(Yonhap Interview) Legoland Korea mulls further investments in hotel facilities

Legoland Korea Resort, which is owned by Europe's largest theme park operator Merlin Entertainments Ltd., is mulling further investments in its hotel facilities to take advantage of the hotel staycation trend, the company's country manager has said. Merlin Entertainments, the owner of Legoland, Sea Life and Madame Tussauds, has invested more than 330 billion won (US$240 million) in its 10th Legoland resort, which opened in South Korea in May 2022. "We definitely need to expand the hotel facilities (in Legoland Korea) to absorb a growing demand for 'hokangseu,' particularly among middle-class Korean families with children," Scott Lee, divisional director of Legoland Korea Resort, told Yonhap News Agency in a recent interview. But he didn't provide the value of the possible hotel investments and other details. Hokangseu, or hotel staycation, is a combination of hotel and "vacances" in French. The concept of sojourning at a hotel near home or inside the country was around before the COVID-19 pandemic, but it emerged as a major trend in Korea during the pandemic years. In response to the trend, Legoland Korea recently transformed its outdoor swimming pool into an indoor facility to allow children to enjoy the Lego theme park, play with Lego bricks at the pool regardless of weather conditions and stay in Lego-themed rooms, Lee said. "We found there was a robust demand for hokangseu this past winter, even before the pool's transformation," the executive said. Given an increasing number of visitors to the theme park and hotel facilities in the January-March period, Legoland Korea expects sales will significantly improve this year compared with a year earlier. "There was a 'champagne effect' in the 2022 fiscal year helped by an explosive (domestic) travel demand as it was the first post-pandemic year. But in the following year (of 2023), many middle-class families traveled abroad instead of domestic destinations," he said. Still, Legoland Korea sees huge growth potential in Asia's fourth-biggest economy, as there are many Lego fans and a lot of families who have never experienced its theme park and hotel facilities. As for challenges involving the country's falling birth rate, Legoland Korea said it does not have any concerns about that. "We are still a new brand in Korea. We don't think we have penetrated enough into the market to the extent that we worry about the possibility of diminishing market size in connection with a low birth rate," Lee said. "In Korea, we see a thick middle-class customer base that will underpin growth. Legolands in Europe prospered in the past even when birth rates were on the decline helped by the same customer base." In 2023, the country's total fertility rate, which means the average number of expected births from a woman in her lifetime, fell to a record low of 0.72 from 0.78 a year earlier. The yearly rate is far below the 2.1 births per woman needed to maintain a stable population without immigration. In its latest promotional efforts, Legoland Korea will invest 20 billion won t o add a new attraction themed after Ninjago in the country's first global theme park during the first half of 2025, the executive said. Ninjago is the most popular line of Legoland Korea, and the upcoming thrilling Ninjago ride is designed to attract upper elementary students, adolescents and adults, according to the company. Legoland Korea also plans to open at night until 9 p.m. from the end of April through the end of October this year as it did last year. There is no other Legoland resort that remains open during the nighttime. In the year through May 5, 2023, more than 1 million people visited the Korean Legoland theme park at Jungdo Island located in the middle of a river in Chuncheon, 76 kilometers east of Seoul. "Lotte World is one of the country's most preferred destinations for school trips. Our goal is to become the No. 1 destination on the wish list of elementary, middle and high school students," he said. Source: Yonhap News Agency