The Art of the Visitor Centre


Remember when Busch Gardens parks were used as marketing vehicles for Anheuser- Busch?

Our recent post “Coining it – The New Royal Mint Experience” got me thinking. Isn’t this a fantastic way to get a company’s message across? I don’t know about you, but I tend to remember my experience at the World of Coca Cola – which I visited over a decade ago — more then I remember the last advertisement for Coke that I saw on TV or in print, yesterday.

The first time I remember being exposed to a corporate visitor center, or later called an experience center, was in the 70’s at the Busch Gardens brewery tour in Van Nuys, watch it made in the usa book coverCalifornia. Do you remember when Busch Gardens parks were used as marketing vehicles for Anheuser-Busch and featured hospitality houses with many of the Anheuser-Busch products?

Then later, while I was working for Harrison Price Company, I was involved in the research for the feasibility of several of these types of attractions. At that time, I probably had come across a handful of these visitor centers; but I had no idea of just how many there were, until I picked up “Watch it Made in the U.S.A – A Visitor’s Guide to the Companies that make Your Favorite Products”. While there is a more current edition (2006), my copy, published in 1997, highlighted some 300 of these venues in the U.S.A. alone.

Attractions included Crayola Factory in Easton, PA – Mercedes-Benz in Vance, Al – Peanut Patch in Yuma, AZ – Wal-Mart Visitors Center in Bentonville, AR – Callaway Golf, Carlsbad, CA – Fleetwood in Riverside, CA – Dryer’s and Edy’s Grand Ice Cream in Union City, CA – Fortune Cookie Factory in Oakland, CA – NBC Studios in Burbank, CA – Coors in Golden, CO – Harry and David in Medford OR.

children playing at crayola experience

It was recently announced that Ford Motor Company plans to open ‘experience centers’ called FordHubs. The first store is planned to open later this year at New York’s Westfield World Trade Center; while others are planned for San Francisco, London and Shanghai.

While today there seems to be a visitor center for virtually everything; I was wondering if anyone else believes that we might be returning to the days when major corporate brands (e.g. Busch) viewed these sorts of venues as standalone attractions? Ferrari World Abu Dhabi would be a key example.

Crayola Experience image kind courtesy Jack Rouse Associates. Coca Cola ad 1946 ( Yes Girl by Haddon Sundblom) kind courtesy The Coca Cola Company.

Innovation (and Submersion) at the Ashmolean Museum

Storms, War and Shipwrecks Ashmolean Museum Oxford I recently visited The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology in Oxford to see their latest exhibition: Storms, War and Shipwrecks, Treasures from the Sicilian Seas.

Honor Frost SCUBA Diving Ashmolean MuseumThe exhibition tells the story of Sicily, the cross-roads of the Mediterranean, through discoveries made by underwater archaeologists. The galleries showcase the invention of SCUBA diving and early diving pioneer Honor Frost’s work, alongside the underwater objects this new technology allowed archaeologists to find, from Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs and Normans who all left their mark on Sicily.

The exhibition’s curator, Dr Paul Roberts, Sackler Keeper of Antiquities for the Museum, talked to visitors with infectious enthusiasm about the project.

“For the first time, this story will be told exclusively through spectacular finds from the sea, because it is the sea which has always been the lifeblood of the island’s unique and diverse culture” said Dr Roberts.

Creative Assembly Total War ROME II Ashmolean Museum

A first for the Ashmolean, the exhibit has teamed up with award winning UK games studio Creative Assembly to create a multimedia exhibit. Footage of simulated ancient battleships from the studio’s ‘Total War: ROME II’ game plays behind real battery rams found in the seas around the island.

The film uses primary archaeological source material to recreate uniforms, ships, armour and arms of the period, and shows visitors the sheer force of impact the rams could inflict during battle. The 5 minute video was mesmerising, watching little men fall into the sea every time the boats collided during the epic battle.

Creative Assembly gave the film to the exhibition for free, something particularly useful for a museum with limited resources.

Gift Shop Storms, Wars and Shipwrecks The Ashmolean

The exhibition is beautifully designed, with an emphasis on access for children with the ‘please do touch’ stations such as the “touching the Frog Man” diving suit. The exhibition and a ‘Sicily’ themed gift shop will no doubt be a good revenue stream for the museum.

The Ashmolean is one of 5 museums in the COBBRA Museum Consortium who share travelling exhibitions including Storms, Wars and Shipwrecks – Copenhagen, Oxford, Bonn, Brussels and Amsterdam.

Storms, Wars and Shipwrecks: Treasures from the Sicilian Seas will be at The Ashmolean until the 25th September. For further information see here.

Twisting and Shouting with Chester Zoo, Heritage GB and The Beatles

chester zoo indonesian fishing boats

June 29th saw the third Blooloop conference take place in Liverpool, with 150 professionals from theme parks, zoos, museums and other attractions from both the UK and Europe networking and learning about the latest trends and developments in the industry.

Great though the day was (and here is a full report of the day’s speakers and presentations) it’s often the après-ski activities accompanying these events that are best remembered.  For example, though I can remember little about the Paris Euro Attractions Show in 2013 I will never forget the magical evening IAAPA put on at the Musee des Arts Forain.

A Little Help from My Friends

So it was with “blooloopLIVErpool*”. We had arranged, through the kind agency of our sponsors, a number of  add-ons to the conference, the aim of which was to allow our delegates to have fun and to mingle in a relaxed, informal environment. Ideally with alcohol, music and animals.

The Night Before

Annabel Rochfort Cartoon Network at Islands at Chester Zoo

Chester Zoo, not far from Liverpool, was our host for a wonderful night, allowing guests a VIP look behind the scenes at “Islands” the recently opened expansion to the Zoo and to meet the team behind it.  The biggest zoo project in Europe,  Islands features six South East Asian islands – Panay, Papua, Bali, Sumatra, Sumba and Sulawesi – and a river ride along with a host of creatures indigenous to the region. The bus to the Zoo was sponsored by dan Pearlman, the architect and designer behind Islands  and in terms of a welcome and their hospitality over the course of the evening,  Chester Zoo’s MD Jamie Christon, Marketing Director Caroline Sanger-Davies and their team really pushed the (beautifully painted, authentic, Indonesian fishing) boat out for us. Cartoon Network provided very handy ponchos.

Once at the zoo, 60 of us were divided into 3 groups and taken round Islands by zoo guides.  They were passionate, informed and clearly loved their jobs.  This made for a diverting tour, their enthusiasm infectious. The enclosures were huge and although we didn’t see all the animals, we managed to catch, among others, the Sumatran tigers (a mother with two challenging teenagers), some splendid dinosaur-like hornbills and saw the Gharial do something to a white rabbit no reputable magician would contemplate.

The signage and information in the Islands is creatively integrated into the whole chester zoo logoexperience and the entire area is highly themed incorporating original artifacts from the region with, for example, the fishing boats having been shipped in from Indonesia. On a warm summer night, even the rain – in truth, traditional Lancashire drizzle – only served to heighten the humid, tropical feel of the Islands.

We were later treated to a BBQ by our kinds hosts Chester Zoo. The team had warmed up for the blooloopLIVErpool visit with a VIP visit earlier in the day from the Duke of Westminster (the Zoo’s President).

The visit was seamlessly planned, everyone we met from the senior executives through to the catering staff were pleasant and enthusiastic and it was clear that they were proud to show off their zoo.

Mattel Play! Liverpool

Allan Leech Mattel Play! Liverpool

The following evening, immediately after the conference, delegates were invited to the nearby Mattel Play! Liverpool, recently opened on Albert Dock. Kindly hosted by operator Heritage GB – and served champagne on entrance by CEO Allan Leech, we were shown around the new attraction, which features the characters Thomas the Tank Engine, Fireman Sam and Bob the Builder. Lappset Creative, blooloopLIVErpool’s Platinum sponsor designed, manufactured and installed the themed play equipment in the attraction.

A Hard Day’s Night

made in liverpool beatles tribute band

We ended the day with a party at Parr Street: Studio 2 .  One of the city’s famed recording studios, the venue has hosted acts and bands including The Smiths, Coldplay, Take That, Justin Beiber, Barry Manilow, Rihanna, Pauline Quayle and many, many more.

We had a brilliant Beatles tribute act, Made in Liverpool, who played two sets and were great entertainment and top musicians.  Although the four loveable mop-tops themselves were not all able to attend (Farmer, Kent and Willrich were there, Murphy couldn’t make it), a fantastic evening was nonetheless had by all, with the band rattling through a huge number of Beatles songs and delegates drinking and dancing till late. The evening was generously sponsored by Lappset, the Finnish Play equipment manufacturer.

Good Morning, Good Morning

beatles memorabilia at the beatles story liverpool

The following morning, I took my slightly heavy head the 50 yards from the hotel to The Beatles Story for another dose of the Fab Four.  The attraction, which recently announced record-breaking attendance, is essentially a Beatles museum which looks at the history of the band with extensive use of archive footage and memorabilia/merchandise from the sixties. TARDIS-like, the attraction has a fairly low-key entrance yet boasts a considerable footprint and a large number of galleries which run chronologically through The Beatles’ story.  It is a pretty comprehensive take on the development of the band with a skillful blend of  audio, video,  and authentic objects. Crucially the technology used is not invasive or overpowering.

restaurant at the beatles story

In the rather lovely restaurant (which like the shop was larger and more lavishly stocked than I expected) we chanced across a Japanese Beatles Tribute act, One after 909, who were in town to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ first trip to Japan. A testament to the enduring power of the music and the brand.

And like blooloopLIVErpool, this post ends with some stirring music from the world’s greatest band, so here’s the act you’ve known for all these years: The Beatles performing “Revolution”.

* Pun kind courtesy Richard Parry, UKTI.

5 Reasons Why Shanghai Disneyland Is Unique

Tron Ride

On Thursday 16th June 2016, Disneyland Shanghai opened to much fanfare and attention around the world.

After 7 years of planning, $5.5 billion, 700 imagineers and 2.4 million plants, the gates opened to the public, and those attending the Asian Attractions Expo (AAE) (and half of Shanghai) went to visit.

Disneyland Shanghai Castle

Along with the park, Disney opened two hotels, Disneytown dining and shops, and the first Mandarin speaking broadway-style Lion King Show.

I toured the new park with two Disney World cast members, who gave me an ongoing commentary on the operations and similarities between the two resorts. What struck me was just how different this new park was for Disney – 12 years after Hong Kong Disneyland opened, and the first in mainland China.

Bob Iger Shanghai Disneyland

Bob Iger (white T shirt) spotted touring the park on the second day of the Grand Opening Weekend

Marty Skylar, retired Head of Imagineering, has been quoted saying this is the “best park we’ve ever done”. However, I think as each park is designed specifically for a certain audience, it is hard compare them directly. Here is what I think makes Disneyland Shanghai unique for Disney.

1. Cultural Sensitivity

Canoes Shanghai Disneyland

With 95% of guests from mainland China, the park is no doubt “authentically Disney and distinctively Chinese”. There is no “American” Main Street USA, but rather a character-themed Mickey Avenue to funnel guests into the park. Queue lines are shorter as the Chinese don’t mind close proximity to each other. There are more shows as well as character meet and greets, passive activities and lots of picture taking! There is no Haunted Mansion, as ancestor worshiping is a common practice in China and this would be deemed disrespectful. Even the size and shape of Mickey Mouse’s eyes have been changed, though it is not clear this is a development designed to resonate more with an Asian audience or simply the start of the roll-out of a new look. Minnie too appears to have lost her blue eye-shadow.

Michey Small Eyes Shanghai Disneyland

As one of the 5% of guests who were non-chinese it was helpful that many signs had an English translation, though some of the rides had no English at all. This was particularly bemusing on the “Once Upon A Time Adventure” where an animated 3D Snow White and her animal friends (I think) told us to point and interact with them but we were unable to really engage as we didn’t understand her instructions! However this was the only point in the whole park where the meaning/message was missed, as the theming and story-telling translates on all rides in a very Disney way.

3D Animated Snow White Shanghai Disneyland

The new Gardens of Imagination “land” features seven gardens including the Garden of Twelve Friends: mosaics of 12 Disney animals all a different Chinese Zodiac- which in turn allowed for an entire merchandise range for the 12 animals ( $ kerching Disney!).

2. New Technology

“You are going to be blown away by Pirates”

Pirates of the Caribbean Facade Shanghai Disneyland

All week we kept hearing this on the show floor – and if industry veterans are excited for a ride then I knew it must be good- and it did not disappoint.

The re-imagined ride uses ENORMOUS high definition screens that are blended with the scenery to support the story, but are not completely dependent on it. Throughout the ride are new AV effects such as one that changes a skeleton into an animatronic Captain Jack Sparrow. Nearly 50 years after the original ride opened in Disneyland California, technology has moved on and Disney have utilised this to give a much loved attraction some oomph!

Shanghai Disneyland Treasure Cove

3. New Patented Rides

Rising above Tomorrowland was the new Tron Lightcycles Power Run, an ultra-futuristic coaster with what is in essence a motorbike coaster design. Guests sit on the seat motorbike-style , (“light cycles”) and by pulling the handles towards you the back restraint moves and keeps you safely in place, yet you don’t feel trapped.

Tron Ride Vehicle Shanghai Disneyland

The ride then goes from a standing start to shoot outside the ride building to go back in and “race” a competitor bike on projection screens. Though such a system is not unique, this is a beautifully conceived and designed ride from Vekoma, with the theming, the AV, the smooth, rapid ride and the atmospherics delivering a truly futuristic experience.

Tron Ride Shanghai Disneyland

The Pirates of the Caribbean boat vehicles are unique to the park too – for the first time, the boat’s movements are not controlled by the water current, therefore the boat can speed up, turn, and go backwards allowing much greater control of the story and what the guests see.

4. The Size

Adventure Isle

Shanghai Disneyland is MASSIVE at 963 acres. Larger than Disney World’s Animal Kingdom, the park is big, so wear comfy trainers and put your Fitbits on! The streets are very wide and there seems a lot of space to enjoy the theming of the park including grass spaces and gardens. The largest ride is Pirates of the Caribbean, taking up a whopping 175,000 square feet.

5. A focus on newer IPs

Not surprisingly Disney has used a lot of its resources on newer IPs that are more familiar to the Chinese audience. Frozen is just as huge in China, with an entire Anna and Elsa dedicated show. The first Marvel area of any Disney Park utilises the newly purchased franchise, allowing guests to meet Captain America, Spiderman and friends, as well as take cover inside from the heat/rain.

Frozen Anna Elsa Shanghai Disneyland

Even the Pirates of the Caribbean ride has shifted its focus to be squarely on the film IP and the story of Jack Sparrow, however there are still some nods to the original ride (such as the skeleton dog with the keys).

With only some slight hiccups in operations and having to adjust to mass Chinese culture, I have no doubt Disney are onto a winner with mainland Chinese tourists, city locals and tourists. Hardcore Disney fans will also want to see and compare the new re-imagined Disney park. With 10-12 million visitors expected in the first year this is a hugely impressive endeavour and I can’t wait to go back!

Disneyland Shanghai Tired

How to Display an Acid Trip

How to display an acid tripThe Danish town of Roskilde, approximately 30 minutes from Copenhagen, is home to the Roskilde Festival, one of the biggest music festivals in Europe drawing 130,000 people every summer for a week of camping, partying, music, drinking and cultural activities.

How to display an acid tripIt is now also home to ‘Ragnarock’, a museum of rock, pop and youth culture.

Opened in April, the attraction focuses on the evolution of music merged with youth culture from the 50’s to present day, and is housed in a building that suggests that this place is indeed like no other.

The giant, golden, almost cathedral-like structure with a dramatic overhang and the dark red interior of the lobby certainly give a profound sense of arrival. The spectacular building was designed by Danish COBE and Dutch MVRDV.

But, how do you display and communicate intangible stuff like ‘music’ and ‘youth culture’?

I spoke with Sebastian Gyrst-Longsig Christensen of White Noise Agency, the creative force behind the museum’s concept and design.

How to display an acid trip

“Early on, we decided not to tell the story in a traditional, linear form. Instead, we focused on key aspects of the story and ended up with 11 themes such as fan culture, the concert experience, the recording studio, etc. The order of the themes is random, allowing us to take out themes and replace them with new in the future.”

“Each of these themes then features what we call a ‘time carousel’, where we take a deeper look at the theme in 3 different decades. In the ‘dance room’, we explore the phenomena of dance by dipping into rock’n’roll, hip hop and rave.”

How to display an acid tripThe exhibits feature lengthy video interviews with people who were part of the scene and artefacts such as posters and clothing. For many visitors, however, the main attraction may be the dance floor, where you get to try to dance with a kinetic figure (top image) and see how good you are at throwing your hands up in the air at a rave party.

Sex and Drugs and Rock’n’Roll

Another theme deals with more controversial issues such as politics, sexuality and integration.

How to display an acid trip“Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll didn’t come from nothing,” Sebastian says. “The music scene has always reflected new trends in society, be it gay rights, sadomasochistic sex or political views.”

In this room, visitors get to see Anne Linnet’s stage costumes, which caused quite a stir in Danish society when she launched her band Marquis de Sade and started to sing about sadomasochistic relationships, complete with whips and leather corsets 80s style. A video features a recent interview with Linnet who also addresses what happened when she came out as a lesbian after the Marquis de Sade period.

Ragnarock Museum How to display an acid tripIn the ‘light room’ visitors get to test lighting equipment, from 60s-style psychedelic liquid light shows to today’s video mapping. You can also put your head through a hole and view what an acid trip could look like.

An Unorthodox Museum Experience

“Basically, we wanted this to be an unorthodox museum experience. We have a lot of artefacts displayed in traditional, climate-controlled display cases, but the emphasis has been on giving people the overwhelming feeling of being part of music by using aggressive graphics, strong colours, interactive features and, of course, lots and lots of music,” Sebastian explains.Ragnarock Museum How to display an acid trip

“Each room has a giant, feature item, such as a massive mirror ball in the dance room or a huge cassette tape in the demo room, giving a clear sense of the theme.”

Unusual in the museum industry, the Ragnarock attraction was designed without the help of an architect.

“The majority of the design was done by graphic designer, Robert Nagy from Heavy TM, simply using Sketch Up, an inexpensive 3D modelling software. We had help with our interactive features by Jesper Harding and No Parking, who designed the attractions according to our brief.”

The museum gives the visitor a feeling of leaving without having seen everything there is to see – with good reason.

“If you hear every sound clip and see every video there is on display you’ll spend more than 24 hours in the museum,” says Sebastian.

Ragnarock Museum How to display an acid tripThe museum, aiming to attract 50-60,000 visitors a year, admittedly features mostly Danish musicians.

“Yes, our focus is Danish, but rock music has no borders,” says Sebastian. “It’s impossible to talk about youth culture without mentioning The Beatles or The Rolling Stones but the majority of the exhibits are Danish.”

Which, in some cases, takes the Danish visitor on a sweet trip down memory lane. All text is in Danish and English however, and the museum will give the visitor to Denmark a unique  insight into modern Danish culture.

Ragnarock How to display an acid tripAnd, just like youth culture itself, the museum aims at being in constant development.

“We have many new things in the pipe line,” Sebastian says. “One of the things we are looking at is making the toilets a part of the attraction by letting each toilet represent a different music venue. We are also planning a smaller, pop-up version of the museum to travel to the music festivals this summer.”
















Coining it – The new Royal Mint Experience

Last week, I was lucky enough to attend the press day for the new Royal Mint Experience in Llantrisant, South Wales. The attraction, run by Continuum Attractions, celebrates the rich heritage of the Mint and the importance of coins throughout history.

Royal Mint Experience AV

While I’ve always had a healthy interest in money, I soon realised how little I knew about the coins rattling around in my purse.

Did you know, for instance, that one in three pound coins in circulation is a fake?

Royal Mint Experience Coin Film

The attraction, designed by Mather & Co, and AV by Figment Productions, features a short intro film, a view of the factory floor (the sound of money is amazing!), a film showing the life of a coin and a fantastic projection showing the various locations of the Mint through history.

Royal Mint Experience Factory Tour

There are 5 zones: Money Around the World, How Coins are Made, Military and Sporting Commemorative Medals, the Meaning of Coins and Collecting Coins.

There are also some great interactive elements for kids including a hidden ‘see a penny pick it up’, a wishing well you can throw pennies into, and an interactive Penny Farthing.

Royal Mint Experience kids interactive

The tour guides deserved their own commemorative medals for the sheer volume of information they had memorised for the guided tours:  the force needed to press each coin, the number of coins made per minute, the production rate of the factory… Small change is a surprisingly big deal.

I learnt so much on the tour and I think that’s why it will appeal not just to coin enthusiasts, who no doubt will love it, but to families and tourists alike.

My Top 5 Fascinating Facts:

  1. This is the first time the Royal Mint has opened its doors to the public in its thousand year history. Originally based in the Tower of London for 500 years, the Mint moved across the road to Tower Hill to accommodate steam machinery. It finally moved to the much bigger site at Llantrisant to accommodate the huge amount of new coins needed for decimalisation.

Royal Mint Experience Tower of London

  1. The Royal Mint is the World’s largest exporter of coins, producing coins for over 100 countries worldwide – 15% of the worldwide market.
  2. The Royal Mint Experience is the only place in the country where you can mint your own pound – I got to push the button and 650 tonnes of pressure marked my blank coin with the last round pound design.

Royal Mint Experience £2 Coins

  1. 1 billion new 12-sided pound coins are being produced in the factory ready for introduction in March 2017. The new coins are extremely intricate to help dissuade counterfeiters.
  2. The inscription on the £2 Coin – “Standing on the shoulders of giants” – is a quote by scientist and mathematician, Sir Issac Newton, who was Master of the Mint for 30 years.

Royal Mint Experience Penny Lane CarThe attraction sold over 10,000 advanced tickets before its official opening on 18th May 2016. A winner?  I’d put money on it.

blooloopLIVErpool 2016

We are delighted to have Continuum Attractions as Gold Sponsor for the Northern Powerhouse Panel Session at BlooloopLIVErpool on the 29th June 2016. The session will be led by Continuum CEO Juliana Delaney and include Jamie Christon, MD of Chester Zoo, Nick Thompson, Deputy Managing Director at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, and Heritage GB. 

Eventbrite - blooloopLIVErpool

Dubai: Fast Track to a Global Attraction Destination

 motiongate overview dubai parks and resorts

“Do you like to shop?” was the question my colleague replied when I asked him, what was there to do in Dubai for fun when I was planning my first business trip to the UAE in 2006. As someone who had lived there for a few years, he explained that besides desert tours and malls, Dubai had very little to offer for leisure time.

by Joseph Joy, Director, Strategic Accounts, TriotechJoseph Joy Director of Strategic Accounts at Triotech

I don’t consider shopping as entertainment but I did trek to the Mall of the Emirates, one of the largest shopping malls in the world, to see the recently opened “Ski Dubai” indoor ski attraction. The cab travelled from my hotel in Deira, the “Old Dubai”, down Sheikh Zayed Road, which slices through modern Dubai.

Along the route, the landscape was a dense forest of sky cranes feverishly putting up buildings at a frantic pace and it was said that at that time, there were more sky cranes in Dubai then anywhere else in the world. It was the most astonishing thing I had ever seen in construction. That spectacle and seeing the Emirati fathers with Arab headdresses and mothers in hijabs all while bundled in parkas chasing their kids on an indoor ski hill while its 45C outside in the desert heat made for an entertaining outing.

dubailand construction


How things have changed in Dubai in the last ten years! The building boom busted in 2008, the ambitious Dubailand theme park which was planned to be twice the size of Disney World was shelved in 2009, the same year that Abu Dhabi bailed out Dubai and saving it from default. In gratitude, the iconic megatall skyscraper Burj Dubai was renamed Burj Khalifa in honor of the ruler of Abu Dhabi, when it opened in 2010.

Without much pause, plans were announced by Meraas to develop Dubai Parks and Resorts (DPR) with many of the brands – LEGOLAND, Six Flags, DreamWorks – that were involved in Dubailand. Ground broke in 2014 and the park will open this coming October.

sony pictures studios motiongate dubai parks

Orlando 2.0?

Today some analysts are suggesting that Dubai is on a steady path to rival Orlando as a global leisure destination. As seemingly outlandish that may sound to some, it has developed the infrastructure to support tourism, a key driver of its economic growth. Oil is a very small part of the Dubai economy, so it continues to aggressively build its diverse economy based on business, real estate, finance and tourism. Already the hospitality market is $7.6 billion and accounts for 27% of GDP and this is expected to rise through 2020. Dubai has the highest visitor to resident ratio in the world at 4.8 visitors.

Dubai is now a gateway city and the Dubai airport has surpassed Heathrow as the world’s busiest with 70 million international visitors. It is strategically located with roughly 80% of the world’s population, or 6 billion people, living within eight hours flying time from Dubai. The potential visitor pool is deep and can be leveraged year-round.

World Class Theme Parks

Most travelers through Dubai airport don’t stay but that is changing. Within five years, Dubai will be on track to overtake Paris as the third leading global destination for overnight visitors. Further developing a leisure industry with world-class theme parks as an anchor will encourage extend stays. In a recent interview, Jeffrey Godsick, President of 20th Century Fox Consumer Products pointed to this as the rationale for 20th Century Fox World Dubai projected slated to open in 2018. “All of a sudden, there is a reason for people to stop in Dubai for 3 to 4 days. We want to be a part of the attractions,” he said.

Those travelers that do stay in Dubai are affluent. Globally, Dubai is ranked 8th in visitors spending – last year travelers spent $11 billion. The average hotel room rate is $250 and Dubai has the highest hotel occupancy rate in the world. Dubai maintains a steady year on year occupancy of 100%-70% in the winter and 90%-60% in the summer. Planners realize that the city needs more affordable options to build a balanced market that is appealing to a diverse visitor base from across the world. Currently, no single visitors market exceeds 10% of the tourists to Dubai, making it resilient to unpredicted tourism changes.

sheikh zayed road dubai in the eighties

Building an entertainment industry from scratch isn’t unprecedented. Orlando was virtually unknown until the 1970s when Disney World moved in.

At that time, Dubai was not much more than a fishing village at the mouth of Dubai Creek. Since then Disney World has built up its attendance to 19 million and Orlando is the leading destination in the attractions industry.

Dubai has done the reverse, it has built up a tourism industry without any significant number of attractions until now. Dubai Parks & Resorts is targeting close to 7 million visitors in its first year of operation. Dubai’s goal and often-underestimated ambition is to become an international tourist destination for leisure, one that serves not just the greater region, but the entire world. From what I have witnessed over the last 10 years, I have no doubt that they will succeed in their goal.

Theme Park Design: High Praise from Imagineers

theme park design book coverIn “Theme Park Design”, British author David Younger has achieved something special. His new book – a vast and comprehensive examination of the theme park and themed entertainment business – pulls off the difficult trick of being both scholarly and meticulous, yet remaining highly readable too.

Topped and tailed by the thoughts of two award winning theme park designers and Disney legends, Tony Baxter and Joe Rhode, Theme Park Design breaks down the theme park experience in great detail.

In 9 chapters – Medium, Business, Process, Theme, Story, Design, Theme Park Design, Land Design and Attraction Design – each themselves carefully sub-divided, Younger guides the reader through an examination of the theme park story, from its early history to the current day. He has clearly put a huge amount of research into creating this book and the hundreds of quotes and examples make it a very practical and enjoyable work.porche owners manual by haynes

Younger’s academic background – a first class degree in Film and Media and a PhD in Art & Design (Theme Park Design) – is evident in the exhaustive scope of this book. The contents themselves stretch to 6 pages. This is a very practical guide to theme parks and theme park design in one, admittedly very heavy, book.

“A Landmark in our Intellectual Space”

It is  a superb manual, an ideal “how-to” guide for any aspiring theme park designer, and a handbook to allow today’s designers to “access the wisdom of their peers”.

The hardback copy I received through the post put me in mind of the Haynes Owner’s Workshop Manuals. These successfully appeal to both professional car mechanics and DIY enthusiasts. Younger’s comprehensive guide will equally be an invaluable read for theme park professionals and hugely interesting to theme park enthusiasts.

Joe Rhode expects Younger’s “encyclopaedic compendium” to be, “Not just read, but discussed, debated and even redacted”, as the theme park  design community continues to develop. He recognises that the book provides a valuable “fixed reference point” for discussion and describes it as, “a landmark in our intellectual space” . High praise indeed.

The book can be ordered at 


The Paradigm Shift in Shopping – An Opportunity for Attractions

By Keith Thomas, Chief Executive, Petersham Group Ltd.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) caught the news headlines with their report on 29th February projecting the loss of up to 900,000 jobs and the likely closure of thousands of shops in the UK over the next decade. Sir Charlie Mayfield, CEO of John Lewis and Chair of the BRC noted that of the 270,000 shops in the UK today, up to 74,000 could shut. Indeed, the story could be much worse in poorer areas, with a disproportionate number of the closures likely to be in already deprived areas.

Woolworths High Street Vintage Photo

Mayfield continues: “People are not realising just how significantly the workplace is changing and I think that is dangerous – it means that people assume that somehow things are going to carry on as they are, when that’s unlikely.”

The report went on to say that rising costs due to the National Living Wage (due to be introduced from April this year across the country) and the new apprenticeship levy could speed up these job cuts. However, whilst these initiatives by the government, which incidentally, the BRC goes on to support, may accelerate matters, that’s only a symptom of a wider problem.

Graph showing the rise of the national living wage and minimum wage in the UK

The challenge which retailers, city centre managers and owners and developers of retail properties, are facing (or refusing to face in some cases) is a paradigm shift in consumer behaviour that is going to comprehensively undermine so many of the assumptions on which their business models have been built, with the risk being high streets and shopping malls decimated and empty of tenants and shoppers alike.

However, for the out of home leisure and entertainment sector, if it is light on its feet and entrepreneurial, this could represent a significant opportunity. Could leisure and entertainment, so often treated as the poor cousin of retail in the eyes of developers and their professional advisers, be the key to saving some of these locations from complete annihilation?

The Rise of Online Retail

So why is this happening? There is, as well all know, an accelerating migration away from shopping being an activity where a store is visited and a purchase is made, to a world where online is the new normal and shops are places where product is seen and sampled, and placed in the context of a consumer’s lifestyle. Why have all the hassle of having to actually make the purchase on the spot, and then carry it around, take it back to your car and bring it home when with a couple of clicks, it’ll be delivered to you, often for free.

Recently, walking around the excellent and modern St David’s Centre in Cardiff with my 20-year-old son, he picked out what he liked, compared prices with other stores on his phone and ordered it online, cheaper and delivered free (Amazon have been very smart in offering Amazon Prime FOC to students in the UK!). We walked out of there hands free!

Argos Logo Alternatively, you can choose to buy on line at home, at your convenience, and then pick up from a store when you’re next in town, secure in the knowledge that you have exactly what you want, in the right colour, size and at the right price – catalogue shopping chain Argos found their much-derided model particularly well suited to adaptation to this new ‘click and collect’ world, one now being adopted by every other retailer with a foot in this market.

Morrisons supermarket logoThe mighty Amazon recently announced a deal with supermarket chain Morrisons (who previously only had 3% of the online grocery market) to have them undertake grocery deliveries on their behalf, a move which should give a major boost to the slightly beleaguered number 4 grocery chain, whilst having the likes of Tesco quaking in their boots.

We’ve been monitoring and anticipating this trend for several years at Petersham Group, not least since a senior manager at one of the UK’s largest and most innovative shopping mall developers told me that whereas in the past, a brand would require up to 300 stores to comprehensively service demand, the future looked more like 80-90 larger outlets in prime locations.

Amazon Logo online shoppingWith shopping increasingly moving online, and people expecting home delivery, why spend ages driving to a shopping centre, wasting your precious leisure time stuck in traffic or sweating on overcrowded and under-maintained public transport? Customers will increasingly be needing very good reasons to persuade them to actually go out and shop, other than for convenience items.

This is not to say that they won’t do so but increasingly, as in so many other aspects of life, the experience will be the key – they will want to travel to high quality destinations where shopping will just be a part of the equation. Malls that deliberately offer customer hard and unfriendly environments to force them to shop faster and harder will lose out – and not before time!

6 hour traffic jam for christmas shoppers at Bluewater Kent

Towns will have to reinvent themselves as broad spectrum leisure destinations, relying less on the same old mix of high street brands and instead, rediscovering the heritage and culture that made them successful in the first place. And of course, not everyone is going to make it.

An Opportunity for Attractions

Now we start to see the similarities with our own sector where creating memorable experiences and destinations is what we do. We, working in the Experience Economy are uniquely well placed to see the opportunities that this shift will create, assuming we are smart enough to spot them.

V&D Logo

However, when a long-established department store chain with 67 substantial city centre locations, such as Vroom and Dresmann declares itself bankrupt and closes, a golden opportunity presents itself for other users. When a chain of hypermarkets realises that it only requires a fraction of the real estate that it currently owns, another opportunity arises.

Walking through a modern city centre in the UK now, you will be struck by the sheer volume of cafes, coffee shops, fast food outlets, restaurants and bars – no wonder there is an obesity crisis, you’d think we did nothing but walk from one F&B outlet to the next one! Even 10 years ago, those sites were taken up by shops, some branded, some family owned, so many now gone, and yet people still want the ambience and the social environment of a European city for example, just as they want the same thing from their favourite mall in the UAE.

We’ll come back to this subject again I’m sure but a word of warning- for all the lip service being paid to creating diverse retail environments where people can happily spend their leisure time, the reality is that with a few enlightened exceptions, the way that malls and shopping centres are financed and the letting policies implemented as a result by the agents appointed by the owners will make this an uphill struggle and I fear that many of these locations are going to have to go dark before they can be revived.

Images kind courtesy of:  Hat Feathers Vintage,, Argos, Morrisons, Amazon, The Sun, V&D.

4 Big Drivers of Amusement Park Growth

by Joseph Joy, Director, Strategic Accounts, Triotech

Over the last three years the global amusement park industry has increased with a healthy growth rate in terms of revenue and new project pipeline.

Joseph Joy Director of Strategic Accounts at Triotech The main factors driving this growth are economic factors like rising consumer discretionary spending, increasing urban population, growing middle class population especially in Asia and rising GDP worldwide.

But other factors unique to the industry are adding to the fertile conditions, including the increasing popularity of licensing media and gaming intellectual property, the near feverish pace of attraction development by all the leading operators, governments recognizing the importance of attraction development to bolster tourism and parks evolving their business model to promote extended stays.

The current project pipeline for the next five years points to unprecedented growth with a compounded annual growth rate of close to 9% by 2019 according to a just published outlook report by IAAPA. The report points to four key drivers that continue to propel the industry forward to the delight of consumers.

Disneyland California's Sleeping Beauty Castle

1. Intellectual Property

Not since the opening of Disneyland in 1956, has the use of already-popular movie properties for theme parks been so widespread to drive attendance. With the success of “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” driving attendance growth for the last five years at Comcast’s Universal Studios, more park developers are looking for popular franchises to attract visitors. Its no wonder, Comcast’s theme park revenue from attendance and in-park sales jumped 27% to $3.34 billion in 2015 year over year and up from $2.2 billion in 2013.

Longtime attractions developer, Warner Bros. continues to license to park developers with a whole new park in Abu Dhabi planned for 2018. A recent entrant to licensing whole parks is 20th Century Fox who have two parks scheduled to open in Malaysia and Dubai over the next two years. Nickelodeon have licensed themed areas in many parks around the world and for the first time also has a whole park dedicated to their IP planned for China in 2020 reported to cost an expected $1.85 billion. After opening “Shrek’s London Adventure” in 2015, DreamWorks and Merlin Entertainment have 6 other locations planned over the next nine years. Even video game companies like Ubisoft and Nintendo are expanding their brands’ reach into theme parks.

Plans for 20th Century Fox World Dubai

2. Rising Investments

In addition to completely new parks being developed in Asia and the Middle East, many operators in mature markets in North America and Europe continue to invest heavily in new attractions – multimillion dollar coaster, dark rides, water parks, etc. – to sell annual passes, draw new visitors, drive repeat visits, encourage longer visits, all which can lead to higher in-park sales. Six Flags has earmarked 9% of revenue towards capital investments in new rides and attractions for their park portfolio. Even smaller venues are making large investments and evolving their business model to attract visitors. Kolmården Wildlife Park in Sweden will open “Wildfire” at the zoo-turned-theme-park in spring of 2016. This will become both the fastest wooden coaster in Europe, and second tallest wooden coaster in the world when it opens in June 2016. This type of significant investment would be in the $10 million USD range.

Destination parks like Disney are building whole realms dedicated to “Avatar” and “Star Wars” at their parks in California and Florida, and Universal to continue to open Harry Potter in Hollywood and Jurassic World in Japan. LEGOLAND is opening the new “NINJAGO™ land” in California, Denmark and Malaysia in 2016.

Ninjago the Ride Legoland

3. Promotion of Tourism

Some governments are realizing that theme parks can be crucial to attracting tourists. About 70 million tourists pass through Dubai Airport, the hub of Emirates, one of the world’s largest airline but most are just transiting onward to other destinations. The ambitious opening later this year of the new Dubai Parks and Resorts, which includes three separate theme parks and one water park, is directly geared towards providing a reason to stay in the Emirate for a longer layover. Even more parks are in the works for Dubai with the planned opening of Six Flags Dubai and Fox World Dubai by 2018. Malaysia is another country where the government is actively supporting the development of theme parks and major park announcement are rumored to be pending. In China, the government has since removed the ban on new park development and currently 60 parks are in the pipeline including projects announced by Universal Studios, Chimelong and OCT.

Motiongate concept art Dubai Parks and Resorts

4. Extending Stays

In mature markets like Europe and North America, where growth has been stagnant, regional parks operators are reinvigorating their product on all fronts to protect market share and grow their businesses. Parks are extending their operational seasons by offering Halloween and Christmas events. Liseberg in Sweden staged their first Halloween event this past year and the park was at maximum capacity and this is in a country that has no “jack o’lantern” traditions. Six Flag staged their “Holiday in the Park” for the first time at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, NJ for the first time in 2015. An event usually hosted at their warmer climate parks. Without these events, the parks would have been closed.

Scarecrow at Liseberg Halloween Celebrations

Like other operators looking to promote extended stays with a captive audience and become an integrated resort, Liseberg has announced plans to build a hotel and given the climate, an indoor water park in the coming years. SeaWorld have recently announced similar plans to partner or develop their own hotels. Parks around the world including LEGOLAND California, Alton Towers in the UK and Ocean Park in Hong Kong are opening hotels or expanding their accommodation capacity to support an extended stay strategy.


In summary, in areas like Asia Pacific and Latin America, the attraction development market will continue to grow, due to poor park-population ratio, rising income levels and increasing expenditure on leisure activities in the region. Globally, location-based entertainment will continue to expand with operators’ investments in tie-ins with popular IP, new attractions, seasonal events, and more accommodations.

The amusement park industry is not immune should an economic downward occur and impact consumer spending. However, the industry benefits from the fact that it is somewhat isolated from digital competition from online entertainment and uniquely provide a shared, physical experience, which will continue to propel growth to the delight of consumers for at least the next five years.

Images kind courtesy of Disneyland, Liseberg, and Blooloop.