Arun K. Chittilappilly, Managing Director of Wonderla, is armed with Masters in Industrial Engineering from Industrial Research Institute of Swinburne University (IRIS), Melbourne, Australia. He has been a key architect of Wonderla Holidays and has been actively involved in strategizing and conceptualizing the Wonderla Parks and Resort. At Wonderla his responsibilities include engineering and design, marketing, communication and finance.
Soon after his Masters, Arun got involved in the operations of Wonderla Kochi. Being well versed in industrial engineering and driven by his keen interest in the functioning of the amusement park, Mr. Arun set out to start his own venture. Believing that an amusement park in the same lines as the popular Veega Land [Cochin] would see great acceptance in Bangalore, he initiated the project in 2003 which was completed by 2005. The Bangalore Wonderla Park was designed as a grander version of the Kochi Park. Having been a part of the project right from its conceptual phase, Mr. Arun has witnessed and experienced the phenomenal growth of the amusement park.
Arun’s next venture was Wonderla Resort in Bangalore, an 84-room luxury resort, a first of its kind in India within the premises of Bangalore Amusement park in 2012. In 2016, he completed the third Amusement Park in Hyderabad, by using the latest technology to complement its umpteen attractions and facilities.
Apart from being passionate about theme parks, his other interests include music, cars, reading, traveling, adventure sports and swimming.
When and how did you realise that this is what you want to do? How did the idea of Wonderla come about?
I was always interested in technology and gadgets, and the amusement parks industry is at the confluence of tech and fun so it felt like a natural fir for me to be excited about. My dad and mom obviously played a big role in encouraging me to get into the business. I completed my graduation in 2002 from Melbourne. I majored in facility design, a Master’s degree in engineering. I did think about living in Melbourne at the time, but decided to be in India finally.
The idea for Wonderla came from my dad who wanted to build a world class but small amusement park in cochin in the late 90s. I joined this company maybe two years into operations, and felt like this is what I wanted to focus on. Enabling people to have fun in a healthy way seemed like a worthwhile pursuit!
What are the hurdles you had to face to reach where you are today or was it fairly easier for you compared to some others?
Too many hurdles to list. But some that are relevant even today, we are still in a nascent stage in the amusement park industry in India. So, getting talent, ideas, equipment and machinery, technology etc are all extremely hard. Also raising capital for this industry, which is very capital intensive also a major challenge. My role in the company has evolved over the years. I was initially in engineering and new projects, my most favourite fields. Over time I look at all aspects of the company like talent, IT, customer experience etc. being a new industry, I would say that the challenges were quite huge, from building these massive projects in a cost-effective way, to operating them effectively, to managing customer experience and safety. I think we have been able to bring a unique experience to Indians for a really affordable cost, and that has been a key to our success. Also, our service delivery has been consistent think, and that has been reflected in our popularity over the years. We are looking at taking the Wonderla experience to many more cities and that’s what is keeping us busy. We are also working on radically digitalising many customer touch points to give a seamless and consistent experience, keeping up with the times.
Please share some of the highpoints of your journey? How has the growth chart been for your company in pre Covid and post Covid times?
We are currently the largest and the most well-regarded player in the industry, so that gives me a lot of confidence to further invest into this business. we were in uncharted territory, and trying to raise money in a bear market, for an unknown industry! It took us a long time, to get ourselves IPO ready, and was even harder to find investors. But here again our performance was always beyond doubt and finally we were able to attract many investors and out IPO was a blockbuster of sorts! We have been quite a good performer in the markets, with the exception of the last year or so. Covid is the biggest challenge we have faced yet, but thanks to our ability to control costs very effectively, we have been able to survive thus far without much damage. But even 2021 is now looking difficult, hope to resume operations after the second wave.
What in your view do young entrepreneurs like you have that makes them what they are?
I think young entrepreneurs will always be trying to solve problems in new and innovative ways. That’s how we have so many young companies, in very different and new fields making impact and generating employment and wealth. So definitely, young people will bring new and fresh perspective to any industry.
It’s not easy the way you juggle around so many things – your work, home, family, friends, social life, fitness etc. Some tips on how you balance it all?
Also, what are your other passions and hobbies?
I think maintaining balance is hard. So, it helps to have a good routine. Allocate time for various aspects of our like work, leisure, fitness, family, fun etc. that has helped me maintain a good work/life balance even during Covid times.
I have been interested in music for a long time. Got some music training in school and learned to play drums as well. I have been to many concerts and performances over the years. Some really memorable ones are: sting and the London Philharmonic in Berlin 2010, David Gilmour, live in London 2015, Coldplay live in Copenhagen 2016, maroon 5 live in Toronto 2018 and many more. My interest in technology comes from my childhood fascination with cars and gadgets. I was always excited to play with my toy cars and Lego has played a big role in shaping my interests in construction and technology.
I also love travelling and seeing new places, have visited over 70 countries. I have also visited over 100 amusement parks all over the world. Some of my favourite places to travel to are Bali, Tulum Mexico and Cuzco Peru.
What is your fitness mantra?
I like to keep myself fit. I workout at least 4-5 times a week. It’s a mix of strength and mobility workout with a bit of cardio thrown in. I also do intermittent fasting 4-5 days a week and also try and avoid most processed foods and sugar. However, I do enjoy my food so I’m not too strict with myself on weekends.
What is your fashion quotient? What kind of luxuries do you like to indulge in? Holidays/cars/accessories etc? What is the most extravagant thing you have done for yourself?
I like functional fashion. Anything that adds style but is also functional at the same time. I usually dress casually. You will always see me in a pair of jeans and a tee shirt or shirt. I like to travel so usually do allocate time for that every few months. I do like a bit of luxury, whether it’s my home, or car etc. I do try not to be too extravagant and tend to be a bit understated with my choices. The most extravagant thing I’ve done is a holiday in the Galapagos and Peru with National Geographic.
What does family mean to you?
I love my family, and my parents literally have given everything to us as kids and be there for us every single time guiding and helping us. I hope to do the same for my son too. I am quite close to my parents, especially in the last few years, as they are getting older. I try to spend a week or two with them, every other month or so. I am also close to my brother, who lives in Kochi as well. We all try and meet as often as we can.
Any tips on running a business in the entertainment sector you would like to share with us for all the budding startup entrepreneurs out there?
Take enough and more time to perfect your value proposition before you try to expand and do too many things. I have seen too many people trying to solve too many problems in their businesses and end up failing in most. It’s better to focus on a few things and do them extremely well.
What is in the future pipeline in terms of your work for Wonderla?
We are planning to build new park projects in Chennai, Bhubaneshwar, and looking at other cities in India. We are also trying to revamp our existing parks using technology so that our customers have a more fun and safe experience.