Theming the Thrills

Chapter One

An Introduction

In today’s increasingly diverse market, the need for product differentiation in the leisure industry has become vital as a source of competitive advantage between different organizations. Visitor attractions, with particular emphasis on theme parks, have been paramount in the rapid increase of the tourism and leisure industries, aided by advancements in technology and increasingly sophisticated demands of the market.

The prospering success of theme parks will inevitably begin to decelerate in the coming years, with the prevailing shift in demographics heading towards an aging population in the developed World (Leisure Development lecture notes, 2000). Individuals are looking for more challenging, worthwhile and educational experience in their leisure. This poses a problem for the theme park industry, who normally cater for families and the youth market, a more sophisticated slant is required in design and marketing of their products and services to offer more than just a single tier experience.

Many theme parks and similar tourist attractions have based their cultures, theories and ideas on the brand leader of themed entertainment: Disney. However, through mass demand and industry advancements, such venues that initially based themselves on Disney’s fantasy environments, are now in fact competing with them, often posing as a threat.

The industry growth has almost reached saturation point, especially in more developed countries such as Japan and the United States, thus putting excess pressure on individual attractions to offer standards of high quality products and services to the consumer. In practice, what has been developed is a war zone with many different armies, in a battle with each other for survival and success in the market place. In this battle however, warfare is played by means of creativity, design, technology and new concepts to enthrall the consumer in the struggle for brand leadership.

This dissertation will analyze to what extent the theming, design and creativity of a theme park or indeed, an individual ride or attraction, is necessary in the eyes of managerial practice. Is theming just decorative ‘eye-candy’ (, USA Website – downloaded 28/11/00) to create the feeling of quality in the environment, or does the concept hold a much deeper social theory? Indeed, a vital question to pose is whether the consumer even notices the effects of the huge amounts of capital investment injected into a basic ‘toy’ for play, and whether the experience would be less satisfying if that investment never even took place?

Using theories of marketing management, especially in terms of service marketing and the social leisure theories of stimulation and play, this project has aimed to conclude these questions, theoretically and through primary and secondary researching, with the use of modern examples of the theme park industry. In both terms of social need and business need, the matter will provoke unbiased, analytical discussion in an exertion to develop greater understanding of themed attraction management and its related issues. The dissertation uses current examples of theme parks in the UK, Europe and the USA, and indeed, some attractions from the parks. All of the mentioned parks utilize theming for their experiences at different levels.

Chapter two introduces the works of contemporary theorists in leisure needs and stimulation. Relating the ideas of such scholars to the themed attraction industry can be linked to why theming and design has become so prominent in the attempt at consumer satisfaction. Chapter three examines marketing theory in accordance to service marketing, analyzing the themed attraction concept in business marketing terms. Chapter four then illustrates these concepts in the developed world, with the effects that ambience has on the consumer and how theming and design can be utilized and facilitated in more expansive ways, discussed here with theme park examples.

Chapter five draws all theories together and concludes the dissertation with an insight into possible future trends of themed attraction design and the changing face of the theme park.

“The attraction should be a creative blend of sights, sounds and storytelling devices used to stir the emotion and imagination of a guest. With the proper use of all these elements it is very possible to create a guest experience exciting enough to keep guests coming back time and again. And that’s what it is all about.

(Nate Naversen, “The Sixth Sense, the Story & the Cliché,” downloaded 28/11/00)

Theming the Thrills Chapter One An Introduction

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