I've had a little clear-out recently, and came across an article about the development of Transylvania at Chessington. Thought I'd share it. It had a couple of interesting images too - not sure how to upload them, so may share via my Twitter account @mathmosman
Hope you enjoy the article:
CHESSINGTON GOES BATS
CHESSINGTON IS BANISHING ITS ZOO IMAGE WITH A £10M INVESTMENT IN A ROLLERCOASTER WORLD OF ADVENTURE WITH A TRANSYLVANIAN ATMOSPHERE
`Chessington, Chessington, Chessington zoo .. .', the TV slogan which told the world that yes, Chessington was indeed a zoo, has done its job too well. Many still think that though Chessington has some extra attractions these days, it is still a zoo above all else.
But the lions and tigers are competing against an initial £10m investment which has created the theme park — Chessington World of Adventures. Dragon rides, Calamity Canyon, the Fifth Dimension, Smuggler's Cove and Circus World now stand along-side the zoo.
After only two seasons, attendance stood at 1.15m in 1988, 300,000 up on the previous year and putting it in the top ten of English tourist attractions which have an admission charge. But now phase two of the theme park is to be unveiled as Chessington's 1990 season kicks off on March 24. It hopes to attract an extra 200,000 visitors this year by introducing its new themed area, Transylvania.
Chessington has operated as a zoo since the 1930s. In the 1970s it was drawing 800,000 visitors a year but increasing competition meant that attendance dipped to 500,000 in the early 1980s. But owners, the Pearson Group bought Tussaud's and put it with Chessington. Tussaud's marketing expertise and Pearson's money have been the twin supports in the World of Adventures project.
The opening of the M25 in 1985 placed Chessington only two miles from a motorway junction point and instantly expanded its potential. After the phase one development, Chessington's development committee judged that a rollercoaster ride was essential as a centrepiece for the expanding set-up.
Various ride constructions were discussed but John Wardley, Chessington director responsible for new developments and former special effects designer on Bond films, decided on a hanging rollercoaster ride, the first in the UK: "The ride is designed to be fun and thrilling but not terrifying in itself. A hanging coaster banks at a natural angle and is therefore more enjoyable than it looks. It is not a plunging white knuckle ride.
"There are already five rides in the US, all manufactured by Arrow Dynamics, but this was the first occasion that the ride was specifically themed," says Wardley. "A theme park is not a collection of large thrill rides. Disney uses rides to take people on adventures."
The whole area leans heavily for ideas on the gothic
The hanging ride suggested 'flight' to Wardley and from that came the idea for the Vampire Ride and then Transylvania. The vampire-shaped car threads through a Bavarian-style forest and over village square.
The whole area leans heavily for ideas on the gothic, Hammer horror-style films. Like any Dracula film set, there is the quaint village square on the one side and the castle ruins of Dracula on the other. In the square there will be Black Forest Chateau, a 300 seat restaurant, styled as a Bavarian beer hall, which will sell batburgers and other themed food. A smaller Alpine Spa will sell health foods whilst a gift shop, Fangtasia will sell all sorts of ghoulish wares. "Catering and merchandising are a significant part of the total spend per head," says Ralph Armond, Chessington's marketing manager.
Part of the more cheery side to village life will be the oompah bands and leiderhosened singers who will frequent the square. But there is also a second, dark ride on floating barrels through Professor Burp's bubbleworks. I wanted a show ride and not a thrill ride here," says Wardley, Chessington's development director. "Rather than do a kiddy's grotto I wanted a clever story line to allow people of different ages to enjoy it at different levels.
"Every German town has its hofbrau house (Brewery) but we decided on a crazy, fizzy-pop factory managed by Professor Burp whose voice will guide people through it." The ride comes from Leisuretec and the theming is by Sparks.
The humour is designed to range from schoolboy (the Bubbleworks has a soda beaufart scale) to more clever puns. And once you have seen how the soda pop is made, you can also buy the real thing. More merchandising and therefore more potential for profit.
Walk through the castle ruins and you'll come to the entrance to the vampire ride, which goes under the castle through slime-covered passages, past coffins and finally entering a huge, gothic ballroom, all of which is designed to keep those queuing entertained.
But a delicate balance needed to be trodden, says Wardley, between providing a tingle of suspense and not making it too disturbing for really young children. "You want to give people a bit of a fright but you need to make them laugh afterwards. This will be Disneyspook not Nightmare on Elm Street."
Chessington's marketing strategy has clearly been successful over the past two seasons although Armond says that it may be ten years before it sheds its 'zoo' image completely. By opening an education centre and through targeting schools, it claims to have lost only 6% of its school visits last season as a result of the Education Act.
The marketing of the Vampire Ride will come before that of Transylvania as the ride itself is likely to be the main selling point to anew, teenage market. Already Chessington is gearing up to the launch by promoting it to the travel trade. But the bulk of its £1.5m yearly advertising expenditure will go to TV and radio. The blitz will start as soon as the ride is ready to go.
Young and Rubicam is the agency working on the account. Gone is the softly, softly approach of the now defunct Chessington zoo. "It beats the living daylights out of other days out," Chessington's new slogan emphasises the aggressive stance it now takes. Chessington is also considering linking up with a charity promotion. Says Armond: "We might link up Chessington with some sort of blood donor promotion though we wouldn't take blood just before they go on the ride. That would be asking for trouble."
Rather than do a kiddies' grotto, I wanted a clever story line to allow people of different ages to enjoy it at different levels
With the first real rollercoaster ride in the South of England, Chessington will provide stiff competition for local rivals, Windsor Safari Park and Thorpe Park. But now Chessington will also be competing against Alton Towers, the UK's largest theme park. Until now Chessington considered most of its target audience was only two hours driving time from the park. Now the ride will stretch the target area to two and a half hours.
With tourists further afield, Chessington expects more coach business to be generated. At the moment 95% of visitors come by car or coach. But with a BR station only 10 minutes away and that only 30 minutes from Waterloo, Armond believes that it too is a market to be courted.
There are plans for further developments at Chessington although Tussauds' recently renewed application for a theme park at Woburn may scupper any plans in the short term. For a public which has quite possibly gone to the Disney parks in the US and who will very likely go to Euro Disney in France, the care and heavy investment in Transylvania seems only good sense.