CT Cares Ep 22: Imagicaa On The New Normal For Amusement Parks; Balance Of Safety & Entertainment

by Tonakshi Kalra

It’s that time of the year when amusement parks flock with families, friends and kids, but this year the story seems to be a little different. Eight months into the lockdown, we are slowly hearing of restaurants, hotels and even cinema halls opening up. But there has been absolutely no news on amusement parks. And to talk about the impact and the revival of the industry, the joint CEO of India’s largest themed entertainment park Imagicaa, Mr. Dhimant Bakshi shares his thoughts with us.

1.How soon the amusement parks can open, specifically Imagicaa? Any specific date that has been decided or announced by the government?

So while the central government has given the indication of 15th October, which has been ruled out as a national date, but each state is taking their own calls. Maharashtra, as a state in particular, has not yet taken any decision. But we think it could be somewhere around first week of November. At least we are looking forward to catching up on Diwali season, which is really something what everyone looks forward.

2. Families and kids are waiting for amusement parks to open up, but there is some sense of apprehension and fear as well. So if you can tell us once Imagicaa opens up, how is the experience going to be?

We are an open-air environment with some bit of indoor attractions and activities that you would see. We run in acres, as a unit of measurement and not really in square feet or square meters that you would generally come across. Therefore, maintaining a good balance between social distancing to ensuring that the entertainment quotient is right, is something very possible and practical with us. For past seven months, we’ve been very actively working on it.

We have seen that it’s important that how guest interface is controlled, not only with the peer guest but also with the employees. We are ensuring that there are temperature checks, ensuring that employee’s health is being regularly tracked and monitored so that there is no possibility of any carryover of any infection.

3. You mentioned earlier about virtual queues. Please tell us about that. Also, if there are any other technological innovations that you’ve launched. In addition to that, is there going to be a minimum capacity of people that are going to be allowed to come into Imagicaa? 

With a park like ours which is at a capacity of 10,000 per day in a Theme Park and in Water Park, it’s almost 5,500 people. We have ensured that 40% capacity is what we would operate with. So to begin with, first step is to make sure that a large capacity of 10,000 spread over almost 100 acres between both the Parks. So 15000 between two parks. 6000 people is what we can take at a maximum level which itself ensures that guests can have a 1BHK experience. Practically for everyone, it’s almost 1BHK size of social distancing possibility that we’ll be able to ensure at least in Imagicaa as a park. Making sure that virtual queueing where the guests are most likely to come in contact with each other. We are ensuring that in the Imagicaa app itself, you can get notification for your turn to come. You don’t really need to stand and rather you’ll minimize the contact. Second such initiative is also for our food and beverage in which you could order virtually through the app. At the time of readiness of the meal, you can go and pick up your order and payment mode is online too. Similarly retail too, where it will be a completely contactless shopping experience. So these are some of the initiatives that we have taken.

4. It’s interesting to see social distancing in amusement park. I read a report where a theme park in Japan has banned people from screaming on roller coasters to prevent coronavirus spread. That sounds very funny when you hear it and I don’t know if it’s even possible to do that. Do you see any such initiatives to be taken in India as well?

First of all, in Japan, I’ve never heard anyone screaming by design. So that’s unlike in most of the countries where you will see people on high decibel. Yes, but that was only for initial days when the parks were reopened.  I’m sure as and when parks open, there’s a journey of improvising and correcting certain measures. Those were the measures which were taken very earlier on and I don’t think we would like to enforce such a norm but to tackle really the concern with which one has implemented such a measure is to ensure that even on the rides, one would like to give enough distancing. You want people to scream, right! We would like them to have a great time. So we would ensure that on the rides and attractions,  people are having enough room to play with. So that’s what we would be essentially doing.

5. While it’s a great thing that very soon amusement parks are going to open up. Imagicaa, being a family destination which involves entertainment, travel, hospitality. All of this have been affected very badly during the lock down and as the pandemic is still on, every industry has had to go through a lot during this period. How is the impact been really on Imagicaa?

We were one of the first facilities to get shut. On 15th March, we got the orders from the government to shut operations while many facilities we would have seen were shutting somewhere around the end of the month. Till today, we do not have the clear visibility on when we would be able to open. Of course, there’s a huge impact. I would say that it’s colossal impact. There’s been an impact to all the stakeholders, whether they are employees or partners or associates as well as us. It’s a big impact. With great difficulty, we’ve been able to put things together. Yes, life is difficult but we know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. All of us are motivated to make some good things that can be done for people as well as to ensure that we get past the pandemic as soon as we can.

6. Well, you were the first ones to bear the brunt of the lockdown like you just mentioned. Tell us in terms of support, has any kind of support extended by the government during this period?

The tourism department has been very cooperative. They’ve been trying to do their best. We have represented our request to various people in tourism departments of Maharashtra. However, I think when it comes to getting the desired support from the other bodies, I think Industries such as auto, power are always as those who are output based whereas we are people who provide services. While there are many noble initiatives implemented by the Government but in terms of on ground action, it really has a long way to go.

7. It’s unfortunate to see such amazing businesses bleeding in pain in this period. Another thing that happened during this lockdown is that Prime Minister Narendra Modi supporting local tourism with a #vocalforlocal just to encourage more of a domestic tourism to boost. What are your plans in terms of promoting tourism for Imagicaa? Is that the line of thought that you would have and how are you planning to market? 

Like I mentioned earlier, we are an international entertainment and amusement experience in India. In today’s time, because Imagicaa is a complete entertainment destination where we have a 5 star hotel, Theme Park, Water Park and Snow Park as well. So entire family’s two days experience is what we provide. I would say 1/6th the value of any Global Entertainment peer. So our effort is to communicate that.

8. What about the hotel Novotel Imagicaa? Is that open? 

Yes, we opened Novotel just after the announcement happened in August from the government. And we did an initial tie-up with a corporate group, got the business up and running. We are seeing a decent traction at the hotel end.

9. Mr. Dhimant, you just mentioned how Imagicaa is a fun-filled destination for people of all age groups through its Theme Park, Snow Park or Water Park. When you reopen, are you planning to shut down any of the activities permanently or temporarily considering the hygiene practices and other things in mind?

We would do a phase-wise opening. While all our activities and facilities would be social distancing as well as hygiene compliant. We have put very strong measures and we have already tested some of our measures. The guest experience has been tested. However, to make sure that we are cautious and ensuring that guests are safe, we would open in phase-wise manner especially for some of the indoor attractions, otherwise all outdoor rides would be open.

10. We, at Curly Tales, love offers. So when you reopen, are you introducing some new and exciting offers and discounts to attract families?

Yes, of course. We know that during COVID times, all of us have been affected in some way or the other, financially or medically or otherwise. Imagicaa does appreciate and understand that. While we want our guests and patrons to reciprocate well and make sure that the facility keeps running on its own in best possible way. We would be drawing some interesting offers and schemes which will entice guests to come just as we are closer to the park opening dates, we would definitely be doing something which will sweeten the purchase for our guests.

11. Even in this period, did you see a lot of inquiries coming in? Any particular consumer trend or pattern that you saw and would like to share?

Weddings per se have been severely affected during pandemic. So we are seeing good traction in the wedding inquiries. There have been certain confirmations that we have already made. And we also see a very interesting behavior of ‘Groupbaazi’ as we call it. Lot of groups are wanting to come in their own social circles and really break free from the pandemic situation. We have seen that they come to have a good time. And not only work from home or work from hotels, now we are even going to toy with ‘Work From Parks’ kind of situation.

12. How long do you think it will take for the industry to bounce back or so to say, recover the losses?

I don’t think anybody has a perfect answer. I think somewhere around 1 or 1.5 years is my estimate because categories like ours take a longer time to get warmed up and get that momentum. I’m sure it will take some time, probably the kind of losses that all the parts have amounted to have been very high. Some of the industry reports are putting it as high as 2000 crores kind of a loss just in amusement park business, which is almost half the turnover of the entire amusement park businesses. It’s going to take time to build customer confidence. It’s going to take time for people to come back in its real form of entertainment. But we all are here to stay; we are here to work closely to make things happen. We will keep chugging along.