Adventure Products can be a valuable add-on to an operation. Beth Whitaker spoke with some of the leading suppliers in the sector, to find out what’s new and trending, while looking at the main challenges of operating such products.
Having been in business for more than 34 years, RCI Adventure Products, based in Michigan, USA, has built and installed 900+ attractions in 32 countries to date. Striving to revolutionise adventure products by constantly experimenting with new amusement attraction design concepts and technologies, the company manufactures ropes courses, mazes, climbing walls, and net play.
Speaking with InterPark about the appeal of rope courses specifically, RCI Vice President Mark Forbes says: “It’s a family activity for all ages and as such, we target that sector with the message that RCI rope courses are a great way for people to spend their leisure time and that “family togetherness” is a good thing and an integral part of the experience. This trend of “family togetherness”, along with wanting to be more active, seems to be more prevalent since Covid. The fact that we offer free roam, where people can choose their own path when they’re on the course is also a great appeal.
While RCI’s latest product Sky Trail Sky Tour is a great standalone attraction, you are most likely to find the manufacturer’s products as part of a bigger amusement experience, such as an additional feature at a theme park. A vital factor to all adventure attraction operations is, of course, safety and RCI tells InterPark how it provides a complete service from initial design to install, inspection and then staff training. “We offer continued support with required training and inspections annually,” said Forbes. “This safety aspect is key and typically, we run programs for operator training, operator trainer training, and inspector training to ensure best in safety standards.
“One of our key safety specialties for our harnessed ropes courses includes a continuous and passable overhead tracking system. This means you cannot remove your sling line from the overhead track at any time while in the ropes course; no unclipping or re-hooking required, and no help needed from staff to navigate through the course.
“Our R&D department is continuously producing new elements for our courses and tend to release new ideas every year. Over and above this, gamification is currently under review where we would look to incorporate RFID technology with a reward program for the participant.
“Every attraction that we engineer is done so with patented integrated systems that increase the level of safety, reduce labour costs, and raise the number of participants for high capacities as well as increase the age range for guest participation. Guests never experience anything short of unforgettable or thrilling when they choose to elevate their fun and engage with our amusement attractions.”
Speaking with Phil Pickersgill of Innovative Leisure in the UK – and a partner of RCI Adventure’s – he also believes that free roam is a current trend within the sector and places such as Bear Grylls Adventure in the UK are performing well. “The free roaming aspect is crucial,” he said. “Children rarely get the control over the equipment themselves and then there’s the repeat play: they want to come back to choose a different path, element or level.”
Echoing Forbes’ view that rope courses can be fun for everyone in the family, Pickersgill told InterPark: “Many of our new openings in 2022 could be found at UK coastal resorts aimed at the family market. There hasn’t been a specific age group targeted, but crucially the attractions were aimed at children from two-years-old on our junior low ropes model, upwards.”
In terms of product development in the UK, Pickersgill explained that at Innovative Leisure the team continues to add many more interesting and challenging elements to its rope courses – such as the Spring Steps featured at Haven Haggerston in Northumberland. “We have also developed the zip aspect for junior or low ropes, which has proved a huge hit with customers and gets great feedback,” he said. “We will have more major zip related developments later this year.”
Similarly, in terms of safety, Innovative Leisure also provides a complete service from initial design to install, inspection and staff training. This is complete package is quite unique in the UK according to Pickersgill, with the company having a specialist team based in Leicester.
As well as this, there is the annual program of third-party inspections, “which” he said, “are vital for adventure or off-ground activities like our high ropes courses.” These annual inspections are done under the ADIPS, LEAPS or ERCA in the UK.
LEAPS is a new award-winning scheme launched in 2022 managed by Jon Ruddock and is the only leisure safety scheme to offer assurance to the public that the three main causes of accidents are managed within an operation – Competent Operator, Safe Asset, Competent Inspector. These are known as the three LEAPS stars and to be a LEAPS Certified Site, all three of these stars need to align. The scheme has been written with the principles of the System of Safety for Attractions as published by the Health and Safety Executive.
Also based in the UK is Airparx, a company that specialises in the supply and installation of FEC equipment, specifically inflatables, play, climbing and interactive solutions. Speaking with InterPark, Airparx’s Commercial Director Rob Christie said: “Without doubt we continuously receive enquiries for new themed attractions based on TV shows and social media content. Gamification; receiving a score; time or team position; is also very much a constant in our new product development. Retro fit gamification has been very popular during 2022, with operators wanting to add gamification to existing attractions to enhance the experience, and if possible, create a new revenue stream.
“As the industry evolves and sites upgrade facilities, we are finding that all the experiences will appear in one-off FECs, as operators continue to enhance the customer experience and dwell time,” Christie continued. “With operators moving towards a one ticket entry pricing strategy, it’s also important that all attractions complement each other from a time, supervision, and ROI perspective.”
Walltopia, based in Bulgaria is one of the world’s biggest manufacturers of climbing walls with more than 24 years of experience in the industry. At the same time, it has a large variety of entertainment attractions in its portfolio and has completed thousands of projects around the world.
Commenting on the appeal of ninja courses, Milena Boyadjiyska from the company noted how television programmes have had a positive influence on the popularity of the attraction, telling InterPark: “A lot of people get hooked on ninja courses because of shows like Ninja Warrior and as such, a lot of the obstacles we make are also based on the ones you see on the show.
“A couple of current trends are to use mechanical obstacle courses like WipeOut, and inflatable courses are very popular. In comparison to other attractions such as rope courses and fun walls, I would say ninja courses aren’t as popular with operators because they require the participants to have good coordination, whereas the other attractions are more focused on the fun experience.”
And in terms of technological advances being developed by the manufacturer, Walltopia told InterPark it has added timer options to its ninja courses recently, while also working on a product called Gamifier, which is a scoring system that allows people to keep track of their own performance, while also adding games to the different attractions and keeping things more interesting for guests.
Ninja courses do also come with safety challenges, such as fireproofing the obstacle materials and high insurance costs depending on what the attractions involve, but Walltopia had no further comment on this area of the business.
So, there you have it… A brief overview of what the sector currently has to offer and what operators are wanting from their adventure products. While some of the attractions may have more challenges than others, I think it’s safe to say that there’s nothing stopping adventure attractions being just as exhilarating and enticing as your big, thrill-seeking roller coasters and amusement rides. From an operations perspective, while the energy crisis continues for many around the globe, it might just be the time for these low-energy consuming add-ons to take centre-stage and become the star of the show.