NO MATTER where you are in the world, the attractions industry if often considered to be in the enviable position of operating in a more universal space than other, more culturally subjective consumer sectors such as food service or retail. On the surface, this does seem to make sense, considering the fact that all but the most autocratic, oppressive of societies place a strong emphasis on leisure and entertainment.
However, although entertainment per se is a universal theme that acts as a foundation stone to the amusement industry, it soon becomes apparent that those operating within the attractions sector must take a number of key factors into consideration when they look to expand their business outside of their domestic market.
The first, and perhaps most important factor given the current financial situation, surrounds the idea of market penetration itself. Over recent months and years the Middle East and Asia have become almost clichéd watchwords for growth in the amusement industry. Yet it seems that no country will be left unaffected by the global financial downturn, and slowdowns within the industry have been traced from developed western markets to ones considered high-growth.
“Currently Spain, Northern Africa and eastern European countries are our most important market goals, but of course the world financial situation is hitting our investors there,” says Manu Calvo, commercial sales manager for Action Park, the Spanish waterpark specialist.
This view is backed up by Charlotte Myer, spokesperson for Sarner, the diversified theme park and FEC design firm, who says: “We have seen a slowdown in CIS countries and western Europe, but this was to be expected considering the current economic conditions.”
Given the current economic climate, it is more important now than ever before for manufacturers to exercise a sharp and concise knowledge of their target market – and having people on the ground there is crucial. 
“South-east Asia has historically been a key market for Sarner,” Myer adds. “We won our fist project some 20 years ago in Singapore and then opened an office there so we could provide design and technical expertise locally. Our design and technical teams have worked in numerous countries and have become fully conversant with the local requirements and specific needs of the foreign market.
“It is all too easy at times to assume there is only one way of doing a design or implementing a technical solution but the challenge is to first understand the market from both a commercial and, as importantly, a practical point of view and then ensure that we find the best and most appropriate solution for the county and location we are working in.”
UK-based Paragon Creative is currently working on a variety of theme park, museum and visitor attraction projects around the globe. The company, which has been in operation for more than 25 years, has been involved with nearly 1,000 projects worldwide, having completed nearly 50 projects in Europe, the Middle East and Asia this year alone.
Mark Pyrah, sales and marketing director for the firm, also highlighted the need for maintaining a strong link with your target market. 
“Our success in the Middle East is due to a financial commitment that we made seven years ago to put down permanent roots in what we saw as a potentially huge future marketplace,” he told InterPark. “Paragon is now 51 per cent owned by the DEPA Group, the largest fit-out company in the world.
“As a local Dubai based company, DEPA gives us the capacity and capability to undertake the most demanding of projects. Local Middle East clients also welcome the fact that we have invested our expertise within their country and their community.” 
Consumers in the key high-growth markets of China and India, along with several states across the Middle East, continue to add some much-needed weight to the global theme park and attractions industry. As a result, major amusement designers and manufacturers from across the globe have been striving to gain a position in those markets – but to what extent do foreign companies need to modify their operations?
In terms of mature markets, Calvo highlights the increasing need for innovation. “They are indeed more sophisticated as the competition is higher and the users’ requirements are higher,” he says. “Therefore, investors have to create something new, better and more profitable. And that’s not so easy. Our customers in mature markets need to spend more time on the design phase for sure.” 
Ifat Caspi, marketing manager for P&P Projects, the Netherlands-based full-service theming group, adds: “The bigger, more well-known theme parks have to live up to their expectations.”
Interestingly, however, the demand and pressure that flows from mature markets is still to be felt in those that are typically considered to be emerging. The majority of clients from the Middle East and Asia have very high expectations of the standard and quality of work they expect from manufacturers, from the smallest museum ride to the largest of theme park installations.
“It makes no difference to the amount of effort that we, as a themimg company, put into the project,” Pyrah comments. “Neither is the location of the project dependent upon the degree of effort that is put into it. And if the project is in a market of increased competition, the design and development process should follow exactly the same logical and intensive route than in any other market.”
Armando Lanuti, vice-president of client relations for Creative Works Theme Factory, echoes this view. “You should always put the same amount of effort into your projects regardless of where they are situated. If you lower your quality due to lack of competition today, you are opening the door for competition tomorrow.”
After speaking to several major players in the global amusements industry it is clear that one’s approach to a particular market should always be the same: thorough, dedicated and with a strong focus on quality. Yet to what extent do cultural factors play a role in influencing projects, or indeed dictating their success in global markets? The typical answer would be that reactions to amusement projects are universal. On closer inspection, however, it seems this is not the case.
“Consumer reactions to themed attractions can be both universal and subjective,” says Lanuti. “Fun knows no bounds, and a smile is universal regardless of where you are from. There are, however, some cultural differences.”
Adding to this, Caspi says that although “a good ride will always get a good reaction,” theming companies should always be ready to cater for their individual client’s needs. Bucking the trend for more intimate dark rides, she told InterPark: “We are working with one customer at the moment who wants to have a spacious dark ride. This customer is convinced that his audience does favour open spaces and big corridors.”
“Culture, history and perception are just a few items that play a key factor in determining how we design a project,” adds Myer. “There is no universal standard that is applicable to every country and this is what makes our job that much more challenging. What works in one country will fail in another so we analyse every aspect of the market from the local cultural heritage to demographics and youth culture.”
While attitudes towards successful global business operations are almost certain to differ between companies operating within today’s theme park and amusements industry, one universal factor that all manufacturers do agree upon is the importance of business relationships.
“The relationships between manufacturers, suppliers and operators are pretty standard across the world,” said Lanuti, a comment backed up by Calvo, who notes: “Business relationships in the amusement market are global – the general needs are almost the same everywhere, time schedule, cost, opening date and so on. Therefore, the relationship between manufacturers, suppliers and operators should be conducted in the same professional manner everywhere, while adapting the communication skills and preferences to the local habits and culture.”
Pyrah says the universal relationship between the key trinity of manufacturer, operator and supplier results from the fact that “the theme park industry is still relatively small, and that the majority of the key industry suppliers are globally aware.”
Importantly, when different needs and requirements do become an issue, Myer draws attention to the ambassadorial role that manufacturers are often required to play to ensure projects are successfully realised. 
“We frequently have to be the interface, especially with suppliers and manufacturers who may not have much experience in the relevant country we are working in.”
Ultimately, although there are a great number of factors to take into consideration when it comes to entering new, global markets, Calvo highlights the important notion that the end product will always be the most important factor when it comes to a company’s success.
“The main challenge is to be known and have a good acceptance in the market and it takes a very long time to introduce our services in a new country,” he says. “Once you get your first project done in one country, you already have a reference to show, and that makes everything easier. But the efforts have to be maintained in the long term to keep the market share.”