Real Experiences Will Remain Digital Proof

Real experiences will remain digital proofThanks firstly to my good friend Jean-Paul Haenen at Kwan Leisure for drawing attention to a piece by Bloomberg Online columnist, Justin Fox, entitled ‘Theme parks will not be digitised’ where Fox notes that “for the world’s entertainment giants, this is a time of fear and doubt”, with the inexorable rise in digital forces that have decimated the publishing and recorded music businesses now starting to keith thomas petersham groupcause shivers ithe TV and Film industry too.

By Keith Thomas, Petersham Group.

One reaction to this has been the move by such companies to mitigate these effects by moving into Disney’s territory and buying into the location-based entertainment sector as illustrated powerfully by Comcast’s decision to spend $1.5 billion on a majority stake in the Universal Studios Japan theme park, the company’s biggest-ever overseas acquisition.

At Disney, meanwhile, theme parks continue to account for a third of all revenue with theme park operating income up 16 percent in the nine months ending June 27. Just as Universal has benefitted from the dramatic effect of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Florida (Universal’s theme park operating cash flow was up 48.9 percent in the first half of this year), Disney no doubt expect similarly great things from their new Star Wars attractions when they come on stream. Certainly, the abilities of these companies to stretch their IPs across all channels is legendary and a lesson for all operators.

Meanwhile, Merlin Entertainments continues its expansion with the Lego brand at the heart of its drive, as well as a great focus on properties with high public recognition such as Madame Tussauds.

Real experiences will remain digital proofSince emerging from bankruptcy in 2011, stocks in Six Flags have out-performed the market but they too benefit from the characters that they license from Time-Warner (who were their owners of course from 1993 to 1998).

To slightly paraphrase a key point in Fox’s article, the companies that have been doing well lately are in the business of creating magical, branded experiences that people are willing to pay a huge premium for, rather than those just in the roller-coaster business.

My own experience is that at every level of the industry, whether theme parks, midway attractions or local attractions, it is infectious, memorable and most of all, real experiences that have the most resilience in the face of digital and in-home entertainment. Digital technology plays a vital role in allowing us to push the boundaries of what we can do in our industry but in most successful concepts, its part of the package, not the main feature.

So, whether it’s riding the latest coaster at Disney, completing a quest at Boda Borg, encountering sting rays at a Sea Life Centre or conquering a climbing wall at a Clip ‘n Climb, I’m with the ‘giants’ and I believe that entertainment businesses centred on great quality, real experiences will remain digital proof.

Disneyland Through The Decades

Disneyland Through The DecadesTake a spin through this interactive map and see the changes Disneyland has experienced over the years.

A short time ago, I came across a fantastic find: “Disney by the Decade” Interactive map on The Orange Country Register’s website.  I was so wowed with the data that I included the link as a post in Blooloop’s Linkedin Group and now I have dedicated a Blog to this find.

The interactive map begins with “Opening Day 1955 and takes you through “Present Day 2015”.  As an FYI, the site is often slow to load, but be patient, it is definitely worth the wait.  Please keep clicking the mouse on the map for opening day 1955 and wait until the full illustration appears. You can then enlarge the map to make viewing easier. After doing so, you should see white balloons with each ride and attraction linked to a corresponding number (i.e. Opening Day has 47).  Clicking on the number will take you to the detail of the ride, such as this for number 45 – Circarama:

“Circarama, a film projection system developed by Disney’s Imagineers, used 11-16mm film projectors to provide a 360 degree views.  The first film showed at the attraction in Tomorrowland was ‘A Tour of the West.’  That film was replace(d) in 1960, with the first version of  ‘America the Beautiful.’  A new system, Circlevision 360, which used 9 – 35 mm film projectors, upgraded the system in 1967, with another version of ‘America the Beautiful.’  “

Now look at Present Day 2015 and notice the list of 87 rides and attractions.

Enjoy …

Orange Country Register’s Disney Decade interactive map

Disney’s Citizenship Performance Summary – Think Creatively

Disney Citizenship Performance Summary - Think Creatively

I’ve been looking at Disney’s Citizenship 2014 Performance Summary , concentrating on its commitment to “Inspire Others” through four key initiatives: Live healthier, Think creatively, Conserve Nature and Strengthen Communities. “Citizenship isn’t just a responsibility we have as a corporation,” says the report. “It is an opportunity to connect with and inspire others.”

In this, my second of four blogs, I’ll be continuing to look at Disney’s vision, targets and performance to find out what they are promising and what they have already achieved. They certainly have the clout and the resources to make an impact. And, where Disney leads, others will surely follow.

Last time, I examined their “Live Healthier” initiative and the impact it is already having, not just on consumers, but on the formidable food industry.  As Disney says of itself: “Our assets and our reach provide us with an opportunity to inspire audiences everywhere to join us in taking action and caring for the world we share.

Disney Citizenship Performance Summary - Think CreativelyThe Need for Nurture

So, where does their “Think Creatively” initiative fit in? It’s clearly not unreasonable that the world’s most successful creative powerhouse should want to inspire creativity in others.  But, to what end?  According to their blurb, the intention is to: “Nurture creative thinking
skills to inspire kids to create the future they imagine.”

So, is there a need for nurture? Are children less creative than they used to be? Well, apparently so, according to a study carried out in 2011 by Kyung-Hee Kim, an educational psychologist at the College of William and Mary and author of a paper entitled “The Creativity Crisis.”  She studied around 300,000 creativity tests going back to the 1970s and found that American children are now “less emotionally expressive, less energetic, less talkative and verbally expressive, less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, less synthesizing, and less likely to see things from a different angle.”  She noted that the biggest downturn was in children’s ability to take an idea and expand on it in a novel way.

Her findings seem to contradict the view that our children are better educated than ever with records numbers remaining in full-time education for longer. However, experts say that, although in IQ tests children appear to improve their performance year on year, in creativity tests the opposite is true.

So, why are our children less creative than we are? And, will their children be even less so?

Some of the reasons cited are the results-driven ethos in primary schools which leaves no room for creativity and the decline in imaginative play which is generally blamed on the amount of time children spend on passive activities such as video gaming and watching TV.

Disney’s Citizenship Performance Summary – Think CreativelyOthers suggest that our culture of “over-parenting” makes children less likely to problem solve and learn through experience. How can you learn to make decisions for yourself if your parents make all of them for you?

Many people also believe that children, and more particularly teenagers, are under more pressure than ever from their peers to conform. A new survey conducted by Stagecoach Theatre Arts Schools and BulliesOut found that 90% of parents believe their children are under pressure to “fit in” at school.

CEO of BulliesOut, Linda James: “In 2015 there is more pressure than ever before to fit in and we strongly believe this could be a factor in bullying and self-esteem issues in children.

“We should encourage children and young people to build supportive and inclusive peer groups that recognise and value individuality.”

If children are not allowed to be different, they won’t have the confidence to think differently.

Measuring creativity is often done by taking a Torrance test. Created in the 1950s by Professor E. Paul Torrance, the tests are made up of a series of creativity tasks. Answers are neither right nor wrong. To do well, you need to demonstrate a combination of divergent thinking – approaching the problem in an original way and convergent thinking ie. bringing your ideas together to create the best solution.

Interestingly, the children in Torrance’s original test group of 400 who performed the best creatively went on to be entrepreneurs, inventors, college presidents, authors, doctors, diplomats and software developers.

Indeed, a recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs cited creativity as the No. 1 “leadership competency” of the future.

So, Disney has clearly recognised a need which they are certainly well-placed to fulfill. Who better to engage children with problem solving, critical thinking and self-expression than a brand that has been built on creativity and one that children worldwide already have a strong connection to?  Disney is classless, ageless and the appeal of its characters spans ethnic and financial groups. If anyone can reach kids both in and outside the classroom, surely it’s Disney.

So, what have they been up to?

In June 2014, Disney Interactive launched Citizen Kid, an initiative that celebrates kids who accomplish amazing things and encourages all children to believe in themselves and their potential. When researching this piece, I was utterly gripped by the story of Mo, who designs bow ties. Not only has he turned his passion into a successful business, “Mo’s Bows”, he also raises money to help others less fortunate go to summer camp. A classic Disney feelgood story, if ever there was one.

In July 2014, Disney joined up with Boys & Girls Clubs of America, funding a six-week creativity learning programme which was designed to plug the summer “learning gap”. 260 clubs were part of the scheme which benefited 8,500 children.

Their Disney Musicals in Schools targeted 56 schools across the US, reaching 4000 children.

Disney Citizenship Performance Summary - Think CreativelyPerhaps one of the most interesting initiatives is Star Wars: Force for Change, a Disney and Lucasfilm project, in collaboration with Bad Robot. The purpose is to find creative solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges. According to Disney, the initial campaign raised more than $4 million for UNICEF’s Innovation Labs and programs, which will “help build and scale ideas and inventions that will improve children’s lives around the world.”

Disney also sponsored the 2014 World Maker Faire, a gathering of 85,000 tech enthusiasts, educators, engineers, scientists, artists, kids, and families at the New York Hall of Science.

All good stuff but is any of this enough to make a difference? Only time will tell. Obviously Disney can’t take responsibility for the creativity of an entire generation. But, at least they’re willing to try.

Images kind courtesy Disney

Is Malaysia the Orlando of Asia?

Malaysia the Orlando of Asia

When I first read the phrase ‘Malaysia, the Orlando of Asia’ referring to the Singapore-Johor corridor in a report from ECA, I was a bit surprised and thought it was maybe a bit exaggerated.

thibault paquin

by Thibault Paquin, founder of Celebrating Life, a total destination building company specializing in Asian markets.

Universal Studios Singapore and LEGOLAND Malaysia combined are attracting fewer visitors than one single theme park in Orlando.

I have been spending a lot of time in Malaysia in the past year and I thought I would look into this phrase again, from a different perspective.

And yes, I think Malaysia is probably the Orlando of Asia but not so much for the number of theme parks and their attendance – Hong Kong for example beats Malaysia big time – but because it is where the future of our industry in Asia is being shaped. Let me explain why.

Recently I was having lunch with Aaron Soo (former CEO of Sunway Lagoon), who was back in Malaysia for a few days after having opened Wanda’s first indoor movie park in Wuhan, China. We started speaking about all the good things happening in or out of Malaysia:

  • First, Galasys is on its way to revolutionizing theme park ticketing with their cloud-based “Intelligent Tourism” concept; something that has been recognized by the founder of alibaba, who recently took a stake in the company;
  • RSG, the company behind Movie Animation Park Studios, managed to signed up both DreamWorks and The Smurfs for Asia’s first animation theme park, which is about to give sleepy Ipoh a serious shake;
  • The same RSG just announced a partnership with French video game publisher Ubisoft to build in Kuala Lumpur the world’s first next gen theme park where “every guest is a player, every ride is a playground, every visit is a game”
  • Actually, theme parks in Malaysia have recently become the first stepping stone into Asia’s Location Based Entertainment (LBE) for the world’s best entertainment brands (LEGOLAND, Hello Kitty, Thomas & Friends, Nickelodeon and 20th Century Fox) and even local brands (Malaysia’s animation sensation BoBoiBoy);
  • In the aquarium world, home-grown Aquaria will be expanding in Phuket in a partnership with the Central Group; and
  • Let’s not forget some of Singapore’s biggest attractions are actually Malaysian owned: Universal Studios (Genting) and KidZania (TAR)

Is Malaysia the Orlando of Asia?

We have Genting to thank for; they really started the Malaysian family entertainment industry 40 years ago with their first resort up in Genting Highlands. They were among the first to bring to Asia concepts such as a themed hotel or a large indoor theme park with First World Plaza featuring one of Asia’s first Ripley’s Believe it or Not museums.

But maybe more importantly it’s the people. Malaysia has a great pool of people who are well trained (they have often studied overseas) and know how to run international standard theme parks. They export very well and this is why you find them in Manila, Macau and everywhere in China (it’s an easy move for Malaysian Chinese in particular). But recently Malaysia has begun to attract industry people from other countries, seduced by innovative companies such as Galasys and RSG, and you can feel the energy; it’s all happening.

If you think of Orlando as a sunny place, which is home of innovative companies such as SeaWorld Entertainment, Ripley’s and countless design studios and ride manufacturers, Malaysia could very well become the Orlando of Asia. It already has the sun and a few emerging innovative operators! It just needs more studios and suppliers.

So if you too want to shape the future of our industry in Asia, join the party and move to Malaysia, the Orlando of Asia!

More by Thibault Paquin: Theme Park Development in Malaysia and Interview with Ubisoft’s Jean De Rivières

Images courtesy 20th Century Fox World and Movie Animation Park Studios.

Center Parcs Investor Presentation Highlights

UK Center Parc resorts have issued some great statistical data

If you missed it in Blooloop News - “’Solid’ Performance by Center Parcs” – then you will find a link to this great report here:

FYI, quite often if the headline of an article doesn’t grab your attention, there typically is some key piece of data (i.e. attendance, length of day, financials, design, etc.) that I know will interest some of our readers.

Here are some examples of what you find in the presentation:

center parc investor relations presentation sep 15 key highlights


center parc investor relations presentation sep 15 capexEnjoy …

Facts and figures for Universal CityWalk Osaka

Universal CityWalk Osaka

Ever want to know the real story behind Universal CityWalk Osaka – the value of the property; financial detail and occupancy rates?  If so, read on…

On August 5, 2014, Nomura Real Estate Master Fund acquired Universal CityWalk Osaka for 15.5 billion yen. The link below takes you to a document that outlines the details of the transaction, which includes everything you will ever want to know about Universal CityWalk Osaka, patronage and financial performance (i.e. monthly rental income was ¥52 million).

When I found this great document, I forwarded it to a few of my clients – who thought it was fantastic – so, I decided to share it with you, as well.

After you have a chance to look this over, I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

Enjoy …


Link to the report is here:

Alan in Asia: 1. Blond Hair and Waterparks

great wall of china

A quick intro, I have been in Asia now living and working on a full time basis for 19 years. The Amusement Industry has offered me many exciting opportunities and I have had the pleasure of living & working in China, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia & Taiwan.

by Alan Mahonyalan mahony waterpark asia consultant

Being based and living in these countries has not only offered challenging experiences and great memories whilst establishing and operating projects, but also allowed me to experience many great cultures.

Coming from Australia – after 10 fantastic years with the Village Roadshow Theme Parks group on the Gold Coast – I knew it was time to expand my horizons. I thought the USA was the destination for me then suddenly out of the blue, I was approached about a GM’s position in China.

The project was a joint venture between the local government with Hong Kong and Singaporean investors and was to be China’s first ever waterpark. It was back in 1996 and I knew absolutely nothing about China, seriously nothing, but the thought of the challenge was too exciting. The Singaporean investors came out to Australia to meet with me and then the decision was made, I was heading off to China!

I can remember the flight now, transferring at the old Hong Kong Kai Tak Airport, after experiencing the most exciting approach to landing that has ever existed (see video below), descending through and close to the local apartments, so close you could make eye contact with residents through their apartment windows.

Whilst in transit I could not help noticing the security guards carrying machine guns patrolling the terminal.  I remember thinking, “What am I doing?”

Then the flight to Guangzhou – as soon as the flight hit its flight altitude it was time to start the descent. The vision is still so clear of looking out the plane window on the approach to the runway, rows and rows of apartment buildings, it looked like millions of them spreading as far as the eye could see.

The passenger aircraft industry was in a period of very rapid growth so the airlines were
recruiting air force pilots, and our pilot brought the plane down very fast and very hard, causing me to grab the seat and again think, “What am I doing?”

alan mahony in china

As the only foreigner at the airport and everything written in Chinese, I followed the masses of people to be placed in a large customs queue, only to reach the front of the line and be abused by the custom official for not writing clearly enough on my form.  Yet again I thought, “Why am I here?”

Exiting the customs area I was hoping to see someone, perhaps holding a sign with my name, but there was nothing, no one. I  found an open area where I knew I could be easily seen and placed my bags on the ground and sat on them hoping someone would come.

So there I was in China, unable to talk with anyone, sitting on my bags, catching everyone’s attention with my sun bleached white hair and now really thinking, “Why am I here?”

30 minutes gone and I’m starting to worry.  One hour gone and wow I’m seriously thinking, “Why am I here? What am I going to do?”

Then aaaaaahhhhhhh they arrive and I’m greeted. Welcome to China!

Fast forward 2015, here I am back in China again.

Chimelong waterpark Alan Mahony

Now based in the capital Beijing and working on projects in Tieling, Liaoning and Foshan, Guangdong. I have seen an amazing amount of change in cities, society and especially the leisure and attractions industry.

As always it was great attending the 2015 IAAPA Asian Show in Hong Kong last month, because Hong Kong is a perfect host city. It is always great seeing industry friends, some of whom have been attending the shows annually ever since my first show back in 1998 in Singapore. The show has grown in leaps and bounds and again broke records this year for the number of exhibitors (353) and floor space (9,432 net square meters).

Years back the show had a more personal feel, as there were a core group of industry leaders who were entering the Asian market and the presentations where held in the one room. This built up a real friendship amongst the attendees, which, combined with the week’s parties fostered many long friendships. This year’s week in Hong Kong had a new highlight that reminded me of these great times and that was the first blooloopLIVE Asia conference. This event was fantastic as it put together industry leaders from around the world into the one room for the day, with an amazing spread of speakers, mainly Asian based, in the exotic city of Hong Kong.

bloolooplive asia pattison seay katja

As great as the educational side of the day was, what really impressed me was the time delegates could spend with such a great group of people, going right through to the cocktails in the evening. Walking into the room and seeing Jim Seay, Jim Pattison, Keith James and Andrew Wray, it really felt like a blast from the past and was the highlight of my week in Hong Kong!

So, signing off from my first post and I look forward to sharing some of my many amazing Asian experiences on a regular basis here on blooloop.

Five Zoo Innovations That Have Been Around for Decades: #5

BIG design for Givskud Zoo Denmark Stacey Tarpley

Stacey Ludlum concludes her review of innovation in zoos…

Zoo Innovation #5: The World is a Playground: Designing an Exhibit for Enrichment

Designing exhibits based on animal behavior might seem fairly obvious, but for many, many years, this was not how it was done. The images that come immediately to mind are the horrible steel bar fronted, concrete box cages of the earliest zoos. Certainly these were built to hold as many different animal species as possible since lifespans in captivity were so low and turnover was so great. Later in the mid-20th century, the focus changed to extending longevity, and the small concrete boxes turned into larger tile boxes, and in some lucky cases, small outdoor yards oftentimes still with concrete floors. These evolved into outdoor yards with natural substrates and some basic consideration to the animals’ natural behavior; i.e. primates like to climb, polar bears like to swim. Not until the late 20th century were exhibits regularly designed with any deep consideration to the animals’ natural behaviors.

Today, animal behavior-based design has evolved into full integration of enrichment opportunities. Now, we not only provide the physical space for animals to do what they want to do naturally, but we also are actively encouraging these behaviors through thoughtful and careful management. The habitats must help this management occur. Several innovative exhibits have recently been developed in which enrichment was the driving force behind the design, rather than the design being driven by something else and the enrichment had to make do with the physical space. Glacier Run at Louisville Zoo, Treetop Trails at Philadelphia Zoo, and Heart of Africa at Columbus Zoo each do this in ways that are unique to each specific zoos’ operational strategies and enrichment programs.

PGAV Glacier run at louisville zoo training panel

A final note on animal behavior and enrichment driving design: it is a great misstatement to believe that all captive animals would rather disconnect from the visitors. While it’s true that many animal species are extremely elusive, shy, and easily stressed by any novelty in their environment, especially other living beings including the guests, far more animal species find the safe, controlled interaction with guests to be extremely enriching. Guests act as enrichment. We are unpredictable in our arrival and departure times, in our shapes, sizes, color of clothing, and our demeanors. And perhaps more powerfully, we react to the animals. There have been many instances of animals working to get reactions out of guests.

I’ve personally watched as a polar bear carefully hid from view as a child walked up to the underwater viewing glass, waiting for the perfect moment to dive into the water and bang the glass, causing the child to jump and squeal. The orca who swam back and forth in front of the viewing glass where our group gathered for an afterhours party, stopping and wagging her head, trying to get our attention, finally resigning to splashing water with her tail until we all turned to look. The penguin who enjoyed following my finger as I ran it around the large viewing panel. We are oftentimes just as entertaining to the animals as they are to us. Removing us from the equation is not good design.

For Reference…

A Zoo Designed to Trick Animals Into Thinking You Aren’t watching

BIG design for Givskud Zoo Denmark Stacey Tarpley

Zoos have traditionally been built a certain way: Animals on the inside, humans on the outside, peering in. This separation is good in theory—humans and animals need to be protected from one another—but terrible in practice, as animals end up stripped of any semblance of a natural habitat. A new plan for the Givskud Zoo in Denmark wants to reverse those roles, giving animals more freedom in captivity while effectively placing humans inside protective barriers.

BIG design for Givskud Zoo Denmark Stacey Tarpley

Called Zootopia, the conceptual design comes from danish firm BIG. The firm began working with Givskud Zoo a couple years ago with the goal of turning the safari style zoo into a place where animals dictate interaction—not humans. “Try to imagine if you asked the animals what they would like. What would they decide?” says Richard Østerballe, director of the Givskud Zoo. “They want their nature back, so to speak, and we are going to try to create that.”

BIG design for Givskud Zoo Denmark Stacey Tarpley

To make that happen BIG is looking to invert the traditional safari park. In this design, animals will roam free around the perimeter while humans observe, hidden away from view in underground passageways and naturalistic architecture structures. Visitors can watch lions through an underground enclosure disguised as a hill. They’ll peek out at giraffes through windowed lodges built into the side of a hilly savannah. Outside of the main circular entrance, there will be no traditional buildings. Even the stables will be disguised as natural habitat, with the elephants lolling about a wide open rice field that camouflages the shelter below and bears that find shelter in a stable disguised as a pile of logs. “We want to take away human influence,” says Østerballe.

BIG design for Givskud Zoo Denmark Stacey Tarpley

Like the Paris Zoo, which recently reopened after years of renovations, animals at Zootopia will be grouped based on regions (America, Asia and Africa). Visitors will start at the circular entrance way and can travel through the regions using different modes of transportation. In America, you’ll ride in cable cars that guide you through the air. In Africa, BIG envisions visitors moving through the park in pedal-powered pods, while in Asia they’ll travel by a boat on a river. You’ll also be able to walk.

BIG design for Givskud Zoo Denmark Stacey Tarpley

BIG’s vision is almost sci-fi in its aesthetic, which makes it a little hard to believe. In a rendering, you see a mirror cable car dangling just above a brown bear’s head. In another, two children have hopped out of their pod and are swimming alongside elephants. What’s missing from these glossy images are the hidden infrastructure that ensures that little Jenny and James don’t get trampled by that massive elephant while they’re splashing around. Østerballe says things like concealed moats–where deeper depths and poles that obstruct an animal’s ability to go past a certain point–will be used in these instances. “The main challenge, of course, is to design the zoo in a way that the enclosure is still there but it’s not visible,” Bjarke Ingels told Vice.

The two-phase plan, which will cost around $200 million, is still in the refining and approval phase. Østerballe says it’ll be at least five years until we see any work finished on the park, and it’s likely to take upwards of 10 years to see the elaborate circular entranceway built. It’s easy to imagine that BIG’s plans will undergo some alterations before they enter the real world, but who knows? Maybe 10 years from now we really will be pedalling a shiny, silver orb through the pseudo African grasslands.

Click here for information WIRED by Design, a live magazine.

Images for Zootopia courtesy of BIG

Ferrari’s IPO Filing: Licensing and Theme Parks

Ferrari Land PortAventura Spain

Ferrari filed a Preliminary Prospectus (Subject to Amendment and Completion) on July 23, 2015 and while I found the entire IPO is very interesting, I found the data from pages 98 and 99 – Licensing and Theme Park – exactly what I knew that the Blooloop reader would appreciate. It is here that the current licensing mix is detailed along with Ferrari World, Abu Dhabi and FerrariLand, Port Aventura.

The current licensing mix of Ferrari is detailed below:

Ferrari IPO Licensing Theme Parks

Source: New Business Netherlands N.V.(to be renamed Ferrari N.V.), Form F-1

Interesting abstracts taken directly from this IPO include:

• “A significant portion of our revenues from licensing activities consists of royalties we receive in connection with Ferrari World, our theme park in Abu Dhabi (12 percent of royalties generated by licensing activities);”

• “In 2014 we reached an agreement with PortAventura Entertainment S.A.U. to open Ferrari’s first European theme park at the PortAventura resort near Barcelona in Spain. PortAventura Entertainment S.A.U. has announced a planned investment of €100 million and the park is expected to open in 2016. In the long-term we aim to open one theme park in each of the main geographic areas where we operate, including North America.”


The NIRAH Project: a lesson in how not to Build an Aquarium

nirah freshwater project concept art

Back in September last year, I wrote how planning permission for NIRAH, the massive fresh water aquarium attraction planned for Bedfordshire, UK, had expired with several million pounds of public money having been invested in it, effectively a death sentence for a project described by the BBC as far back as 2012 as being ‘dead in the water’.

Last week, the last rites were effectively read over its remains.

By Keith Thomas, Petersham Group.keith thomas petersham group

NIRAH (National Institute for Research into Aquatic Habitats) was given the go-ahead to build the aquarium in Stewartby, Bedfordshire, north of London in 2007 with a supposed completion date in 2012. The project, which was originally set to have a budget of £375 million and was planned to be FOUR TIMES the size of the Eden Project in Cornwall, never got off the ground and the old brickworks site where it was to be built remains empty. Prior to relocating the planned project to Bedfordshire, NIRAH had previously caused much excitement in North Somerset back in 2002 when they announced the project would be built at the old RAF Locking site.

nirah proposed site Considerable sums of money have been invested in this project from the public purse: Bedford Borough and Central Beds councils are owed at least £1.6m, while central government is owed more than £3.5m.

Despite the huge question marks over the future of the project, as recently as March 2014, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (which now owns the debt, following the demise of original funders, Bedfordshire County Council and the government’s East of England Development Agency) whilst questioning the sustainability of the project, were still prepared to make it a ‘priority to continue to receive updates from Nirah’ and went on to say that ‘we expect them to provide us with positive evidence of progress in the near future’. In September, it was stated that neither the government, nor the councils, were seeking to recover the debt, much of which is secured against the value of the land. The DBIS said then that it was ‘currently in the process of assessing all options available to the department and the consortium.’

nirah aquarium grimshaw

The only way to recover any of this investment was to sell the land and indeed, last week, it’s been announced that the 145-acre site has been sold for an undisclosed amount to property insolvency specialists Moorfields Corporate Recovery Ltd. Their representative, Simon Thomas, joint administrator, said: ‘We are delighted to have concluded the sale of this site.” The local media are speculating that £4 million of tax payer’s money will have been lost nonetheless.

Whilst often it seems that deserving, sustainable and locally well-supported smaller projects fail to gain the investment that they need, the larger and more eye catching projects which promise so much gain support far too easily from credulous local and national government, almost irrespective of the economic case, the strength and suitability of the concept or the experience and credibility of the promoters. Let us hope that lessons have been learnt from this.