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Park Comment

Our industry is in the midst of a boom – a great big boom that requires the

conceptualising, planning, building and opening of

theme parks, resorts and attractions around the

world. The sheer number and scope of projects is unprecedented, but Gary Goddard is

concerned that not enough importance is being paid to their long-term success.

Writing exclusively for Park World, the noted attraction designer tells us why


sticking an IP on a ride, land or park does not make the project bullet proof. In fact, if not done correctly and with great respect to the brand, it might make matters worse than having no brand at all

If we brand it,

they will come ...or will they?


evelopers around the world are in love with the idea of theme parks and attractions, so much so that they are rushing to build new parks, waterparks,

aquariums, resorts and attractions of all kinds. All of us in the industry – from consultant and designer to manufacturer, supplier and even trade publications – is benefitting from the current boom. There seems to be a prevailing belief that “if we build it,

they will come,” especially in China and the Middle East. Or perhaps, reflecting a more current trend, “if we build it and BRAND it with intellectual properties (IP), they will come.” In fact, as developers in China, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and elsewhere are discovering, this kind of thinking can be folly. We all know of major theme parks that have opened in the past year or so that have been unmitigated disasters. Many of these projects make use of major brands, but because the concept, design and content is stale or low-grade, no one cared. In other cases, parks were themed to “local culture” in the belief that's what local people wanted; again no one cared. Hundreds of millions, even billions, of dollars have been spent on theme parks that have to be torn down and tens of millions for touring shows that have been scrapped. These are major new attractions that can’t find an audience. None of this is good for the long-term health of our industry. So what can we do about this?

Meeting brand expectations The first thing is to realise that simply sticking an IP on a ride, land or park does not make your client’s project bullet proof. In fact, if not done correctly and with great respect to

the brand, it might make matters worse than having no brand at all. Brands bring expectations with them. If a park makes use of that brand in a way that is inconsistent with its story and and legacy – and in a manner that the audience fails to appreciate and embrace – then the audience will reject it. Loudly. An IP can be an asset or a liability depending upon how it is utilised. Currently there are many examples of the latter. As to using “local culture” as a theme for a park, we should note that even Disney tripped up on this one. When the company decided to create “California Adventure” in the middle of California, it found out that no one in the US state was interested in going to a theme park based upon the place they already lived. It didn’t help that most of the attractions were pretty bad, and that someone at Disney thought expensive restaurants and bistros were what the audience was looking for. The issue at the core of it all though was a flawed concept: why pay the same price as Disneyland to see a “fake” California when you live in the real place? Why visit a park with lousy attractions and high- priced food when the world’s greatest theme park is 100 yards away?

The solution, taken only after Disney California Adventure

had taken a prolonged beating in the press (and in the minds of Disney fans), was to spend three times the cost of the original park and populate it with high quality Disney and Pixar attractions. It would of course been better, and less expensive, to do it right the first time without tarnishing the Disney brand. But Disney has the ability to take failure like that, to spend more money, get better creative ideas, and make it right. Not every developer has that luxury, and very few have the firepower and in-house IPs that Disney can bring to bear.

Simply stated, while being sensitive and giving nods to local culture is important, one would be wise to remember that people, primarily families, come to theme parks to escape the real world and to have fun, not to get history lessons disguised as rides or engage in an experience that they already live day to day.

Despite a widely-recognised IP, Hard Rock Park in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, folded after just one season. 36

Expensive failures Make no mistake, I am as elated as everyone else in our industry to find ourselves in the midst of this incredible boom, but I also see the seeds being planted of the inevitable bust. We are already reading “only 10% of the theme parks in China are making money” and that “70% are losing money, and the remaining 20% are struggling to break even” (China Daily, December 29, 2016). We know that one major Chinese theme park developer has had to shut down its first theme park and completely start over, and word is it's about to do the same thing with its recently-opened second park. So much for the “culture parks” concept.

MARCH 2017

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