Ingrid Fernandes FCMA: Finance and Logistics Director, Legoland Windsor
You take 55 million plastic toy bricks from Denmark and build a theme park of mini-buildings just down the road from the Queen's favourite weekend castle. It sounds eccentric. How does it work?
We have four theme parks. The first opened in Denmark in 1968 and the others are in Germany and California. We've also just acquired two more: in Florida and Malaysia. This one opened in 1996 and occupies 150 acres of the old Windsor Safari Park.
We're part of the Merlin Entertainments Group, which is the world's second-biggest operator of visitor attractions after Disney. It runs 62 attractions plus six hotels and two holiday villages in 13 countries, so we can draw on the experience not only of other Legoland parks but also of attractions such as Alton Towers and the London Eye. We're helped by the fact that everyone knows our brand, but it does mean that they have high expectations.
What's your main target market?
Most of our visitors are domestic tourists with children aged between three and 12. Many make a two- or three-day trip to the area and also visit Windsor Castle and central London.
How have you fared in the recession?
We've weathered it well because many British people stayed in the UK during the holidays but their kids still needed entertaining, so we came up with packages for those who wanted to stay a few days and visit more than once. We've started offering an annual pass that's cheaper than paying full price for two days. There's also a Merlin annual pass that offers entry to all our sister attractions in the UK, too, so a family could easily visit one a week for the whole summer holiday. This has increased footfall, generated good publicity and improved customer loyalty.
Families recognise that the passes represent good value, especially in this economic climate, so they're more inclined to return the next season. Strong annual pass sales, a marketing campaign and tactical promotions to increase attendance in off-peak periods have helped to attract more visitors. We've extended opening hours till 8pm in the summer to encourage parents with children to visit after work and we've given all-day visitors extra value for money, so they can enjoy more rides or have the option of eating here before heading home.
What other trends are you seeing in your visitors' demands?
People have generally become more discerning about how they spend their leisure time. This is only partly because of the recession. They have realised that time is more precious than money and they want to come out as a family at weekends. But they do expect a high-quality experience. They're no longer satisfied with classic "theme park food", for example, so we've worked with a leading nutritionist and Annabel Karmel, a children's food expert, to ensure that we're offering the kind of fare that children want to eat--and that parents want to buy.
What does this mean for the finances?
We need to look closely at all our revenue streams and ensure we're optimising them. It's a fine balancing act to deliver the margins and also hit our customer satisfaction targets. Ultimately, our business is driven by the consumers. I'm lucky, because I can walk out of my office, be surrounded by them and find out what they want. There's nothing like taking a child around a theme park to find out what works and what doesn't. Part of my role is to understand the park's mechanisms, so I spend one or two days a month running it. It gives me a clear idea of spending patterns and potential areas for investment.
Are you still investing in new attractions?
Merlin is focused on continuous growth, so we need to invest in a new ride or attraction annually. This year we opened a new area of the park, Pirates Landing, so that guests have another reason to come back.
And you're building a hotel. …