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For the global theme park and attractions industry, the US undoubtedly remains the king of kings. However, as industry professionals from around the world prepare to head to Florida for the IAAPA Attractions Expo 2010, could the aftershocks of the worst financial crisis since the Second World War - coupled with the rise of ever-bullish emerging markets - eventually lead to the country’s crown being toppled? Adrian Lennox reports


THINK “amusements,” “leisure” or “theme parks” and the US will never be far from your mind. From Disney’s iconic Cinderella’s Castle to the unforgettable narratives found within Universal Studios’ sprawling immersive resorts, the US theme park industry in many ways embodies the American Dream where, to paraphrase historian James Truslow Adams, “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone.”


Seemingly since time immemorial, carnivals and theme


parks in the US have captured the imagination of more individuals than any other country - so much so that the Stars and Stripes are interwoven into the very fabric of amusement resorts, and vice versa. Take the Statue of Liberty - one of the most famous icons


of the US. According to folklore, the statue was often one of the first glimpses of the country for hundreds of thousands of immigrants after ocean voyages from Europe. However, until it was destroyed by fire in 1896, the Coney Island Elephant was actually the first structure seen by immigrants arriving at the magnificent city of New York. The US’ rich amusement park heritage is renowned


around the world. Millions of families flock there from overseas every year with the sole intention of spending a week, two weeks or even more feasting on the out-of- home leisure delights to be found from coast to coast. Indeed, the country’s prominence is well reflected in industry circles as it remains home to leading global operators, manufacturers and the world’s principal amusement gathering, the IAAPA Attractions Expo. Yet while the amusement industry remains in many ways firmly attached to US ideology, so too does the term “recession.” The US, of course, was hit hard by what became the worst financial crisis since World War Two - and by all accounts many economists believe the aftershocks of the global meltdown will be felt for many years to come. This, coupled with recent developments in Asia, has led many industry observers to question the country’s continued future as the king of amusements. So what does the future hold for the US theme park industry?


The numbers game According to statistics released by the International


Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), the US theme park and out-of-home leisure industry enjoyed strong growth between 1990 and 2007, with annual attendance rising from 253 million to 341 million and gross revenues more than doubling to $12bn from $5.7bn. It is interesting to note that although attendance rates


began to flatten out at the beginning of the decade, revenues from theme parks in the country continued to grow strongly, indicating an increase in per-head consumer spending. However, while the IAAPA data provides a clear overall picture of the state of the US amusements industry up until the full effects of the global downturn became apparent,


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