Theming the Thrills

Chapter 5: The Future

This final chapter looks at the use of technology as the medium in which the industry will travel into the future. Research has enabled the discovery of many opinions, regarding the future of the industry, from executives within the industry, and of course, the construction of this dissertation has also refined some initial considerations regarding this issue.

“I see more consolidation. Theme parks now cost a billion dollars to put together, and that’s more than the average individual, or company can do. Theme parks of the future belong to the entertainment conglomerates. the Disney’s, AOL’s and Time Warner’s of the world.”

(Nate Naversen, 27/02/01)

The above statement is the general consensus from Nate, when questioned about the future of the industry. Indeed, it is already apparent that large entertainment companies are leading the industry, with the given example of Universals acquisition of new parks including Port Aventura in Europe.

It will be interesting to examine how long Disney will lead the industry as we progress into the future, as Nate has mentioned, many parks are now alongside Disney in terms of attraction quality. When comparing large theme parks such as Port Aventura and Islands of Adventure, it is possible to equate the standards to those of Disney and see that there is very little difference.

The technological advancements of the industry have created an accelerated rate of production in which more and more attractions are being developed to make more exciting environments for the visitor. Relating back to chapter two and the theories of stimulation, surely the more unreal these environments, the higher the level of arousal in the individual. New experiences will always offer the most arousal, before the experience becomes mundane, and the more different and unique the attraction, the more exciting it would be. The use of virtual reality to create ‘false’ environments is being further used, such as the Spiderman attraction at Islands of Adventure. This technology allows visitors to participate in unreal events, and interact in total fantasy, thus transporting them to another plain, where they have never been before.

Theme parks can use this technology to their advantage in the quest to create new experiences for their visitors and increase attendances at the parks. The question is whether these kinds of virtual reality attractions will surpass the traditional iron ride? Howard Kelley, president of the US heavyweight animatronics manufacturer, Sally Corporation claims that: “Interaction is also a big draw for customers and their audiences. New technologies are providing the opportunity to bring the park visitor closer to, and more involved with the entertainment. No longer will the typical park visitor be as passive as he or she used to be, and there will be less dependence on expensive iron rides.”

(Howard Kelly, Attractions Management, July 1998, p.35)

This statement is a good example to argue the point that the old style fairground rides, will indeed become redundant in some fields. This may link in with the initial views that the changing demographics of society with an increasing gray market, may lead to a change in these fantasy experiences with a more sophisticated and indeed more educational appeal being incorporated.

However, the general change of culture in society has made a new slant nevertheless. John Hughes, managing director of Kirton Playworks, stated in the October 2000 issue of Leisure Management (p.62) that “Educational play is a big trend.” Whereas Sophie Cooke, reporter on the same article stated that:

“Play installations are combining intellectual and physical challenges to attract the Pokémon generation. Companies are building on the computer culture fostered in the last decade to create installations that can hold the attention of increasingly sophisticated young users, within a space where their parents are happy to leave them.”

(Sophie Cooke, Leisure Management October 2000, p.62)

Thus, attractions like the Millennium Dome have taken this approach to leisure, admittedly, the Millennium Dome is not the best example to use in terms of success, however this kind of ‘play’, which again relates back to chapter two of this piece, is becoming more apparent at venues worldwide.Therefore, is ‘edutainment’ the way to progress into the 21st Century? In terms of museums and more educational visitor attractions, certainly, however, this is very much a different industry from that of theme parks. The state of these museum transformations may just reflect the commercialization of society and indeed, an arguable point would be to state that educational attractions are becoming more like theme parks, and thus a role reversal is occurring.In the short-term, it is quite possible to foresee the future of the theme park industry in the UK, as it is expected that British parks will simply follow in the footsteps of our American counterparts, as we have done to this very day, yet it is a notoriety in marketing philosophy that Americanization does not implement well in Britain, yet theme parks may be one of the few exceptions to this. The general growth in theme park attendances over the last decade (Tourism Trendspotter, July 1998) would indicate that there is a demand for these ‘thrills’ with a seeming increase in the so-called ‘adrenaline-junkie generation’. The Internet alone gives obvious indication to the amount of theme park enthusiasts in modern society and the general increase in the participation of extreme sports (Leisure Development notes, 2000) shows that people want to be stimulated in such a way so as to really escape from the norm. The theme park industry therefore has a great advantage because of the constantly updated advancements in technology and the growing scope in the ability to turn even the most outrageous ideas into reality.The designers at the Themedattraction.com, in particular Bob Rogers, who gave a forum on the future of themed entertainment at the IAAPA Tradeshow, Orlando, 1997; have forecast changes for the theme park industry into the future.The Themedattraction.com website, outlines a number points which indicates the changes taking place in the industry, and changes which need to be made in order to accommodate.

The general consensus is that there will be great changes to the practice of queuing for rides; individual pricing for attractions and not just a single admission ticket; much faster obsolescence of attractions; more refreshing appeal in the environment with a greater focus on relaxation; better food; offering ‘first class’ experiences to those who can afford it and having a general increase in meaningful and intelligent entertainment.

Some of these changes have begun already. Alton Towers started the process of ‘virtual queuing’ on selected rides last year, where visitors pass through a turnstile and take a timed ticket at which to return for their ride.In the past, however, queuing has been used to ‘ration’ the number of visitors in the park, for usage, carrying capacity and safety reasons (Themedattraction.com, 27/02/01), so what would be the effect of reducing these queue times?Individual ticketing systems are in place at a number of theme parks already. This may be a reduced admission charge and then individual costs for each ride and attraction, once inside. This gives a perception of value, like Drayton Manor Park, for instance, however, in the long and short of it, it simply creates a higher level of spending. This entire study has mentioned repeatedly the rapid rate of innovation in concern to theme park rides, so obsolescence is bound to accelerate.In regards to the extent of ‘refreshment’, the idea of a theme park in the past has been a leisure activity, similar to that of a short break but squeezed into a single day. It has become apparent now, however, that a day at a theme park is often spent riding, queuing, rushing to the next attraction and repeating the entire experience until closing time. What with often high admission charges, it is natural for the individual or indeed the family to rush around, feeling the need to get their money’s worth’ and not to miss anything. The construction of on-site hotels has helped to combat this, as has systems such as annual season tickets and extended opening hours, to slow down the pace for those in question. These traits do relate to the typical theme park visitor, families and especially the youth generation who are likely to live a faster pace of life regardless, however with an ageing population, theme parks need to reconsider the general culture and feel to slow things down in order to adapt to the older markets. The issue of bettering food and refreshments has been touched upon, what with the implementation of McDonalds, KFC and Pizza Hut at Alton Towers and the ethnic restaurant experiences at Port Aventura. Managers and constructors need to consider the implication of quality refreshment areas in order to increase stay time, satisfaction and increase secondary spending.According to Nate, Disney was constructed with the idea in mind that everyone is a VIP, thus having only one tier of ticketing and the same service offered to all visitors. Theme parks, being service orientated, will always work on this theme of looking at customers as ‘guests’ and exceeding expectations, however according to recent articles, visitor attractions are now changing pricing strategies to suit the different markets. Alton Towers temporarily introduced the sale of the ‘X-Cellerator’ pass in 2000, and it was such a success, it is being sold again for the 2001 season. The pass cost in the region of £60 per person, respective of £20 for a standard ticket, yet the ‘X-Cellerator’ pass allows visitors to ‘queue jump’ all of the rides and actually receives VIP treatment. The tickets are limited each day so that ‘normal’ visitors are not effected too greatly by this approach, however somewhere in there must be an issue of general morality – after all, how many British families will be able to afford in excess of £200 for a single day out (Attraction Manager, October 2000, p.22)?Finally, in giving examples of these forecasted issues, it has already been discussed how attractions are changing to be more meaningful and unique or even more sophisticated experiences. This indeed will be of great importance in relation to the shifting demographics of society, whereby entertainment needs to suit all markets yet with more emphasis on the older generations. Therefore, after moving slightly away from the core subject, it is very possible to relate all of these issues back to the theming and design issues of theme parks. When taking everything into account, the bottom line is that theming and design is a perfect medium to alter and shape a ride, attraction, shop, restaurant, building, or even a person. As long as the theme park industry continues to develop, as it surely will through organic growth, the theming and design aspects will continue to develop with it. The bigger, faster, longer the ride, the more exciting, aesthetic and appealing the theming, the more intense and adventurous the marketing campaign and the more thrilling the stimulation level, and there you have it – the ability to achieve success. The industry strives wholly on being better than the last, continued development and acceleration, generating higher and higher levels of revenue.A researched article discussing the future of theme parks in the Millennium Issue of ‘Park World’ magazine, was prominent in the development in this study: “My guess would be we will see many new technological leaps as well as an audience that expects and demands total interactive and immersive experiences.As once portrayed in Michael Crighton’s ‘Westworld’, we will see living, breathing themed experiences that put people into real, working, interactive themed environments, where each element is alive and reacts. We will see more people wanting to escape the stresses and pressures of the real world through fantasy escapes.” Gary Goddard, Park World Millennium Edition, p.28)The statement says it all. Realism is key as the industry progresses and the natural changes in demands of the leisure participant will expect this. Ride technology will continue to develop, however theming will develop it further and take it to new plains of sophistication. The clearly defined statement derived from this massive topic of discussion is that this progression, combined with the increased diversity of marketing practice and the need for leisure in society will assure the continued success of the theme park. What is yet to come remains to be seen, as in any industry but people will always want leisure, some will need leisure and the competitive leisure environment will always benefit from strong marketing activity. What better way to finish this study, than with a quote?”The bottom line is this – it comes down to entertainment. The great places know how to capture a guest’s attention. They are willing to take risks to touch an emotion. They know how to use the rich texture of stories, myths and legends to make a persons fantasy realm come true. A place that pulls on our heartstrings. It allows us to have wonderful times with friends and family.to build memories and it keeps us coming back for more.”

(Nate Naversen, 27/02/01)

Theming the Thrills; Chapter 5: The Future

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