Amusement park operator Wonderla Holidays Ltd is waiting for final approval from the Department of Town & Country Planning to commence its project near Chennai for which it had made investments to the tune of Rs 109 crore till March, an official said.
The company received approval for the project and the Tamil Nadu government allowed an exemption from 10 percent Local Body Tax on ticket revenue for a period of five years from the date of commencement of commercial operations.
Wonderla Holidays Ltd Chairman M Ramachandran said, "we have to renegotiate the exemption period in view of the delay in construction work due to (COVID-19 enforced) lockdown". The Chennai project was the company's major planned investment which would be the fourth such facility for the group.
"Following the lockdown, the construction work at the site was stopped. Once the lockdown is lifted, we shall resume the work," he said in the company's annual report.
The company had to put on hold the project for some time as there was a levy of local body entertainment tax of 10 per cent by the state government under Tamil Nadu Local Authorities Entertainment Tax Act, 2017 over and above the GST of 18 per cent.
However, the company later made a representation to the Tamil Nadu government seeking exemption for amusement parks from levy of LBT considering majority of the visitors were from school and college besides the huge capital expenditure required for construction, he said.
The government of Tamil Nadu had specifically exempted the company from levy of LBT for a period of five years since the project was signed during the Global Investors Meet. "The company obtained NOCs (no objection certificates) from the Fire department, pollution control board, forest department and was awaiting final clearance from the Department of town and Country Planning," he said in the company's annual report.
In the current scenario it is 'extremely' tough to complete the construction before September 30, 2021. It intends to appeal to the Tamil Nadu government for duly extending the exemption period to cover the COVID-19 enforced lockdown delay, the report said. "Once the final clearance is received the company will critically analyse the situation and take a suitable decision on the commencement of Chennai project construction," he said.
Wonderla Holidays Ltd joint managing director George Joseph said the company's first priority after the lockdown was lifted is to reopen existing parks and resorts and thereafter commencing the construction of the Chennai project. "...we have already invested Rs 109 crore in the Chennai project. This is a project that needs the full-fledged amusement park experience for us to beat the rivals," he said. "We have to stimulate the Chennai market through ad spend and promotions," he said.
On the land banks held by the company, he said the company owns 93.17 acres in Kochi, 81.75 acres in Bengaluru and 49.50 acres in Hyderabad. Noting that the company lost business for almost the entire first quarter of the year 2020-21 due to the COVID-19 enforced lockdown, he said, they were optimistic and hoped for an increase in footfalls post the lockdown.
"We are optimistic that post the lockdown the public sentiments will improve to restore footfalls. When people come to any Wonderla park, they will be protected by every measure possible, to their health, safety arising out of pandemic", he said.
Joseph said the company has a strong balance sheet as the business was 'significantly good' during the first quarter of 2019-20. "Our business performance was stressed in the second quarter in light of the downturn; the third quarter saw footfalls returning to our parks. But the visitor figures and revenues were lower year-on-year; the fourth quarter suffered due to the COVID-19 pandemic," he said.
On the outlook, he said the company has formed a 'marketing strategy committee' with an objective of making decisions for increasing footfalls; attracting more repeat visitors and driving a high yield per visitor.
The committee has identified focus areas -- digital marketing, data analytics, loyalty programme, branding and bringing back the company's mascot - 'Chikku', he said. The aim is to become a data driven company that uses information technology to know customers better, monetise that data to devise alternative revenue streams and upgrade existing offerings such as 'loyalty programme'.
With ease in social distancing norms, he said the company would focus on improving existing parks to get more footfalls, expansion through setting up new amusement parks and enhancing visitor experience.
The company was working on 'redesigning' the Wonderla website to attract more traffic and streamline online ticket booking systems, he said.
A new portal exclusively for tour operators is also in the works. Drawing visitors through tour operators would become an area of emphasis as the plan is to attract inbound tourists, he said.