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Park Comment A major theme park in the Middle East based upon a

prestigious global brand has remained open but only because the government keeps it afloat as it does not want the embarrassment of it closing. On most days there are more employees in the park than guests. They keep adding more rides in the hope that this will improve things but again they lack the understanding of what is wrong at the core. The project needs a lot more than additional rides. A US-based touring experience that had one of the best-

known brands in the business floundered and closed within a month of opening, with the loss of its entire investment. Its creators marketed a “high-tech” attraction that was really low-tech, and failed to understand how to translate the IP in ways that would engage fans in an emotional way. Worse, they offended true fans and angered parents by providing a low quality experience with poor software, poor attractions and a totally poor guest experience. Bad for the brand, bad for the audience, bad for the investors; another expensive failure.

What if no one comes? We are now witnessing the opening of a new group of theme parks in United Arab Emirates (UAE) – in Dubai and Abu Dhabi – all of which so far have opened to underwhelming numbers. “What if we build a theme park and no one comes?” That is probably what a lot of developers in the Middle East are asking themselves right now.

In various online forums, guests reflect on the poor quality of the rides, the lack of originality, and the fact that nothing is worth the price of admission. The one good thing, they note, is there are no lines ...because no one is there! In the media the owners say the low numbers are due to

“soft openings” and that not all of the rides are not operating yet. That’s all well and good for a press statement, but the wider issue is whether the current crop of new parks around the world – outside of Disney, Universal and a handful of others – can really become the destination attractions they intend to be. None of us want any park to fail but, as more than one

operator has learned over the last few years, there is truth to the adage “There’s never enough money to do it right. but always enough money to fix it.” Of course, by the time one gets around to “fixing” it, the long-term damage is done. Most if not all of the failures highlighted could have been

avoided through careful planning, better conceptualisation, and by focusing on quality and originality. This is not a simple industry and there are rarely simple answers. How does one create a destination that guests will come to not once or twice, but a place they will return to again, again and again while recommending it to their friends and family? How does one ensure, whether the project is large or small, that what is created will stand the test of time? If simply having brands to slap onto rides and attractions

were all that was required, then certain parks in the Middle East and elsewhere would be packing people in right now instead of making apologies. Is the answer having the tallest or fastest rollercoaster? If that were true then certain other parks in the UAE and China should have lines around the block. But they don’t. Is it the theming? If it was theming alone, then most of those theme parks in China in the 70% group that are losing money would instead be turning a profit.

MARCH 2017 “

Helping clients succeed As an industry we should begin to think more long-term when working with clients and partner. Learn to say no. Seriously, sometimes it is necessary to walk away from clients with unrealistic plans to make a point. Don’t sell them on the wrong rides, or the wrong shows, or on cheap quick fixes. Be prepared to say “we don’t believe this will work and if you proceed in this direction, we will have to walk away.” Don’t be a willing participant in something you know is going to fail. I can say this because at the Goddard Group we turned down several of the projects alluded to which have opened and closed, or that are about to close. We need to help clients succeed, which means telling them the truth. If their idea or concept won’t work, you need to tell them so, even if that means walking away. The next big test in the Middle East will be the opening of

the new Warner Bros park in Abu Dhabi. Let’s hope this one puts the emphasis on the right things and will become the project that paves the way for other successful branded attractions in the region. If it it succeeds, we all do. If not, it will be yet another high-profile failure. Successful theme park design is an art and a science. It’s a team sport. No one company can do it all and each of us should do what we do best and recommend others for the rest. History has proven in the US, in Europe, and soon to be repeated in China, the UAE and every other growing market, in the end it’s about the quality of the project; its design, execution, and its overall service. With or without IPs, the successful projects engage the audience on an emotional level, offering a memorable shared experience. Everyone in the industry talks the talk of needing “story”

and providing “immersive” experiences but it’s become obvious that many park new developers and operators need better guidance when it comes to developing large scale projects. To be successful, a theme park has to be more than a second or third-class copy of what has come before. As we are seeing over and over again, simply spending a lot of money and building a formulaic theme park, or multiple formulaic theme parks, is no guarantee of success. Perhaps it’s time to develop theme parks with a new adage: “If we build it – and if it is original and engaging, and is of high quality and filled with surprises, and is possessed of a heart, soul, and sense of place that is unique, if it has got engaging content in the form of unique rides and shows (with IPs or without), and if it has superb service and maintenance – THEN they will come.”


in the industry talks the talk of needing “story” and providing “immersive” experiences but it’s obvious that many park developers need better guidance when it comes to developing large scale projects

ABOVE LEFT: Goddard holds out hope that the upcoming Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi will transform what has been lacklustre performance by other theme parks in the UAE

Gary Goddard is founder, chairman and CEO of The Goddard Group ( Some of his key theme park and attractions projects include Terminator 2/3D, Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, and Jurassic Park River Adventure for Universal; Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue for Walt Disney World; The Galaxy Resort and Studio City in Macau; The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace Las Vegas; and Hershey's Chocolate World, Times Square, New York


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