Unlocking the Preschoolers Market in South East Asia

Unless you have a child under 5 it is a market you might easily know nothing of and yet it’s probably one of the biggest kids entertainment markets in the region.

A country like Malaysia has over 10% of its population under 5 and these kids don’t go to school, they don’t work (obviously) so they play!

You won’t find a single mall in South East Asia without a kids playground, and often times several of them or even entire floors dedicated to kids activities from playground to classes and gyms.

There has been so far a gap between the operators of such young kids facilities and the family entertainment operators (e.g. Disney, Merlin, etc) but things are changing and I think I know why: the opportunity is big!

In a recent Destinology study PGAV Destination looked into the preschoolers and their impact on the design of attractions overall. One of the points made is on the necessity to understand a category of guests undergoing great changes over the age of 0 to 5 and to integrate them in the family journey for them to associate some of their first memories to a specific venue or attraction.

Theme parks and other family destinations have started addressing preschoolers in their offering. For example Universal Sudios Japan worked with Imagination Playground to create a Block Room at Abby’s Magical Party and Albert Docks recently opened Mattel Play in Liverpool.


So back to the market potential for preschooler-dedicated venues in the region. I think it’s the combination of the retail environment and the nature of parents and caretakers, which brings huge opportunities.

South East Asia is big on malls; developers love mixed-use concepts and so there are malls popping up everywhere, from neighborhood malls to regional malls, with some of the biggest in the world. Mall operators have long understood they need facilities for young kids to lure families in. Aeon for example, through its subsidiary Aeon Fantasy, operates 170 outlets in South East Asia under the brands Molly Fantasy and Kidzoona.


Our region is also known for its ‘tiger mums’ who push their kids to be super successful and because children develop 85% of their intellectual, skills and personality by the age of 5 these mums are great clients for edutainment. But these days we see the emergence of another kind of mums, the millennial mums. They are fast technology adopters and hyper social; they like to share everything! For them preschoolers venues should be an opportunity to bridge the online and the offline.

Let me explain. Nowadays babies know how to use a smartphone before they can walk. YouTube has probably become the No.1 entertainment destination for kids with six of its top 10 channels aimed at kids and family content being its fastest-growing category. I personally see great potential in building on this success to come up with venues kids can explore the same way they explore YouTube and where parents/caretakers and kids can have a bonding experience. This implies working together with digital content providers on a 360o strategy and a lot more smart play such as the great NEOS® playgrounds.


So let’s have a look at some of the existing trends.

Of course the biggest is edutainment where you find a number of concepts focused on skills development with a mix of playground and classes. Gymboree is market leader with 700 locations in 40 countries.

Also edutainment but with a twist is role-play, which has become very big. KidZania started the category with very a successful franchise relying on strong systems and a unique business model. The recent openings in Manila and Singapore have proven the concept is still very appealing when well executed and despite the proliferation of copycats.

A new and fast developing trend is active play a.k.a. kids gyms. With already 12 outlets in Indonesia, Rockstar Gym is establishing itself as a one-stop centre to enhance physical, socio-emotional and cognitive skills in a fun, caring and safe environment for children 6 months to 16 years.

More recently IP’s have shown a strong interest in this market too. Following the very well received CBeebies Land at Alton Towers, BBC is exploring rolling-out an indoor CBeebies concept. Pororo has opened its first kids park in the region in Singapore and Mattel has big roll-out ambitions for its 13,000sft and £1.5m Mattel Play concept.


Now, how can we make even more the difference and fully explore the potential of this market?

I think membership is the way to go. Preschoolers have a lot of ‘free’ time and it’s easy to keep them coming back. Also they can be unpredictable so with a membership, no matter what happens during their visit, parents are not stressed about the value-loss of their ticket because they can come back ‘for free’. Some of the most successful concepts are membership-based such as Gymboree and Rockstar Gym.

Another path to explore is transferring concepts that work for adults, for example gyms, to preschoolers. Adults go dancing, singing karaoke or listening to live music, why not kids?

Little Baby Bump is one of YouTube top 10 channels and in Malaysia DiDi & Friends is also a YouTube phenomenon. What they have in common is they produce nursery rhymes much loved by young kids. Going back to my point earlier about working together with digital content providers on a 360o strategy; imagine a complete ecosystem based on Little Baby Bum or DiDi & Friends addressing kids at home, at the mall and on-the-go and based on singing, dancing and other activities that can be shared by kids and their parents/caretakers. That would be cool! What do you think?