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Tayto Park_Dino Dash

Life beyond the potato chip: Tayto Park’s next chapter

As Ireland’s only theme park embarks on its final season under its current name, blooloop catches up with managing director Charles Coyle

Charles Coyle
Charles Coyle

The benefits of Tayto Park’s partnership with Tayto crisps (potato chips) are not lost on Charles Coyle, who joined the family business straight from college at the age of 22 in 2010.

“On the back of every bag of Tayto crisps was Tayto Park,” he says. “And they sell a million bags a week!”

Yet a new identity for the park was inevitable after Charles’ father Ray Coyle sold his final stake in the Tayto business in 2016 to German group Intersnack, owner of the Penn State, Hula Hoop and Monster Munch brands amongst others. The two parties continued with a sponsorship deal that included the naming rights for the park in County Meath. However, this is set to finish at the end of this year.

“A huge part of my father’s life has revolved around either potatoes or crisps,” says Charles Coyle. “As a farmer, he grew potatoes for many years and sold them to Tayto Snacks. He went on to produce crisps himself, including Tayto under licence, before buying the business in 2006.”

A serial entrepreneur, Ray Coyle founded Tayto Park on his own land four years later. Ray’s wife Ros brought with her from Tayto Snacks experience in human resources and waste management. Before embarking on her Olympic career, the couple’s daughter Natalya (now a modern pentathlete) worked on the park’s marketing and social media. 

So long, Mr Tayto

Tayto crisps

Part of the Tayto Park offering from the very beginning has been a zoo. Its animal exhibits include bison, which Ray Coyle has kept on site for many years and went on to inspire Tayto’s Buffalo-flavoured Hunky Dorys crisps.

The bison are staying put. But in a few months, it will be time to bid farewell to the potato chips and their waving mascot, Mr Tayto.

“I am delighted to have aligned with one of the most iconic Irish brands, so successfully, for over a decade,” said Ray Coyle in February of this year. “We have decided that in order to meet our ambitious targets, now is the time to rename the park to better reflect the exciting rides, attractions and zoo that are coming over the next few years.”

Charles Coyle credits the park’s location in Ashbourne, north of Dublin, as the key to its success. “We’re now seeing people coming from all over the Republic, however, we’re very fortunate to be close to several satellite towns for Dublin, and the city itself is only 35 minutes away.”

For the first time next year, the park will also officially be able to promote itself in Northern Ireland, the border with which is less than 70km away.

“The attendance from the North is growing, but it’s all been through PR and word of mouth so far,” says Coyle. “We can’t advertise across the border because the Tayto name is owned by a different company up there.”

Hello Dino!  

Greeting guests when they arrive for the 2022 season, which begins in April, will be the park’s fourth rollercoaster. Dino Dash, a Junior Coaster from Vekoma, anchors what Coyle describes as, “One of the most heavily themed areas since Viking Voyage.”

Explorers as short as 0.95/1.2m (accompanied/unaccompanied) can hop on board a jeep themed carriage to travel back to Jurassic times. As they sweep through the coaster’s twists and turns they will encounter dinosaurs including an Apatosaurus, as well as suitable looking foliage and even a bubbling swamp.

Featuring a unique 260m layout, the ride has a high point of 11.7 metres and reaches a top speed of 50km/h. The full ‘roar-some’ experience lasts around one minute for up to 20 passengers. 

Located opposite the Flight School family coaster, Dino Dash represents an investment of over €3 million. Incorporated into the queue line is a former walk-through dinosaur attraction. In addition, the new ride is complemented by a ride photography booth, Coca-Cola Freestyle drinks station and two new food outlets: Snackasaurus and Dino Bite.

Even bigger things to come

Tayto Park-Dino Dash
Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Over the next two years, as much as €30 million will be invested in Tayto Park, ensuring its new name is launched with a bang. A further two roller coasters from Vekoma are part of the plans, both now set for a 2024 unveiling.

“It’s really going to blow people away launching the two of them in one season,” says Coyle.

The yet-to-be-named intertwined Suspended Thrill Coaster and Family Boomerang have been subject to some well-documented delays.

“We’ve been working on this project since 2018,” says Coyle. “It took us about three years to get planning permission. The issue was around the noise of the coasters following concerns from two residential areas. We went back and put in a huge amount of noise mitigation, at a great deal of expense. But ultimately we have to work together with the local residents.”

As well as the Flight School (by Zierer) and an SBF spinning coaster called Ladybird Loop, Tayto Park’s other existing roller coaster is the wooden wonder that is Cú Chulainn, by the Gravity Group. Opened in 2015, it was a statement-making piece and a bold choice as the park’s first-ever coaster.  

Baptism by fire

“When we opened we were very much a family park, for the under 12s,” says Coyle. “But ever since we started putting in mechanical rides, the age range jumped. We are now a park for the full family.”

tayto park coaster
Cú Chulainn

“Cú Chulainn was a big moment. In 2014, we had 430,000 visitors. In 2015 we got 710,000. We weren’t prepared for it if I’m honest. We didn’t have enough rides, didn’t have enough food items, didn’t have enough toilets, we didn’t have enough of anything. Every year afterwards we put in additional rides. It took a few years before we were able to improve our facilities and build back people’s trust. When we open our new rides this year and in 2024, we will have the infrastructure available.”

Given Tayto Park’s rapid rise, Coyle admits that his whole family were learning on the job.

“There was no park in Ireland that we could look to that was comparable to what we were doing. Sure we had a relationship with Guinness Storehouse and Dublin Zoo, but there was only so much we could learn from them.”

Tayto Park is still Ireland’s only theme park

To this day, the only other amusement parks in Ireland are either fairgrounds by the sea or FEC-like operations, with little or no theming.

“There had always been murmurings of theme parks being developed,” says Coyle. “One of those projects was a huge site outside Drogheda [c.20km from Tayto Park]. That was in 2006, but then the whole world economy imploded.

“We have since discovered that the Irish Showmen’s Guild [travelling fairs/circus trade association] did a study some years ago to see if the market could sustain a theme park of a reasonable size. Their research came back and said no. We’re very happy not to have been aware of that study at the time. It might have changed a few things!”

Tayto Park_Ray, Natalya, Ros and Charles Coyle
The Coyle family (left to right Ray, Natalya, Ros and Charles) at the opening of Viking Voyage in 2018

Coyle credits Tayto Park’s early success to the economic situation in Ireland at the time, and his family’s prudence.

“When we opened in 2010, we were in the middle of a recession. People weren’t travelling abroad as much. We were very reasonably priced and we had a really good brand name with Tayto Park. Each year we were careful not to overstretch ourselves. We couldn’t get bank loans originally, so we only ever invested as much as we made. That’s why we’ve been able to sustain ourselves.”

Keeping visitors coming 

With tens of millions of euros of investment both behind and in front of them, the Coyle family must now keep big numbers coming through the gate. The park’s performance in 2021, when the season did not start until June due to lockdown, was encouraging.

“The attendance this year gone by was 610,000; way more than we would have imagined,” says Coyle. “We ran a booking system and were able to sell out 14 days in advance. We are forecasting moderate growth this year because of the uncertainty at the moment with war, another [COVID] variant, and also price increases.”

Prior to the pandemic, the park was entertaining between 710-750,000 visits a year. That includes repeat guests but is nevertheless more than one-tenth of the population of the island of Ireland. The ‘magic million’ remains an attendance goal, however, Coyle is aware that numbers aren’t everything:

“In a past life, we were just happy to throw as many people as we could through the doors. You’d have days of 10,500, 11,000 people. But the market has changed so fundamentally. If we are able to have fewer people but get a bigger yield from them because they’re having a better time, you are probably going to have a more profitable and sustainable business.”

A crisp-free future for Tayto Park

Average spend per head has already increased since Tayto Park did away with optional wristbands and tokens. All guests are now encouraged to prebook entry, priced €37 for access to all rides and attractions, €33 for junior attractions only, or more on the door if available.

Closed in 2020 due to the pandemic, the tour of the adjacent Tayto crisp factory that was previously offered as part of the Tayto Park ticket price will not return.

“They [Tayto] were always very supportive of everything we did, but always in the back of our mind was making sure our sponsors were happy,” says Coyle. “Now anything we think will work, we can just do it. We have scope to do a huge amount more.”

Endeavour Tayto Park
Endeavour

Was there ever any pressure from the health lobby or anxious parents when it came to the park’s name?

“There are loads reasons why we wanted to change the name,” says Coyle. “No one ever said to us that what we are doing is unhealthy. We’ve always taken the view that when you go to an amusement park, you are on a day off. So people are going to have crisps, they are going to have chips, they are going to have burgers. They will treat themselves because it’s something they don’t do very often.”

Themed dreams and resort potential

So as not to confuse guests, the name change will not be announced until the end of the 2022 season. Two or three prospective titles are already under consideration. One thing Coyle will confirm is that themed lands and attractions will play an important part in the park’s future.

“Rides of course are key to any area, but the theming is just as important for us now. People have been to other parks around the world, they want more than just rides, so we are setting the bar higher for ourselves.”

Interlink Boat

Set to help the park achieve its themed dreams is the Dutch design firm Jora Vision. Plans for a hotel, first announced in 2018, are currently on hold. Partially this is due to planning issues, but also the number of park guests needed to make such a project viable.

“A hotel is still very much part of our evolution, but in the medium to long term,” says Coyle.

In addition to accommodation, a ‘second gate’ attraction would give the park newfound resort status. So what is the potential there?

“It’s in our 10-year plan. It would be logical to do it around the same time as a hotel.”

Tayto Park is a team effort

Charles Coyle, who started out as the park’s purchasing manager in 2011, says both he and his father are delighted at the way in which they have been welcomed into the wider attractions industry.

In 2018, parks and attractions professionals from across Europe visited during the IAAPA EMEA Spring Forum. Charles is now a member of both the IAAPA EMEA advisory committee and the BALPPA management committee.

“I am very fortunate to be learning from people who have been in the business infinitely longer than I have. Ray has been working in business in one form or another for more than 55 years, but he says it’s amazing how friendly and open with information people are in this industry.”

Charles highlights several team members that have been with the park from the start, or in some cases before it opened.

“Our company secretary Tim Cremen has worked alongside my dad for 20 years. Our capital projects manager David Everard, initially the landscape and projects manager, now looks after the building of everything. Two other people with us from the beginning are Niamh Reynolds, our marketing manager, and Liam Boland, our financial controller.”

Coyle adds: “There are loads of people who have contributed to the success of the park. We are blessed to have a very passionate team that goes the extra mile. You get that in family businesses; you know who you’re working with.”

Top image, Dino Dash at Tayto Park. Credit Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

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Owen Ralph

Owen Ralph

As a Lead Features Writer for blooloop, Owen brings with him two decades of experience covering the amusement and attractions industry for trade publications, including World’s Fair, Coinslot International, Kirmes & Park Revue and Park World, where he spent 15 years as Editor. He is currently a member of the IAAPA EMEA Education Subcommittee.

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