BACK TO BUSINESS
Although the global amusements and theme park sector did well to avoid the full effects of the economic downturn in 2009, most within the industry are happy to have started a new, hopefully more positive year of trading, says Adrian Lennox.
Periods of prolonged economic turmoil serve to exacerbate market differences across all industry sectors. This was certainly true for the leisure industry in 2009, as the countries on both sides of the Atlantic reported a sharp decline in all-important foreign tourist rates, while many emerging amusement markets across Asia and the Middle East continued on their upward trajectory, fuelled by an increasingly affluent domestic customer base.
The situation, however, is far from being cut and dried, and thoughts as to exactly when the industry will have fully recovered from the recent maelstrom remain highly subjective. Just as one company may reject the idea of swift recovery in favour of a more gradual comeback, so others may report to have barely felt the effects of the downturn whatsoever, as their domestic consumers opting for ‘staycations’ helped offset a deficit in foreign tourist spend.
“In the European amusement park industry, we had last year a very divided field of economic effects due to the overall world economy,” said Olaf Mordelt, owner and managing director of Heimo, the German themed products manufacturer. “Northern European parks have had a healthy increase, whereas the southern parks which are also depending on tourism were not so lucky.”
While there are huge differences in individual perceptions of the road to recovery, the industry is united in believing that innovation will be a key factor in stimulating growth in all regions. Ironically, however, investors remain extremely cautious, and operators are still very careful when it comes to major investments.
Despite this Matthias Clostermann, CEO of Clostermann Design, is experiencing the green shoots of recovey. “In 2009 many of our customers postponed their decisions,” he said. “They seem to want to make up for this delay now all the more, and we are glad that our entertainment concepts have convinced our clients even over these long decision making phases.”
Mordelt, who has experienced a similar upswing, added: “In 2009, Heimo concentrated very much on developing new attractions and ideas which we will be introducing to our customers in 2010. We have worked long thoroughly during the development phases and are looking very much forward to also be able to implement them in the amusement park industry.”
The global leisure and amusements industry has thus reached a crucial point in its development, because while it is agreed that the next wave of innovations are important to help drive growth, operators must be suitably happy with the product on offer. It is interesting to note that this is a blessing in disguise for the industry, because a more demanding customer forces manufacturers to up their own game and harvest only the most creative of talents.
“Periods of economic downturn are a great time for new ideas and developments,” said Mordelt, “not only for the manufacturing side of the industry but also the operational side. The amusement park and FEC industry will have to be just as creative in order to individualise them from each other and find reliable partners in the development of their attractions.”
NEW TO MARKET
So, what should we expect in 2010? Theming and Animatronics Industries saw strong returns last year, as the pan-European group continued to diversify its offering and expand into new markets. The company, which recently landed its first major project in the US through a contract with Merlin Entertainments, remains adamant that family-oriented and weather independent dark rides will be a key theme this decade.
“TAA presented at IAAPA models of the Dracula Dark Ride Concept, the Vertical Dark Ride as well as the model Lost World with a vertical tower flyer in the middle of a rapid ride with laser canons,” said president Udo Weisenburger. “This uses little space and visitors’ experiences are enhanced due to seeing the other guests in other attractions.”
While Mordelt said theming decisions will differ according to individual park operators’ philosophies, he said the shift towards immersive experiences will continue with gusto. “More and more attractions will become available as multimedia-based attractions, incorporating props and decorations along with movie-based screens and scripts; more sophisticated and sought-after animatronics; and, where possible, more interesting transport systems in order to give visitors a unique experience and create the best possible atmosphere.”
Environs of Jacksonville, Florida, is currently increasing the efficiency of its operations as well as expanding its share of the world themed environments market. President John Oldham quickly brought the issue back to the many operators still reeling from the effect of 2009, stating: “I think the trend will be set around a lot of refurbishment projects and not so much new work, but new work should be on the agenda for the 2010/2011,” he said. “There are also several new opportunities due to acquisitions and brand change.”
Industry observers the world over remain acutely aware of the power of branding, and licensed rides and products will continue to be important throughout 2010 and beyond. “In 2009, the Hollywood film industry had the best year in its history,” said Oldham. “With over US$10bn in sales it is evident that entertainment is on the mind of the consumer, and with the economy picking up people will start patronising theme parks again.
“Many consumers are holding back and saving their visits until rides like Harry Potter are completed, and it is likely that Disney will unveil a massive program to ensure it keep sand improves its market share.”
Interestingly, Mordelt expands upon his ‘multimedia’ attractions theory, but he states that there is no ‘one glove fits all’ solution for the contemporary theme park industry. “Without a doubt there are parks which are solely working on licensed, big-brand attractions, but this is not the case for the majority of amusement parks,” he said. “Not only is the licensing a rather costly investment, but also the lifespan of such an attraction may be short lived in most cases.
“I strongly believe that the amusement parks have to create their own individual identity in any aspect of the park. Since the development, marketing and installation of new attractions are very costly and should therefore have a long life expectancy I believe that these investments should be made in order to create the individuality of the park itself and should certainly be as timeless as possible.”
“Parks as well as manufacturers need to pay a very close attention to emerging markets, since most of the time companies from those regions bring ideas and new developments to the market,” Mordelt added. “However, it is unfortunate that most of the time they do not have the experience in respect of durability, safety and engineering which is required by the industry standards, therefore it is important that co-operations or alliances need to be formed in order to achieve the best for your customers.”