all parks including Imagicaa were some of the first set of facilities to suspend operations from mid-March of last year. Others facilities soon followed suit but for shorter duration of lockdown. Essentially, closure of over 9 months and missing both key business periods resulted in colossal impact for all stakeholders involved.

Industry reports are stating overall losses at a staggering INR 2000 Cr+ which accounts for half the turnover of the entire Indian amusement park businesses. It’s with utmost difficulties medium, large scale parks have pulled though this pandemic. Business loss aside, loss of consumer confidence towards hygienic travel is the biggest challenge the entire industry will need to work towards for some time to come.

While there are quantifiable losses, at Imagicaa we realised the need to Rethink and Reinvent ourselves for survival, be prepared to take on the new normal and not be bogged down by negativity. Essentially capitalising on the available time productively and get ready for the next set of challenges that the team needed to overcome. Hence, we leveraged these 9 months working upon studying fundamental shifts in consumer behaviour, monitoring the dynamic consumer sentiment wave, driving consumer engagement activities, outreach to outlining SOP’s and safety measures. Effective and efficient usage of time spent towards strategising, advanced planning and implementation of all necessary SOP’s allowed us to be the first park in Maharashtra to reopen the very next day of receiving State government approvals.

How do you see the New Normal of Theme & Amusement Parks?

Delivering the ‘Best Guest Experience’ and helping create delightful memories’ has been paramount at Imagicaa. And that’s a promise we will continue to strive and deliver to our guests at all times in terms of entertainment mix and innovations.

However there are few key changes that anyone entering the park will witness which is in line with the new normal i.e. mandatory temperature checks, masks usage, 6-foot distancing markers or alternate seating arrangement, frequent sanitization of rides and touch points and operating park at reduced capacity (40%), Virtual Queuing, menu and order digitization and contactless payments .

What’s important to remember is that Imagicaa offers India’s Many Firsts - world class Roller coasters, open-air rides, thematic content driven indoor attractions spread across 100 acres of expanse. Hence maintaining a good balance between social distancing and delivering the right entertainment quotient is highly feasible at our parks.

After the closure of almost 9 months, what are some of your strategies to re-open Imagicaa? Have you witnessed any revival in footfalls, recently?

First and foremost all safety, hygiene measures prescribed by WHO and ICMR have been put in place. We have ensured that all our activities and facilities are both social distancing and hygiene compliant; all of which has been pre-tested to ensure the best and safest guest experience.

Furthermore taking into consideration the repressed consumer demand, we have taken a conscious decision to phase-wise reopen all of our parks. On Christmas day is when we opened and since then have resumed and ramped up operations steadily of our Theme Park and with all outdoor rides and marquee indoor rides keeping in mind all the necessary safety norms. Also being the festive season the park was operational on all days till 3rd of January and has even witnessed gradual but steady increase in footfalls. Post which Theme park will be operational 3 day weekend (Friday, Saturday, Sunday) and also on public holidays. Similar strategy will be applied to Imagicaa Water Park that will be made operational very soon.

Our initial research showed that WFH effect had an impact with people working remotely but once back in office had to quickly be abreast on the work-front. WFH strategy has helped to optimize business operating expenses and manage difficult situation post reopening.

Being an ISO certified company, what are the additional Safety and Hygiene Norms undertaken at Imagicaa?

Innovating and quickly adapting the business model to today’s experience is the key to business success. Past 9 months have provided us time to reflect back at our business model and look at avenues of enhancing guest experience coupled with safety. Need to digitize our theme park operating model was also realized for ensuring park experience offers the right amount of innovation to feel fresh and impressive as well as provide reassurance to guests. Therefore to complement operational changes, innovative technological changes have been implemented to enhance guest experience while upholding safety, hygiene norms.

Notable change is the introduction of ‘Virtual Queueing’ where the guest need not wait in the ride queue line. Instead they can queue virtually through the Imagicaa app and be notified of their turn thereby minimising overcrowding and inter-mingling of guests. This is the first time this globally integrated process is making its way to Indian soil.

Apart from this ‘contactless’ mechanism will be the new normal. Online bookings are being widely encouraged accompanied by 'Easy Access' – scan and skip park entry queue. In fact we have even witnessed drastic shift in booking of online versus walk-in customers.

Imagicaa’s F&B and retail outlets too have gone contactless. Menu digitisation, in-app order placement and online payment have been enabled to meet social distancing norms and reduce any infection risk.

How has the transition from physical to digital entertainment been for you?

Changing the marketing outlook during the pandemic has been a huge challenge but an insightful learning curve for Imagicaa. With many things moving digital for people from all walks of life, having right data and its indicators to understand if your campaigns will command consumer attention is an important lesson learnt. Navigating the shift in entertainment from physical confinements of parks to digital has helped bridged the gap between Imagicaa and its consumers. Establishing a direct communication line with our internet savvy, key target audience (16-35 year old) became an integral part of devising unique social-media campaigns formulated with credible and emotionally connecting brand messaging.

Needless to say that remaining connected and being on top of their minds to build a strong recall is essential apart from creating urgency of visit. Whether topical or strategic, every digital brand campaign had one common focus – ‘Staying relevant and connected’.

But we all know that digital entertainment can only temporarily surpass the need for outdoor, physical entertainment and leisure. This trend has been off late as people want to have a quick getaway and it won’t be long before we see crowds thronging through our gates once again.

What are some of the marketing strategies implemented in the past few months?

Our brand stands for entertainment whether physical or digital. During the lockdown period, we had to think on our feet and adapt to the requirements accordingly by integrating digital engagement practices which formed the core of our marketing strategies.

· Quarantivities - ‘Fun and Learn’ activities was one such example involving Imagicaa’s in-house talent to lead story-telling, character illustration, dance, yoga, and cooking sessions for all age groups with single objective of engaging audience and reducing stress

· Doctor’s Day Gratitude led campaign was a pure effort to express our sincere gratitude to the Corona Warriors. Campaign created a huge buzz with ~10,000 doctors and nurses availing the offer

· Fan Choice League - tri-series polling contest voting for their favourite team led by Hawahawai, Mogambo and Mr. India representing a specific deal that was shared 1500+ times for the win and a method of empowering fans and letting them be the decision makers.

Notably, the Meme and Imagineer contest received a very high engagement rate (~8%) on Instagram.

Running contextual offers (Independence Day & Black Friday sale) and contextual targeting has resulted in positive traction, virality and in certain cases even revenue generation through these campaigns. While digital outreach played a vital role, the media mix will be re-evaluated to integrate ATL, PR for boosting future campaigns.

What are some of your future plans and how do you see the future of outdoor entertainment in the country?

COVID-19 has transformed traveller inclinations and behaviours towards the familiar, predictable, trusted, and even low risk. There’s a huge pent-up demand to do the things we’ve been deprived of during the pandemic for almost a year. This is reflective in the strong uptick witnessed for domestic and regional vacations coupled with extensive research and planning where outdoors will reign or as the term goes -‘Revenge Tourism’.

Indian Travel & Tourism sector therefore has a unique opportunity to rethink and refresh prevailing business models, in partnership with local communities and with consideration for its most valuable asset, its people. The boost for domestic tourism has been a huge positive. Tourism businesses and destinations have already begun the process of adapting accordingly.

Moreover as an international standard themed entertainment destination, it’s critical that we never lose sight of our own backyard i.e. local region. And Imagicaa has been fortunate enough to witness interest from pockets or immediate catchment markets like Mumbai, Pune and even Gujarat that has even transformed into footfalls at the park. We devised our reopening marketing strategies such that they become our brand ambassadors and spread the word. Campaigns designed have very creatively and subtly indicated safety measures.

Tourism Department of Maharashtra, MTDC have been very supportive during the pandemic. Need for the hour is to boost domestic tourism in conjunction with them.

Currently our focus is communicating weekend park operations, emphasising the – best in class entertainment to be enjoyed at about one-third the cost of any global peer. However, we are simultaneously gearing for our key season with renewed vigour chalking out the media channels mapped to communication roll-out and with a messaging that propels visitation so that we can deliver delightful memories for all our guests.




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