Episode 25: Ash Smart talks about European family park operations, how they have adapted, and their bright outlook for their future
Guest: Ash Smart, Chief Financial Officer Harbour Park

Dennis Speigel welcomes Ash Smart, Chief Financial Officer at Harbour Park in the United Kingdom. Ash’s family has owned and operated the park since 1977, but the family link to the entertainment industry spans back to 1910 with a single-hand cranked roundabout. This was followed by a traveling funfair, a touring big top show, a safari park, and now Harbour Park, which is a seaside amusement park / FEC offering outdoor and indoor attractions. Ash is highly involved in IAAPA and currently serves on its board of directors. With this depth of family history and roots in the amusement industry, Ash wshares his unique insights on how European family-run parks and seaside operations have adapted, and discusses the outlook for the future, not only in the UK, but in Europe.

Questions after the podcast

Thank you to Ash for taking the time to provide additional answers to questions that we were not able to get to during our live broadcast. The questions, and answers from Ash, can be found below. Thank you again for supporting our podcasts, and feel free to send additional questions or comments to itps@interthemepark.com.

How has admissions pricing changed at Harbour Park since Covid? Have you noticed any trends in what people are willing to pay? Any price resistance?
Since COVID we have implemented a more dynamic scheduled pricing to our calendar. Raising the price during our peak times, maintaining our price in the off peak and actually lowering our price slightly in the low season. This aimed to encourage a more even spread in visitation. The effect of the lower price in the low season remains to be seen this autumn, but the increases in the peak was not met with much resistance at all and has helped maximize the short window of peak operations further.

Length of stay has a great bearing on spending for food. How important is food and beverage to your operation? How does this contribute to your overall per capita spending?
Food and Beverage is very important to our operation and is approximately 32% of our income. We operate our own F&B onsite and concession out a handful of beachfront outlets. Families staying for lunch and spending on food positively contributes to the per cap spend but within this important mix is the continued growth of high volume snack items or fun foods, which often require lower labour efforts and hold great margins.

How important are birthday parties to your overall operation? How do they contribute to revenues and how do you make them successful?
Birthday parties have always been important, accounting for almost 20% of revenue in one our F&B outlets during winter. The indoor soft play parties have been the most affect area of our business due to COVID. However, demand is returning and we have taken the opportunity to reimagine our offer with investment in a brand new soft play and new underwater themed party function room. We have also introduced better tiered choices for customers, which should improve the revenues as most parents/guardians like to pick the premium option for their birthday child.

You briefly mentioned BALPPA. How does BALPPA function in relation to IAAPA? What has their role been like the last 20 months and are you involved in their organization in any leadership capacity?
BALPPA has a partnership with IAAPA and staff from both regularly communicate on industry challenges and trends. BALPPA’s primary functions are Government relations in London through UK Hospitality and a strong focus on industry safety in the UK. During the last 20 months BALPPA has disseminated regularly all the Government changes due to COVID and what they have meant for members. Harbour Park does have representation on BALPPA’s management committee as well as IAAPA and it serves nicely hand in hand. IAAPA provides great training opportunities to develop your attraction leaders, fantastic toolkits and papers like industry advice on COVID protocols and of course its well known Expos.

What trends are you seeing for large international operators?
The noticeable trend pre-COVID has been the continued exploration of international markets and identifying the correct location that can service a large park. Examples of these are Universal in Beijing, Six Flags in Saudi Arabia and the London Resort in the UK.

It will be interesting as we go forward in the recovery to see how these projects develop. Exciting to see the opening of Universal Beijing!

Why would you encourage someone in the industry to get involved with IAAPA if they aren’t already? What do you feel are the main benefits?
I would always encourage involvement at IAAPA, many have said it and I will say it again that ‘you get back what you put in a thousand times over’. The desire for involvement is usually driven from the want to help others in the industry and to share your own experience, when this is your mindset the same is returned and you learn how to develop your business or your day to day role further.  

The instant access network you grow by doing this is priceless.

Feasibility Analysis - Design / Masterplanning - Pre-Opening Operations Planning - Management

International Theme Park Services, Inc.
International Theme Park Services, Inc.

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International Theme Park Services, Inc. 
2195 Victory Parkway
Cincinnati, Ohio 45206
United States of America
Phone: 513-381-6131