Fortune favours the brave – How the leisure market is embracing new concepts

Fortune favours the brave – How the leisure market is embracing new concepts 22 September 2022

Fortis fortuna adiuvat – Fortune favours the brave in an evolving market of extreme sports destinations, where there always seem to be new waves of fringe leisure concepts driven by creative entrepreneurial thinking.

Avison Young has been involved with a wide variety of developments across the country in this unusual marketplace, providing valuation, disposal/acquisition, planning, rating, and other consultancy advice. A key trend playing out across the field at the moment, is the concept of extreme sports married with leisure and F&B offers to complement the experience.

But why is it so addictive and who is doing it well?

Faster, higher, better

In a bid to stand out in a crowded market, impassioned developers and operators are finding more bizarre, but surprisingly addictive things for us to try. Afterall a positive TripAdvisor review or social media tag shout-out are what drives footfall, repeat visits, turnover, profit - and ultimately value. Whether it’s swinging between obstacles in the treetops, springing between giant trampolines in dark caverns, zipping over ridiculous voids, plunging into cold water off gigantic inflatable platforms, or holding on for dear life while climbing up exposed cliff faces, the public’s appetite for the ‘next big thrill’ seems to be insatiable.

The clever thing is that these concepts take fairly mainstream activities like climbing, caving, surfing, or biking, and sprinkle them with pixie dust (quite often a lot of it with the help of funding partners), and add on a whole host of other complementary offerings around them (such a food, retail and beds) to make you feel content, relaxed and happy to spend a little more once you have been sufficiently petrified or are totally exhausted. It’s these extras that presents the unique value add.

Successful formats provide an added ‘x-factor’

In many cases you are hooked doing something you never thought you would ever be stupid enough to do in the first place, let alone pay for. However, many of these modalities also help build trust, grow confidence, courage and teamwork. As a consequence they appeal to a broad user group from families and friendship groups, to schools and corporates.

Go Ape is perhaps one of best known and established branded operations in this sector in the UK. Founded in 2002, the company has gone on to develop courses in some 34 locations across the country thanks to a unique partnership with Forestry England. Originally offering just a high ropes tree top adventure course, the company has evolved into monetising higher zip line experiences, free fall towers, net adventures, axe throwing and mini off road driving courses. With a turnover of some £40m in 2021 and a transfer of a 90% shareholding to the staff, it will be interesting to see what comes out of the woods next for this adventurous company.

There are now many examples of others who have followed suit by either creating bolt on operations to existing attractions, or stand-alone new venues with celebrity IP’s. For example, Merlin’s The Bear Grylls Adventure in Birmingham, where you can partake in high ropes, shark diving, iFly (free fall), axe throwing, archery, climbing and shooting.

Another is Zip World, which is building a reputation for adrenaline packed attractions with a series of centres in North Wales, hosting the fastest zip line in the world, and some pretty off the wall adventures including Bounce Below, underground via ferrate, quarry karts, plummet towers, treetop nets, and toboggan style roller coasters. It’s a massive success story and, with the company backed by private equity investor LDC, the aspiration is to create a handful of world-class destinations across the UK blending the gut-wrenching stuff with providential food & beverage and well considered accommodation. Shortlisted for the 2022 Santander Growing Business of the Year: Smaller Company (£10m-£25m) and in contrast to their customers, Zip World is certainly not on a downward trajectory.

The next wave – water-based leisure concepts

Water parks (Total Wipeout style) are popping up, or inflating, on lakes all over the country due to fairly low barriers to entry. Leisure offerings at these will no doubt become more extreme as activities are bolted on to suit the demands of a broad customer base, with opportunities for F&B and suitable accommodation a formula that works well.

By contrast the evolution of inland surfing lagoons is, by scale, very much in its infancy in the UK - largely because of development costs. There are only two facilities up and running in this sector (Adventure Parc Snowdonia (APS) and The Wave, Bristol) and one being built (Wavegarden Scotland).

Here too, the appeal of a 360-degree experience is becoming clear. Alongside the lagoon itself, APS now also boasts an aquapark, indoor adrenaline centre and a 106-bedroom hotel, whilst the Wave has developed a luxury safari tent camp site complemented by the Clubhouse, an informal restaurant dining concept. Forecasting a 20% growth in 2023 and a £10m plus turnover, the Wave is clearly proving to be a popular destination.

Avison Young has consulted on both of these multi-faceted mixed use destination developments, together with next ‘swell’, Wavegarden Scotland.

Case study - Wavegarden Scotland

A £55m landmark development between Edinburgh and Glasgow, set within a 60 acre country park, Wavegarden Scotland incorporates new Wavegarden Cove technology capable of generating 1,000 bespoke waves per hour for all abilities of surfers. The new destination will offer waterside accommodation for all needs, including families, surfers and international visitors, through luxury lodges, glamping pods, accessible wave pods, bothies and canal berths. It will also be home to The HUB, with facilities including a waterfront restaurant and food market, retail outlets, a surf school, a wellness spa, and a number of viewing terraces overlooking the surf. The Lothian-based company Rogue Village will develop a dynamic programme of events and create a unique food destination. Anyone looking south as they fly into Edinburgh Airport will testify that construction is well underway, and both EventScotland and VisitScotland are hotly anticipating this destination to be a gamechanger in the landscape of the Scottish leisure & tourism sector.

This is a market where fortune seems to be favouring those brave operators and developers who have foresight into a sector that capitalises on taking you out of your comfort zone. New concepts blend sport and leisure in a way that leaves us wanting more. The most successful concepts may be the ones who also know how to bring you back down safely, whilst the adrenaline subsides and the endorphins kick in - over some good nourishment, a relaxing massage and a good night’s sleep… all in one place.

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