Convious in conversation with Walter Jonker from Pretwerk
Looking Beyond the Fences: How do Visitor Attractions Impact Their Regional Economy?
Do you know what cities like Duiksehoef in the Netherlands or Chessy in France have in common?
They're both neighbours to major international visitor attractions: The Efteling and Disneyland Paris. And they both benefit from the traffic these attractions bring in.
This is called the "Attraction Economic Impact". Which, simply put, refers to the effect attractions have on their surroundings, the nearby cities or villages, restaurants, hotels… All these locations and businesses rely on an attraction to bring in customers.
In this 3rd edition of Convious in Conversation With, we have invited Walter Jonker from Pretwerk to explore the vital role visitor attractions play in local economies and regional vitality. Walter is a professional in the leisure industry with a passion for connecting businesses and promoting regional dynamism. With experience ranging from nature tourism to cultural attractions, he has dedicated his career to cultivating the joy of leisure activities and exploring their potential for economic growth. He is also the creator of Pretwerk, a media platform that aims to unite various leisure businesses, including theme parks, museums, and outdoor attractions, fostering collaboration and creating a thriving ecosystem for all.
How do visitor attractions boost the local economy?
Walter explains that, to him, visitor attractions contribute to the local economy in three ways.
Firstly, they generate employment opportunities, which have a significant impact on the region's workforce.
Secondly, these attractions spur business development as they require various products and services to operate effectively. From hardware to software, attractions often rely on local suppliers, creating a positive ripple effect on the economy.
Lastly, attractions serve as magnets, drawing visitors to a region and providing it with a distinct identity:
"Attraction parks give an identity to their region. And they give a reason to travel to that region."
- Walter Jonker
How can partnerships with local businesses enhance the visitor experience?
Walter emphasises the importance of attractions looking beyond their fences and considering the entire region as part of the visitor's journey. Offering visitors a broader range of options, such as accommodation choices outside the park, not only enriches their experience but also promotes budget flexibility.
"If you look at it from a consumer's point of view it really enriches the experience. When you've travelled to visit an attraction, and you stay there, you probably won't visit that attraction every day. You'll also want to visit other things. You're not only here for the park. One day you're immersed in the park experience, the next day you might be immersed in an authentic village nearby."
- Walter Jonker
Walter shares his personal experience of visiting Europapark, where he took the opportunity to explore a nearby city during a stopover. This unexpected detour added an extra layer of value to his overall park experience, making it more memorable and unique. By fostering partnerships with local businesses, attractions can create attractive combinations that appeal to a wider range of visitors.
To ensure that both parties can benefit from these partnerships, it is crucial to break free from the notion of being a fenced community. By offering visitors flexible ticket options, such as limited-time entry or lower-cost alternatives, parks can encourage visitors to explore the region and patronise local establishments outside of the park's premises.
"For example, when I had very young children and they had to sleep during the day, I didn't visit amusement parks anymore, because it was too expensive. I could have visited in the morning or in the afternoon, but I always had to pay a fee for the whole day. And if there had been an opportunity to go to the park for two or three hours, and then leave when we needed to, then I would have visited many more attraction parks in that time."
- Walter Jonker
Additionally, effective integration of resellers, such as retailers or supermarkets, can provide increased visibility and attract a broader audience. Collaborative package deals that combine tickets with dining and accommodation options also hold promise in maximising the benefits for both the attraction and surrounding businesses.
A good example of this is the Puy du Fou in Vendée, France. It shows how an attraction can transform a relatively dormant region. The park's growth has led to the establishment of resorts, campgrounds, and an overall increase in tourism revenue. Moreover, the strong community support and pride associated with the park have strengthened the local population's bond and solidified the region's identity. Pretwerk recently covered the topic of how the park completely reinvented the region's dynamic in an article.
"Because they made it so special, it grew so big. It's one of the biggest employers in the region at the moment. A lot of local businesses profit from it bringing people to the region. And what Puy du Fou does very well is they have these resorts, hotels, and places to stay nearby. So when people visit Puy du Fou they also visit the region. In the past, there was not much else to do, but now there's a lot of activity around the park. It has been the ignition for regional development in leisure tourism."
- Walter Jonker
What are the challenges attractions face regarding their relationship with locals?
Maintaining positive relationships between parks and surrounding businesses can present challenges. Issues such as traffic congestion and noise complaints may strain the local community's relationship with the park. Major complaints, in certain cases, can jeopardise the growth of an attraction. Which is why it's very important for them to keep a healthy relationship with their neighbours.
"It's very important for attractions to have their infrastructures in order so people can get off the street quickly and they don't get traffic on the main roads for instance. But it's also something the local authority has to take care of. Governments are the ones who have to maintain a system of roads that can carry that much traffic. So it's actually a joint effort between attractions and local authorities.".
- Walter Jonker
To address these challenges, it is essential for attractions to cooperate with local authorities and ensure compliance with regulations. By lowering the negative impacts and actively involving the local community, attractions can gain their support and foster a harmonious relationship that contributes to their long-term success.
What are some key trends around attractions' ecosystem connectivity?
Walter highlights the increasing emphasis on sustainability within the amusement park industry. Attractions are now expected to demonstrate environmental responsibility by implementing eco-friendly practices and supporting nature conservation.
Another significant trend is the shift towards educational experiences, where attractions such as zoos prioritise nature preservation and serve as platforms for educating visitors about conservation.
- Walter Jonker
"Especially in zoos, we see that their focus has shifted, in the Netherlands but I think also worldwide. Their main focus isn't attracting visitors anymore, but more their role in nature conservation or educating on endangered species for example. Attracting visitors has become a means to reach that goal, for financing projects in the zoo for instance."
The attraction industry has the potential to serve as a catalyst for regional development, economic prosperity, and sustainable practices. By forging strong connections with the surrounding ecosystem and prioritising the needs of visitors and the local community, they can thrive while contributing to the overall dynamism and prosperity of their regions.
By embracing strategies like dynamic pricing, cross-selling partnerships, and visitor-centric approaches, attractions can effectively integrate themselves into the broader ecosystem.