They’re square, practical and usually booked solid. Last year Carlo Horn built 50 wooden cabins on a meadow next to the Ravensburger Spieleland amusement park. It was a smart move for his business, with its target audience of children aged two to 12. Before he knew it, 10,000 parents and children had spent the night there. Mr. Horn, who runs the theme park, expects even more guests this season now word is getting out.
More and more families are taking short vacations at theme parks. “We are all so busy these days. So it’s nice to take a little time off with the family once in a while,” said Martin Kring, who runs Legoland in the Bavarian town of Günzburg. Legoland was ahead of the competition in Ravensburg, investing in accommodation years ago. The investment has paid off, Mr. Kring said. “We’ve turned our regional park into an international attraction.”
Mr. Kring counted 300,000 overnight guests last year. The theme park’s hotels and bungalows have more than 2,000 beds, booked on four out of five nights during the season. More than 60 percent of visitors are from abroad.
Sleeping in the shadow of roller coasters is no cheap thrill. According to comparison site Check 24, a family with a 10-year-old child pays €383, or $426, for a night at Legoland in August, including two days admission. And Legoland is inexpensive compared to parks that also appeal to adults. A family of three pays an average of €473 a night at Europapark, and €953 at Disneyland outside Paris. Europapark, in southwestern Germany, is the country’s largest amusement park, with 5.5 million visitors a year. France’s Disneyland is the largest park in Europe, with about 11 million guests a year.
Families aren’t deterred by the prices. “People are looking for adventure close to home,” said Philipp Prechtl of management consulting firm Dr. Wieselhuber & Partner. Even if it’s just the thrill of a whitewater ride.
“We’ve turned our regional park into an international attraction.”
It wasn’t always a given that families would flock to theme parks. Ravensburger Spieleland, located near Lake Constance in southern Germany, struggled financially for the first 10 years. When Ravensburger, a family-owned company, opened the park in 1998, management had high hopes for the business. The operators predicted sales of half a million tickets in five years and 750,000 soon afterwards.
Guests were hesitant at first. But although the park has yet to live up to early expectations, business is now growing from year to year. “We have been making good money since 2009,” Mr. Horn said. Visitors purchased a record 412,000 tickets last year, and sales in the Ravensburger leisure division rose by more than 5 percent to about €15 million. Mr. Horn believes it will take until the end of the decade for Spieleland to cross the half-million-ticket threshold.
It was a similar story at Legoland. With much fanfare, Lego owner Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen unveiled his plans for a park in Germany in 1999. “We looked all over the world and finally settled on Günzburg,” the Danish billionaire said. But he soon realized he had spread himself too thin across many projects. He then incorporated the parks into Merlin, a British entertainment group. It was a smart move, because it eventually led to Merlin spreading the concept around the world.
On average, Germans buy a ticket for an amusement park once every two years, compared to twice a year for the Dutch. This statistic is an encouraging sign for German park operators, who believe the business will continue to grow.
The two parks, intended primarily for children, appear to be over their initial struggles. Last summer, Legoland welcomed its 20 millionth guest a year earlier than planned. “We hadn’t expected to get there before the 15th birthday in 2017,” marketing head Stephan Prien admitted. This spring, Merlin invested €10 million in a 4-D ride with interactive hand gesture technology. “Our business is strongly driven by novelty,” Mr. Kring said. The company is also building a new hotel for €27 million.
In Ravensburg’s park, Mr. Horn is preparing for next year’s 20th anniversary celebrations. He won’t let on what the next attraction will be. But construction workers will be busy this fall, because “something big is happening,” Mr. Horn said.
Joachim Hofer covers the sports, leisure and IT sectors for Handelsblatt. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org