Arun K Chittilappilly
Arun K Chittilappilly

Arun K Chittilappilly in his Wonderland

‘Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life’, is one of the famous quotations of Steve Jobs. Believing in the same and proving it apt is the current Managing Director of Wonderla Holidays Limited, Arun K Chittilappilly.

Taking the reins of business built on strong foundation from his father Kochouseph Chittilappilly, Arun gave the amusement park business a complete new look and dimension, thereby making Wonderla reach amongst the top in the current list of most sought after tourist destinations of India.

Understanding the scope of the amusement park business to become a separate entity, Arun spearheaded the path ahead weaving out the latest marketing strategies for the park.

“The amusement park business has always excited me right from the start. It calls for constant innovation and building on new marketing strategies, which has been my field of interest,” says Arun K Chittilappilly, who is successfully carrying forward the business since past 12 years and is instrumental in transforming the ancient notion of theme parks to what it is today.

The rich legacy

Being one of the first of its kind fantasy park in Kerala, the then veegaland and now Wonderla, became a crowd puller within couple of years from its start. Located 15 kms from Kochi city, Wonderla Amusement Park has nearly 59 amusement rides.

Spread over 30 acres of landscaped space and built to international standards, the park is impeccably maintained and has been providing joyful experience to over 200,000 visitors over the past 14 years.

With increasing number of footfalls, Wonderla Kochi soon became a crowd puller and also became the first park in India to get ISO14001 certificate for eco-friendliness and OHSAS 18001 certificate for safety.

Promoted by V-Guard Group, one of India’s top electric and electronic consumer products brand, which has been founded and guided by the visionary Kochouseph Chittilappilly and its sister concern, V-Star Creations; it has given the Wonderla group the perfect solid platform to grow leaps and bounds.

With the rich experience, able expertise and knowledge, the group ventured into Bangalore, which didn’t have parks then and they could easily capture the emptiness in the segment.

Located on Bangalore – Mysore Road, just 28 kms from Bangalore city, the park in Bangalore is spread across 82 acres of landscaped garden, and has about 59 thrill packed rides offering a monster dose of entertainment and fun for all age groups.

It is believed that the park has already had over 7.5 million people visitors since its opening in 2005. In 2012, Wonderla Bangalore also added a resort inside the amusement park — making it the first amusement park in India to have a resort right next to the park.

Beginning of a new era

With the passing years, the need for constant innovation was well understood by Arun and this made the group have an edge over others capturing the minds of people. “Entertainment is very much preferred by people and being in the business, coming up with timely innovations is the key.

For example, when we started our new project in Bangalore, the cold weather during winter was considered as a barrier for us especially considering the coinciding Christmas vacation time.

We doubted on whether the footfalls will decrease due to the weather. But then we came up with the option for heated pools and now the December is season time for us. Therefore, we need to always come up with constant innovation to track the opportunities in our way,” adds Arun.

The option to have a resort adjacent to it was also a similar step by the group to help people relax and enjoy, and it also addressed the corporate needs as well. The planning of four star Wonderla resort with 85 rooms near the park in Bangalore was part of a natural progression, which is very much prevalent abroad with most of the parks there offering the accommodation facility for its customers.

The Bangalore park also boasts of special rainwater harvesting facility addressing the water scarcity problem of the city, which was also a novel idea adopted by the company.

Imbibing international standards

Travelling across the world, Arun feels that one needs to keep oneself updated about what is happening in their respective genres worldwide. Innovation is crucial to the continuing success of any organisation and hence the knowledge of current trends related to the nuances of the industry is a must.

Without a proper base of information, new additions to it would make no value to the business. Meeting suppliers, visiting international parks, travelling across the country are the different methods adapted by him to keep well versed with the trends of the industry.

“I always travel across to international parks to understand the trends in the field. The networking meeting with suppliers and other players in the industry also helps us in making our park well equipped with latest features. We can easily adopt something new and useful incorporated by others in their ventures and thereby improvise what we do,” affirms Arun.

Adding further on the differentiation between amusement parks in India and abroad, he added, “The only major difference between the parks abroad and here is in the size and scale. People have better spending capacity and the facilities available abroad are on a larger platform and in a grander scale.

Also, making people obey rules is a task here, which comes for granted in other countries. But, still when compared to parks in Dubai, I feel our parks are better and this might be the reason why Wonderla has been able to attain the 7th position in the list of highly ranked amusement parks of Asia,” claims Arun.

Importing designs, rides and technology from abroad and implementing the latest features in the park, he takes special efforts to make Wonderla well updated catering to all needs of style, comfort and luxury.

Putting the customer first

Being a people oriented business, the customer satisfaction plays a major role. Understanding the same, the Wonderla group has always thrived to come up with unique additions, right from the variety in rides to prolific facilities, to make their customers enjoy to the core.

The company boasts of an in-house team for ride designing, which designs and creates their own rides for the park. Though they started with simple rides like the large merry-go-rounds, later with time and improvement in the capabilities in ride development, currently they also design and build 3D and 4D rides of international standards.

“We have a team that designs our own rides for the park, it makes us to be unique and explore on different aspects. It also helps us in maintaining the rides well and this is the main reason which makes us probably have the best safety records compared to other parks,” says Arun, beaming with pride.

Keeping in par with latest features, the park also has ride photography option, a tie up with Kodak, where in people get to capture their memorable moments while being on the ride. This sophisticated photography option helps them get instant photos, even while being underwater.

The amusement park business has always excited me right from the start. It calls for constant innovation and building on new marketing strategies, which has been my field of interest. With in-house designing capability and offering varied amenities, we strive to keep ourselves in par with international standards and I think that has made us reach amongst the top in the list of the most sought after tourist destinations.

Arun K Chittilappilly, Managing Director, Wonderla Holidays Limited

One of its another lavish treat for fun lovers is the fast track, which helps premium customers get easy access to the rides by paying extra for the tickets without waiting for them in queues. Nearly 300 such tickets are available for this option on daily basis.

Weaving the magic together

The journey of the success of the Wonderla also recites the tale of togetherness of the wonderful duo Arun and his wife Priya, who is also the executive director of the company. She joined the company along with him, 12 years back.

Arun had found the love of his life, while studying in Bangalore, the cupid struck and later they did their higher studies together from Australia and then got married. Entering the family business together, they both creatively nurtured the project and paved way to make the amusement park business a success.

While for Arun, it was the dynamism and innovative marketing strategies that attracted him to the business; it was the hospitality and creative aspects of the industry that enthralled Priya.

Handling the administration of the Wonderla resort in Bangalore, Priya also took special efforts to design the interior of the same by imbibing the park theme and also inculcating the local flavour in it.

“The creativity involved in the sector influenced me to take up this career option. I love travelling and exploring new things and hence it added to it. We go around the world together and look for what unique and better initiatives can be done to enhance our park to the next level. It’s really an enriching experience to be associated with a people oriented business,” says Priya S C Joseph, Executive Director, Wonderla Holidays Limited, who herself is a people person and loves to interact and share ideas.

Pan India presence

Aiming high, Arun is currently all geared up to make his dream of having pan India presence come true. As a stepping stone, the third park of Wonderla is coming up in Hyderabad by April 2016, the construction for which has already started. An estimated Rs 250 crores is the budget of the project.

The company recently went for IPO to track on the funds for its upcoming ventures. “We went for IPO nearly 6 months back and it went on well. We wanted to find funding options for our upcoming projects and IPO was the best option available,” avers Arun.

Speaking further on the project, he adds, “We would be coming up with new features like rides with latest technologies in these parks. A big roller coaster from Dutch company is being imported from Europe for upcoming Hyderabad park.” The park in Hyderabad would be of the same size as that of Bangalore.

Among all their projects, the Bangalore one is believed to be most profitable generating 60% of revenue to the company, while Kochi adds to only 40%. The upcoming Hyderabad park is also expected to contribute a major chunk to its revenue in future. The other upcoming project of the company would be in Chennai, were the park is planned to be set up by September 2018.

Conquering the challenges

The journey of the success of the Wonderla was not an easy cakewalk for Arun and his wife Priya. Swimming against the current, it was the timely interventions and inimitable initiatives that made them conquer the challenges that posed as major hindrances in their path.

On one side, the large scale of the project and its maintenance required special care, while the rules and regulations of being a public space demanded extra caution.

Unlike, the countries abroad, the cleanliness and maintenance takes for a toll in India. “We have to take a big effort specially for maintaining the standards of the park; people do not obey rules here. Also, being a public place the implementation of governmental rules also makes the going tough,” states Arun.

The land acquisition and formalities are also claimed to be major challenges while doing honest business in India. Being the large scale projects, proper measures and execution of all regulations is very much needed. But Arun affirms that what is needed the most is the support and hard work of a committed team.

“A strong team is the backbone of any successful business and hence creating and handling one is a challenge. If you have a dedicated workforce who can understand your wavelength and are ready to give their 100%, then a company needs nothing more. Like, in amusement park business, hygiene and safety are the key necessities and if your team takes care of it then we will be able to tackle the major barrier in our path and footfalls will increase correspondingly,” he adds.

Securing the safety

When it comes to amusement parks, the two major factors that the visitors ensure the most are the safety and security. Wonderla takes care of both these aspects keeping in par with international standards.

Stringent adherence to international safety norms provides an absolutely safe environment in the park.
According to the company, daily checks on rides are conducted and security guards are available on duty at rides.

CCTV surveillance is arranged throughout the park and fully equipped first aid facility is provided. The bags and luggage are subject to security check at the point of entry to the park. Also, since many rides inside the park are adventurous in nature, guests are advised to follow safety instructions of lifeguards, ride operators and displayed instructions near rides for safe riding.

When it comes to water, Wonderla is one of the only parks in India to use Reverse Osmosis Treatment Technology for treating water in pools.

Reverse Osmosis is the same technology used by leading packaged drinking water manufacturers. The park has a fully fledged water quality control laboratory which carries out 90 rigorous tests on a regular basis.

The group also conducts special audits to analyse on their safety and security measures installed at the parks. It also has a health and safety policy through which Wonderla states to protect and conserve the environment by optimizing their processes and operating in an environmentally friendly manner.

The policy incorporates the implementation of different parameters in their operations which include: complying with the relevant legal and other statutory requirements, prevention of injury and ill health to employees and visitors by minimizing hazards and risks, conserving natural resources and energy through minimizing consumption and wastage, minimizing process waste, promoting recovery, reuse and recycling of materials and thereby developing eco-friendly waste disposal practices and the continuous improvement in environmental performance.

The company also provides environmental and occupational health and safety training and awareness to the workforce, suppliers and sub-contractors.

Acknowledging the achievements

Offering world class amenities, Wonderla has always been listed as one of the preferred destinations by travel websites and reader reviews. Adding yet another feather to its cap are the awards and accolades that have come its way.

IAAPI, the apex body representing the interests of a diverse range of amusement parks and leisure businesses in India has presented Wonderla with the following awards: highest number and variety of rides (2012, 2011, 2010 & 2009), highest number of innovative rides (2012, 2011, & 2009), most innovative ride (2009), innovation introduced and innovative product brought in for an existing product in the year 2008 and best product manufactured.

Considering its green initiatives, the Kerala state government also conferred the organisation with energy conservation award in 2009 and 2011. Also, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) presented the excellence award in small scale industry category to the organisation for excelling in the area of environment, health and safety in 2010.

In the Kerala state tourism awards, it also received the award for being the most eco-friendly tourism project for the year 2001-02, for best use of information technology in tourism sector for the year 2011-12 and was also named as the best tourism destination for the consecutive years 2010-11 and 2012-13.

Adding new dimension to tourism
According to Arun, amusement parks have become an integral part of the domestic tourism segment in the country. In the process, they have become key drivers for growth of domestic travel, an important and attractive factor for tourism in the destination. With more people choosing to travel often, short getaways to amusement parks feature among the top choices of people when planning holidays.

“The footfalls are increasing on a regular basis, even corporate companies are now opting for amusement parks. We have 50% more occupancy now for the resort. People are now ready to spend and explore the fun options to relax and rejuvenate themselves. In order to tackle this pulse of the people, one needs to take care of many aspects including the local flavour, food and interests.

Priya S C Joseph, Executive Director, Wonderla Holidays Limited

With the economy changing and people preferences becoming more lavish, the scope for entertainment business opportunities have increased. This has definitely made the amusement park business a booming sector. People have started giving special value to entertainment and are even ready to pay well for the same.

“The footfalls are increasing on a regular basis, even corporate companies are now opting for amusement parks. We have 50% more occupancy now for the resort. People are now ready to spend and explore the fun options to relax and rejuvenate themselves.

Bringing in the best is what we need to do and hence we inculcated unified theme for park and, capturing the local flavour too. In order to tackle the pulse of the people, one needs to take care of the local flavor, food and interests while focusing on such projects,” adds Priya.

Focusing the path ahead

Having already established as a brand in itself, Wonderla is currently a leader in the amusement park business. Aiming for a pan India presence, one can soon enjoy the facilities offered by them at different cities.

In the next five years, the company has set its focus on the development of its upcoming parks and also in improvising the current facilities. For the Bangalore Wonderla, a new big roller coaster is being planned to be launched in the coming year.

“Being a capital intensive industry, rapid expansion cannot be planned. Hence, for the coming five years, the current two upcoming parks are on chart. Hyderabad park is expected to produce good business for us but we are not planning any resort along with it as of now.

We are also trying to include new rides and better facilities at our existing parks. Also, delivering the best with utmost sincerity and giving the maximum entertainment for the audience is our goal for future. It’s a dynamic industry and hence keeping ourselves updated and always on track has to continue,” asserts Arun.

What do you prefer doing when not working:

Arun : I enjoy working out, listening to music, trying new restaurants, reading and traveling

Priya: Spending time with my son, family and friends…reading..

Your favourite books:

Arun: Evangelist marketing – Alex Goldfayn

Good to great – Jim Collins

Priya: The Power of Now by Eckhart Tole

Go kiss the world by Subroto Bagchi

Which cuisine do you prefer:

Arun: Japanese, Mediterranean

Priya: Chinese

What is your favourite holiday destination:

Arun: Reykjavik Iceland

Priya: Antarctica, an adventure trip with my dad

Who have been your inspirations in life:

Arun: My dad, Steve jobs

Priya: Don’t have to go beyond my family…
My mom: she taught me to be a survivor and fighter

My dad:  the value of hard work and living by ones principles

My FIL: nothing is impossible, dream big

My MIL: women empowerment

Dr. Sunita Maheshwari: pass it forward

The biggest challenge you have faced:

Arun: Setting up a new business

Priya: Dealing with the loss of my mother

Best decision you have taken in life:

Arun: Becoming a Dad

Priya: To become a mother

Any NGOs you support:

Arun: We have our own foundation that supports organ donation, rural development and education

Priya: My FIL own foundation Kochouseph Chittilappilly Foundation work and Curable Cancer for Kids

Signing off
Being a young businessman himself, the only piece of advice Arun likes to give is that one should always be best in what one does. There will always be a strong current against you but what you need to do is to try it hard to make way for your dreams.

Quoting one of his yet another favourite quotations, ‘If you have done the very best you can, worrying won’t make it any better – Walt Disney’, as signing off statement Arun adds that one need to believe in delivering the 100% while trusting one’s instincts, rest will fall in its place.

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