By Dennis Speigel
RECENTLY I was on an assignment in Beijing, China. During the visit, I was asked by one of the senior Chinese members of the project on which I am working, what has prompted the great growth and emergence of theme parks internationally over the last 25+ years.
As I paused to consider his question, several thoughts popped into my head. First, when you examine where the enormous on-going expansion began occurring, you see that there is a direct correlation which identifies with post-war development. We saw in Europe a large number of amusement parks were born after World War II. These included parks such as Attractiepark Slagharen in the Netherlands (1963), Phantasialand in Bruhl, Germany (1967), Legoland Billund in Denmark (1968), Parque de Attracciones de Madrid in Spain (1969), Walibi Holland in the Netherlands (1971), Europa-Park in Germany (1975), Walibi Rhone-Alpes in France (1979), Thorpe Park in London (1979) and Alton Towers in England (1980). Why? Well there was a rebuild of countries and a developing, emerging, “middle class” that was looking for ways to recreate and to have fun.
Since I founded International Theme Park Services in 1983 and began travelling the globe working on leisure attractions of all types, I recognised that there is one common denominator among people everywhere. That common denominator is that people want to have fun. No matter what the climate, religious, societal or governmental issues are, people want to have fun. They are just like you and me.
Look at Japan, for example. It took Japan 30+ years to rebuild after World War II. When successful infrastructure and commercial revitalisation were achieved and there were major signs of prosperity on the way, parks and entertainment attractions began to develop.
The same is true of Korea. It took approximately 30 years after the Korean War to see the same signs and desires emerge for leisure attraction development, theme parks, waterparks, family entertainment centers and location-based entertainment centers. Everland and Lotte World, both located in Seoul, Korea, are two of Asia’s most popular and successful parks. In 2017, Everland drew over 6,300,000 people, with Lotte World drawing 6,700,000. Korea, prior to these parks being developed, had no offering of the theme park variety.
Today, we are watching the same emergence of park development activity in Vietnam. Park developers like The Sun Group have built and continue to build beautiful projects like Ba Na Hills in Danang and Ha Long Bay Dragon Park in the Quang Ninh Province. It is reported that The Sun Group, along with several other Vietnamese developers, are laying plans for at least four more major scale theme parks in both the north and south of Vietnam. Why? Because the time is right for this type of emergence once again. Vietnam is a hustling, bustling, hot bed of commercial activity along with a growing demographic of lower middle class that also wants to have fun.
Of course, I could not complete this article without discussing China and what is happening there. The sheer volume of population, currently 1.386 billion, impels the need for entertainment of the theme park variety. As the Chinese population grows and the social medias allow for more exposure of various forms of entertainment, the Chinese appetite continues to be whetted. China has seen its ups and downs, as I have noted in the past. Even with the slow down and government moratoriums, China still sees a continuing growth in the theme park sector and will for decades to come.
So, as I explained to my senior client, there are many driving forces that continue to move theme park development. To me, the prime motivator is and continues to be that people want to have fun! I do, how about you?
Dennis Speigel is president of International Theme Park Services (ITPS), based in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA. A past chairman of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), he has over 50 years of experience in the theme park and leisure industry. Since its inception in 1983 ITPS has worked on over 500 projects in 50 countries and is uniquely qualified to assist in all aspects of entertainment project development.