What businesses should know before building parks and gardens in global cities

By Jovin Hurry

Gardens by the Bay

‘GreenUrbanScape Asia 2013’ held last month at the Expo Convention Centre in Singapore offered through its talks and exhibition the chance for opportunists to seek new income streams, projects and markets in the green industry.

One such chance was the co-located Business Forum where participants learned about the opportunities and challenges relating to the landscape industry in the region. Mr. Shikhar Aggarwal, Principal Consultant at Frost & Sullivan talked about the rise of parks and gardens in global cities. Green Business Singapore distilled the essence of what it takes to build these parks and gardens if a business were to venture a bite in this bulging landscaping pie.

1. Understand the emerging trends and capitalise on them

There is a strong interest in nature-based activities and travel. Businesses can enter this large market as leisure park and garden experience providers. The ageing population is already causing significant demand shifts in the landscaping industry. They are not only consumers of parks, but also volunteers and donors.

Nature is seen as a stress-reducer among other health benefits it provides. More homes are building yards, be they vertical or rooftop. Schools are implementing nature programmes. Hospitals are making space for healing gardens. Nature as a market is here to stay. Businesses that capitalise on these health benefits would capture the wallets of these stakeholders.

Gardens are now popular tourist destinations, often a tourist hotspot. This is due to increasing travels and better educated visitors. With modern means of communication, both knowledge about and visitors to these gardens and parks are growing. Businesses can enter this market of ecotourism and garden tourism through the commercialisation of landscaping services of these parks and gardens.

More people are becoming sensitive to social, economic, environmental and cultural impacts of mankind. They are asking for a more diversified visit to the park.

  • Businesses can enter this emerging market for multi-use sites by providing a spectrum of opportunities within a geographically and conceptually-linked space, e.g. a biosphere reserve.
  • Furthermore, they can provide landscaping for specialised gardens and events. There is a demand for specific elements or aspects of these garden landscapes. Flower shows and exhibitions are becoming popular. Another example is that park visitors have preferences for certain types of gardens, e.g. Chinese or French gardens based on the features and characteristics that these gardens possess.

Visitors’ tastes are changing. More and more are looking for immersive experiences.

  • Businesses can provide a wide range of experiences dealing with human use density, ranges of accommodation and price, ranges of interactions with nature, all in one green destination. This means gardens need to include appropriate rest places, food and beverage facilities, transport services. This will encourage the visitors to stay longer close to nature.
  • In addition, businesses can carve their niches and promote their landscaping and design by reflecting the history of the gardens. They must recognise that the cultural component that is part of the the garden’s history contributes to part of the allure of visiting gardens. Businesses can attract and retain more of their demanding and picky visitors by preserving, showcasing and promoting the historical value, together with the history of the structures themselves.
  • Finally, businesses can dig for further niches that can accommodate these changing visitors’ tastes by venturing into aquatic gardens, which are a man-made water feature. Aquatic gardens are an interior or exterior landscape that houses a particular species of aquatic plant.

2. Grow around new business models

The present business model is that the government agency operates the parks and gardens, as seen in most of Asia. The agency gets no direct benefit from visitors and yet has to incur the entire expenditure. This model of management has been stretched to its breaking point, with effectiveness and efficiency remaining low.

This effectiveness and efficiency is moderate for park management operated by the non-profit sector, which has low equity on it. Private sector park management has low equity and high effectiveness and efficiency. The increasing privatisation of park management into parastatal form is allowing centralised financial control through more entrepreneurial forms of management. Businesses can hit the sweet spot of parastatal management with moderate effectiveness and efficiency and moderate equity as optimisation of resources becomes a key concern for government agencies.

3. Have a solid monetizing mechanism in place

With effectiveness, efficiency and optimisation as the new buzzwords, businesses need to monitor their capital and operational expenditures closely. Businesses will need to look at funding shifting from government grants to park tourism fees and charges.

Businesses with a self-funding model will be able to progress towards a solid monetizing set-up, that will not only be financially sustainable, but also help them move from a government-focused hierarchy to a client-focused one, thereby providing a more positive experience to the garden visitor.

Since gardens and parks are complex, fragile, expensive to cultivate and maintain, many projects simply do not move forward. Businesses may need to set-up fines for those visitors who pluck plants and steal animals. They must also know the right balance between commercialising a historical place and the inevitable deterioration that comes along, often irreversible.

In conclusion, on closer look, business opportunities in the parks and gardens industry abound. Technology advancement thanks to globalisation makes the garden tourism more attractive, e.g. vertical gardens. Niche markets, e.g. urban agriculture, healing spas or rooftop gardens for increasingly specialised preferences are there to be captured. If the theme is attractive enough, the visitor will certainly have an experience to remember.

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