Driving Wonderla: Arun K. Chittilappilly’s Journey in India’s Amusement Parks

Wonderla Holidays Ltd has become a standout in India’s amusement park industry. From humble beginnings, it has grown into a national sensation with attractions like India’s first reverse-looping roller coaster and a unique spinning roller coaster. Driving this success story is Arun K Chittilappilly, carrying forward the legacy of his father, Kochouseph Chittilappilly. In an interview, Arun discusses Wonderla’s journey, strategic expansions, and ambitious projects that aim to redefine the amusement park landscape in India. This conversation offers an insightful glimpse into Wonderla’s evolution, future plans, and its commitment to delivering unforgettable experiences.

What initially sparked your interest in amusement parks and resort management?

My passion for amusement parks and resort management began during childhood, inspired by visits to amusement parks around the world. While each visit was exhilarating, it underscored a gap in what India had to offer compared to vibrant, immersive experiences abroad. This sparked a desire to introduce world-class amusement parks to our country. What started as a fun project initiated by my father aimed to create a place that would bring joy and excitement to families, mirroring our international experiences.

This passion evolved into a successful venture driven by our commitment to delivering unparalleled amusement experiences. Today, Wonderla stands as a testament to that vision, offering countless joyful memories and unmatched experiences to our visitors.

Share with us a memorable moment or achievement in your career with Wonderla.

There have been so many memorable moments throughout my journey with Wonderla that it is hard to pick just one. One that truly stands out is our Initial Public Offering (IPO) in 2014. Raising Rs 180 crore was a significant milestone for us. There was a lot of scepticism surrounding a relatively small company like Wonderla going public. Many doubted our ability to succeed in such a venture, but we were determined to prove them wrong. The successful IPO was a testament to our hard work, vision, and the faith of our stakeholders.

Another proud achievement is the remarkable growth we’ve witnessed over the years. From humble beginnings, we’ve expanded to four parks in Kochi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, and now Bhubaneswar. Additionally, we have a resort in Bengaluru. Seeing Wonderla grow and bring joy to millions of visitors has been incredibly fulfilling. Each park represents a dream turned into reality, and the smiles on our visitors’ faces make all the effort worthwhile.

How would you describe the unique attractions awaiting visitors at Wonderla parks?

At Wonderla, our aim is to craft unforgettable memories for every guest. With custom-made rides sourced from top international suppliers, we offer unparalleled experiences in India. Our parks feature a thrilling array of attractions, including Recoil, India’s exclusive reverse-looping roller coaster, and enjoyable water features like Rain Disco, Wonder Splash, and Wave Pools. Our newest park in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, proudly hosts the country’s sole spinning roller coaster, and we continually introduce unique offerings at each location.

What sets Wonderla apart is our steadfast commitment to safety and hygiene, ensuring worry-free enjoyment for families. Each park celebrates its regional culture, adding a distinctive flavor to your visit—whether it’s the tranquil ambiance of Kochi or the dynamic atmosphere of Bengaluru, every Wonderla park exudes its own charm. For me, witnessing families and friends come together, laugh, and create enduring memories is what truly defines Wonderla.

What are the core values that guide Wonderla’s operations and customer service philosophy?

At Wonderla, our operations and customer service are grounded in values that reflect our commitment to excellence and guest happiness. Cleanliness and safety are non-negotiable, with stringent standards ensuring every corner of Wonderla is pristine and every ride is thrilling and safe. We take pride in offering world-class rides from top international suppliers, set amidst beautifully landscaped surroundings. They are designed to evoke a sense of wonder and joy in every visitor.

Our customer service philosophy is simple yet profound: treat every guest like family. We believe in warmth, respect, and going the extra mile to ensure every visit exceeds expectations. Whether helping guests find their favourite ride or ensuring a seamless experience, our team is dedicated to making every moment at Wonderla memorable. Ultimately, our goal is to create a place where families can bond, friends can laugh, and everyone leaves with cherished memories. That’s what drives us every day at Wonderla.

How do you ensure safety and maintenance standards are upheld across all Wonderla locations?

Ensuring safety and maintaining high standards across all Wonderla locations is a top priority for us. We implement rigorous safety protocols and maintenance procedures that are consistently monitored and updated. Each park adheres to international standards, and we are proud to have received certifications such as ISO 14001 for eco-friendliness and OHSAS 18001 for safety. These certifications reflect our commitment to maintaining a safe and sustainable environment for our guests and staff alike.

Regular inspections, thorough training programmes for our team members, and continuous improvement initiatives are integral parts of our approach. We prioritise safety and stringent maintenance to ensure every visitor enjoys a hassle-free experience at all Wonderla locations.

What advice would you give to someone aspiring to start their theme park or resort?

With over two decades of experience in this field, I can attest that launching a theme park or resort is an exhilarating yet complex journey that demands a profound understanding of its intricacies. This industry is highly operational, blending precise engineering with imaginative marketing strategies. Investing in a dedicated and skilled team is paramount—they form the foundation, ensuring safety, upholding high standards, and delivering unforgettable guest experiences.

My advice is to approach challenges with enthusiasm and meticulous planning. Every decision should embody a dedication to excellence and customer satisfaction. Remember, the success of your endeavor largely depends on your team—they are your most valuable asset in realizing your vision.

How do you balance innovation and maintaining the charm and appeal of traditional amusement park experiences?

Balancing innovation with the timeless charm of traditional amusement park experiences is essential for Wonderla. We deeply value customer feedback and data insights, grounding all our decisions in detailed research. For instance, classic rides like Wonder Splash and Crazy Cars remain popular among visitors. While preserving these much-loved attractions, we also recognise the importance of staying up-to-date with our offerings. Introducing innovative experiences such as VR attractions allows us to cater to evolving guest preferences and expectations.

For us, innovation isn’t about replacing tradition but enhancing it. It’s about finding new ways to surprise and delight our guests while maintaining the nostalgic essence that makes Wonderla special. By blending the best of both worlds—classic favourites and cutting-edge innovations—we ensure that every visit to Wonderla is a mix of cherished memories and exciting new adventures.

What role do customer feedback and reviews play in shaping improvements at Wonderla?

Customer feedback is the bedrock of our improvement efforts. We place immense value on insights gathered through tools like Net Promoter Score (NPS) and 360-degree feedback. Every piece of feedback is a catalyst for positive change, guiding us in understanding what our guests appreciate and where we can make enhancements.

Whether it’s refining ride experiences, elevating service standards, or introducing new attractions, customer input is pivotal in shaping our decisions. Our commitment to delivering exceptional experiences is deeply rooted in listening to our guests. Their feedback drives our continuous improvement and ensures that Wonderla remains a place where every visit is memorable and exceeds expectations.

Can you share a bit about the team behind Wonderla and the collaborative efforts that go into creating new attractions?

The team behind Wonderla is incredibly diverse and dynamic, representing a wealth of talent and expertise. Our growing Engineering team has developed an impressive portfolio of over 60 in-house rides, both land and water, to thrill and delight our guests. Collaboration is at the core of our innovation process, fostering an environment where diverse perspectives come together to explore new ideas and concepts that redefine amusement park experiences. Our latest attractions, such as the exhilarating Sky Tilt in our Bengaluru Park, showcase our commitment to pushing the boundaries of excitement.

Our team’s collaborative efforts span engineering, design, operations, marketing, and guest relations. This multidisciplinary approach ensures that every new attraction meets and exceeds our rigorous standards of safety, quality, and guest satisfaction. At Wonderla, we believe our diverse team is our greatest strength. Together, we’re dedicated to crafting unforgettable experiences that captivate and thrill our visitors, making every visit to Wonderla a journey of excitement and joy.

How do you see the future of amusement parks in India over the next decade?

The future of amusement parks in India over the next decade promises an exciting evolution, especially in tier 2 cities. With more than 125 districts hosting populations exceeding 3 million, and only 15-20 major amusement parks drawing over 0.5 million visitors annually, the sector holds substantial growth potential. Key factors driving this growth include rising per capita income, favorable demographics, limited options for outdoor entertainment, and evolving lifestyles. Millennials, in particular, prioritize spending on experiences over material goods, a trend amplified by social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook.

In response, amusement parks are poised to evolve by blending tradition with innovation, offering advanced rides, immersive experiences, and themed attractions that cater to diverse interests and preferences. The focus will be on creating memorable experiences that resonate with visitors of all demographics. Wonderla is committed to leading this evolution by continually innovating and expanding our offerings across India’s dynamic cities, setting new benchmarks in entertainment and hospitality to ensure each visit is both enjoyable and enriching.

What inspired the decision to expand Wonderla to multiple locations?

Wonderla’s decision to expand to multiple locations across India is driven by our strategic vision to capitalise on the burgeoning amusement park industry in the country while mitigating risks and maximising our reach. The Indian amusement park sector is experiencing rapid growth, fuelled by increasing disposable incomes and urbanisation trends. Recognising this opportunity, we aimed to tap into diverse regional markets by opening parks in new locations, allowing us to cater to a broader customer base and tailor our offerings to meet specific demographics and preferences unique to each region.

Our initial expansions proved successful, revealing a significant demand for quality amusement options and identifying a gap in the market that Wonderla could effectively fill. This success made us more ambitious, seeing immense potential in providing top-tier amusement experiences where they were lacking. This strategy not only enhances our brand presence but also enriches the leisure options available to Indian families across different cities.

How do you ensure that Wonderla parks cater to a diverse range of visitors, from families to thrill-seekers?

At Wonderla, we ensure that there’s something for everyone. Our parks feature a variety of attractions, from high-adrenaline roller coasters for thrill-seekers to gentle rides and water play areas for kids and families. We also offer practical amenities like prams on rent and designated family pools to make visits more convenient and enjoyable. This way, whether you’re a family looking for a fun day out or an adventure enthusiast seeking excitement, Wonderla has you covered.

What are some of the key factors you consider when designing new attractions?

When conceptualizing new attractions for Wonderla parks, we meticulously evaluate numerous factors to ensure an outstanding guest experience. Our focus is on delivering thrill and novelty through innovative experiences, particularly those that are novel to India. Safety remains our top priority, with each attraction undergoing rigorous testing and adhering to international safety standards to ensure the well-being of our guests. Additionally, we emphasize creating attractions that are easy to maintain, minimizing downtime and ensuring uninterrupted operation. By integrating excitement, novelty, safety, and maintenance efficiency, our goal is to offer rides and experiences that not only thrill but also surpass the expectations of our visitors.

How does Wonderla stay ahead in the amusement park industry—from staying informed about trends to generating ideas for new rides?

Wonderla maintains its bellwether position in the amusement park industry through a proactive approach to staying informed and innovative. We actively engage with industry bodies and participate in global forums to keep abreast of the latest trends and best practices. By visiting parks around the world, we gain firsthand insights into emerging attractions and visitor experiences, which help us anticipate and adapt to industry shifts.

Ideas for new rides at Wonderla are inspired by a combination of extensive travel experiences and rigorous research. We immerse ourselves in diverse amusement park environments globally, studying market demands, consumer preferences, and advancements in technology. This comprehensive approach enables us to conceptualise and develop rides that not only thrill but also exceed guest expectations, ensuring Wonderla remains a leader in delivering cutting-edge and memorable experiences for all visitors.

Can you discuss any upcoming projects? Are there any plans to expand Wonderla amusement parks outside India?

We’re currently focused on expanding within India, particularly in tier-II cities where we see great potential. Discussions with several state governments for potential partnerships are underway, involving land acquisition and incentives to develop tourist attractions that benefit local communities. Our priority is expanding in cities with feasible land costs and efficient project execution. We’re particularly enthusiastic about our upcoming project in Chennai. Slated to be our largest park yet, it is scheduled to open in the second quarter of FY26.

As for international expansion, while it’s on our radar for the future, our current dedication is to delight guests right here in India with unforgettable experiences at Wonderla parks. We believe in growing strategically and ensuring each new venture maintains our high standards of innovation, safety, and guest satisfaction.

Your father, Kochouseph Chittilappilly, is a well-known business magnate and philanthropist. How has his entrepreneurial journey influenced your career path?

My father has profoundly influenced generations in Kerala through his entrepreneurial spirit and vision to build large-scale businesses, which have deeply inspired both me and my brother. Growing up in this environment, I learned the value of innovation, perseverance, and creating meaningful opportunities. His belief in India’s vast potential resonates strongly with me; he often reminds us that despite not being a first-world country, India offers immense opportunities, particularly in sectors like ours. His guidance has shaped my business approach, emphasising pioneering new offerings that enrich lives and contribute positively to the economy.

In essence, my father’s journey has instilled in me a passion for excellence and a commitment to continuous growth and innovation in the amusement park industry. I am dedicated to building on his legacy by expanding Wonderla’s footprint and delivering exceptional experiences to our guests across India.

Could you tell us about Wonderla Holidays and how it complements the overall experience offered by Wonderla amusement parks and resorts?

Wonderla Bengaluru Resort stands out as India’s premier luxury resort, uniquely positioned alongside Wonderla Amusement Park. It features state-of-the-art banquet facilities spanning 8,300 sq.ft indoors and 25,000 sq.ft outdoors, ideal for hosting events, weddings, and gatherings. Set amidst lush greenery, the resort offers ample space for outdoor activities such as cycling, lawn games, and jogging, complemented by dining experiences at the Woods multi-cuisine restaurant and relaxation at the Swimup Bar By The Pool. With amenities like a temperature-controlled pool and the Caribbean Whirlwater ride, Wonderla Bengaluru Resort ensures a rejuvenating escape for all guests.

In addition to enhancing guest satisfaction, the resort plays a pivotal role in our revenue strategy, particularly through non-ticket revenue (NTR) generated from events, corporate functions, and leisure retreats. This approach maximizes guest engagement and enriches their overall leisure experience. Looking ahead, we are committed to expanding the resort concept to other locations, seamlessly integrating it into the Wonderla brand to ensure every guest enjoys a comprehensive and delightful leisure experience across all our properties.

What inspired Wonderla Holidays to venture into the food delivery business during the pandemic?

We saw an opportunity to bring a taste of Wonderla’s hospitality directly to our guests’ homes during challenging times. Venturing into the food delivery business was a natural extension for us, leveraging our expertise in food and beverage services. It was a way for us to stay connected with our patrons and provide them with a slice of the Wonderla experience, even when they couldn’t visit our parks. Plus, it was a bit of fun for us to explore new avenues and adapt to the changing circumstances.

How has your family influenced your approach to business and leadership?

My parents’ entrepreneurial journey has profoundly influenced my approach to business and leadership. They instilled in me the importance of ethical practices, building a strong team, and maintaining financial prudence, values that I deeply cherish. Growing up in this environment has ingrained in me a strong sense of integrity and a commitment to excellence. At Wonderla, these principles guide every decision, with a focus on sustainability, innovation, and the well-being of our team and stakeholders.

Their legacy continually inspires me to innovate and uphold the high standards they established. I am committed to cultivating a thriving business environment at Wonderla where everyone can contribute meaningfully and share in our collective success.

Pic Courtesy: Pegasus Photography/ images are subject to copyright