All Aboard the Hogwarts Express – Photo Op on Platform 9 ¾

Hogwarts Express Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour

The preview of the Hogwarts Express at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter last week was a classy affair as would be expected from this classy attraction, with great attention to detail, quality, authenticity and a touch of magical inspiration.

Dry ice cocktails at Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio TourThe 78 year old steam engine in Hogwarts Express livery, displayed with billowing steam in a permanent new 20,000 sq ft recreation of Platform 9 ¾ at Kings Cross Station, opened to the public on Thursday 19th March.

The evening preview event gave Blooloop and other lucky industry insiders including Lesley Morisetti, Ray Braun, Paul Kent, Sarah Joyce and Baz Slatter the opportunity to tour the finished attraction, with the welcome enhancement of cocktails and canapes.

Popping Candy Eton Mess at Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio TourA touch of magic had been added by the caterers – ‘smoking’ cocktails and a surprise twist of popping candy in the Eton Mess.

Then there were the special guest stars – real owls, a rat and a very grumpy Crookshanks cat on the platform. Typically the cat stole the show with its lack of co-operation.  We waited quite a while for this shot.

Cruickshanks at Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour

Of course the platform would be incomplete without a gift shop stocked with the new Hogwarts Express merchandise.

Hogwarts Express Merchandise Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour

The focal point of the platform expansion is naturally the beautifully lit, red, shiny steam engine and carriage.

Exclusive reveal of the Hogwarts Express - at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London

However, the options available to create an attraction from the train itself are clearly limited by the narrowness of the carriage passageway and compartment layout. Visitors queue to walk down the passageway of the carriage in single file. Each (closed) compartment is set out with props from one of Harry’s years at Hogwarts. It’s well done and authentic and lots of people were taking the opportunity to have their photos taken waving goodbye to loved ones on the platform.

Hogwarts Express carriage at Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour

What’s interesting is how this particular section of the Warner Bros experience caters to the needs of the selfie generation. Perhaps because of the limitations of the Hogwarts Express as a centrepiece, other than looking very beautiful, there has been a deliberate effort to create photo opportunities for the young Potter fans. Some of these are informal, like waving from the train, but there are two structured photo ops on the platform, developed in partnership with Picsolve, that enhance the visitor experience by putting the guest in the film, which is after all where they want to be.

Mark Williams, Mr Weasley in the Harry Potter film series, pushes the luggage trolley on Platform 9 -¥ at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London

The first photo op is a simple pushing the trolley into the wall scene. But it’s well done with attendants offering a choice of Hogwart’s house scarves as well as advice on posing.

The second is much more high tech, and an experience in itself, created in the same interior train carriage set that was used for filming. This railway carriage section has green screen windows that show iconic moments from the Potter train journeys.  A voice over encourages the riders to interact with the film by trying to catch escaping chocolate frogs or cowering at the sight of Dementors. With moments of recognition and the odd jump, the attraction nicely extends the experience in a way that is impossible to do on the train itself.

Picsolve Hogwarts Express carriage set Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour

Of course there are many fantastic examples of animatronics and innovative AV throughout this wonderful studio tour that engage visitors with the superb props that can’t be touched. Here’s our montage of the best moving bits from the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter including some from the Hogwarts Express.

Image credit: Hogwarts Express image on empty platform and Mark Williams pushing trolley courtesy of Warner Bros Studio Tour London.

Snow Business – Arctic Inspirations in Lapland

paul kent and rick worner with santa

The attractions industry is a business of conferences and trade shows and many of us frequently travel abroad to attend such events. Generally held in attractive, tourist-friendly cities, delegates are encouraged to attend both for the quality of the conference and the location. This is why I have been to shows in Orlando, Singapore and Amsterdam and none to date in Leeds, Detroit or Calais.

And so it was that the opportunity arose to attend a seminar in Lapland. Snappily titled The Arctic Inspirations Seminar and – importantly for any conference – already boasting its own acronym, AIS, it was organized by Lappset, the Finnish designer and manufacturer of play equipment. The company recently made the news for the creation of its branded activity attractions division, Lappset Creative and its partnership with the UK’s HIT Entertainment, home of brands such as Thomas the Tank Engine, Barbie and Bob the Builder.

The format was two days, the first during which delegates would hear from leading experts in the attractions industry and on the second would have the opportunity for a factory tour of Lappset’s premises. The unusual location, Rovaniemi, a town just inside the Arctic Circle made for an attractive destination and the added extras – a night in the famous ice hotel, a chance to snowmobile (is that a verb?), an opportunity to meet Rovio, the creators of Angry Birds – were enticing prospects.

The (long) night before

SantaPark

Early evening and on arrival at Rovaniemi airport – an hour’s flight north from Helsinki, a small group of us were bundled into extremely thick winter clothes and out of the airport exit. Here we were we met with not the standard line of bored looking taxi drivers but a not so standard line of reindeers with sledges (sleighs?). The snow was thick and the firs and spruces that ringed the airport were heavily laden with a brilliant white carpet of snow. The beauty of the scene was heightened by the singular lack of grey sludge and brown, gritted snow. To the Finnish, deep snow is a given for a big chunk of the year so they deal with it in a mature and organised manner. With snow tyres on there is no need to grit, so the roads remain a pristine white. (As we drove at 60mph in the snow in our coach, back in the UK Manchester airport was grinding to a standstill as a few thousand snowflakes caused predictable chaos) .

We were under strict instructions not to touch the reindeer. This was easier said than done, especially as they were over-friendly creatures and kept trying to lick us.

Our reindeer found Ronald Hoppzak, owner at recreatiecentrum de Schatberg, particularly irresistable:

reindeer kissing Roland

Our “taxis” took us directly to SantaPark attraction. Uniquely the park is sited in an underground bunker, in fact the same one which is designated as the shelter for the population should a nuclear winter occur.

Owned and operated by husband and wife team, Ilkka Länkinen and Katja Ikäheimo-Länkinen, this unique attraction welcomes over 70,000 visitors form over 40 countries a year.

SantaPark elfWe were greeted by genuine elves, with musical voices and turned up noses, who led us on to the different attractions at the park: the Elf School, Mrs. Gingerbread’s Bakery ride, the Magic Sleigh Ride and Santa’s workshop where we met the Big Man himself and were given presents. There was also an ice bar where we sampled the local liquorice flavoured spirit while dressed in thick furs before enjoying dinner in the restaurant situated just inside the Arctic Circle.

The Santa Claus hotel in Rovaneimi to which we retired for the night was comfortable and warm and a trip back to reality after our magical arrival and evening with Santa and his Elves.

Day One – Snow Business

The seminar took place at the hotel. What made the day unique were the local speakers. So while Paul Kent, Tony Sefton and Ray Hole delivered interesting, succinct presentations full of what I believe are called “actionables” and “takeaways” none of them knew very much about making hotels and buldings out of ice. However, Ville Haaviko and Taavi Heikkilä did.

Frozen innovations chainsaw ice

Ville is Managing Director of the Arctic Snow Hotel and an expert in snow construction and Taavi is President at Frozen Innovations Ltd. They each told us about the mechanics and logistics of both creating and then managing a building or attraction made entirely out Taavi Heikkilä and his chainsawof ice and snow. Remarkably the snow they use is not the white stuff lying around in huge drifts and constantly falling from the sky but it is made artificially and created on-site. Something to do with consistency.

Taavi showed us a slide with him standing with his enormous chainsaw and I, along with half the men in the room, sighed: my trusty chainsaw back home is barely 18 inches long and just a toy, a girl’s saw. Taavi’s however, was undeniably a proper man’s chainsaw for proper man’s ice. We then watched a video of him and his team cutting up great thick sheets of ice from a river, slicing through the frozen surface under their feet as it swayed beneath them. They obviously knew what they were doing.

After our enjoyable evening the night before at Santa Park, owner Katja Ikäheimo-Länkinen delivered an engaging presentation on the past, present and future of the official home of Santa.

We also heard from Rick Worner, from the States, who is MD of National Realty Advisors. Rick’s expertise lies in assisting real estate developers and investors to identify and fund opportunities for themed attractions.

From Lappset we had a warm welcome from Chairman of the Lappset Group Board, Johanna Ikäheimo, while Johan Granholm, Director of Lappset Creative wrapped up the day with a presentation about the new division’s branded activity attractions.

Snow Hotel

Snow Hotel Lappset

After the seminar we spent the night at the Arctic SnowHotel Experience, enjoying dinner in the vaulted ice dining room, snow saunas and the outdoor jacuzzi in the snow.

Frozen innovations sauna

The braver souls among us – step forward CDA’s Jan Reuvers and Hammerson’s Richard Pearce - opted for beds made from blocks of ice, we instead set off through the snow for our comfortable heated igloo, with a glass roof for watching the (sadly absent – we’ll have to go back) Northern lights.  An unforgettable experience and definitely a tick on the Bucket List.

Jan Reuvers in Snow Hotel

Factory Tour and More Snow

lappset angry bird dinosaur

The morning brought a factory tour, a glimpse into the process by which Lappset creates their signature play parks and play equipment. We were given an introduction to the business by Tero Ylinenpää, Lappset Managing Director, who also explained how the company is involved in the phenomenon of “older play”, play parks for pensioners which are proving wildly popular as meeting places for romantic OAPs in parts of Spain.

After lunch we headed for the snowmobiles and zoomed off over a frozen river for an afternoon of high-octane low-temperature thrills and spills. Later on, with the sun setting behind us, we threaded our way home through the trees to the warmth of the hotel.

A superb trip to the Arctic Circle, a great crowd and an interesting conference. A huge thanks to Lappset and their team who organised the event.  As well as being wonderfully welcoming hosts they managed all possible permutations of guest itineraries and winter clothing requirements with superb skill.

Hope to see you in Rovaneimi next year!

charlie onsnowmobile

Five Zoo Innovations That Have Been Around for Decades: #4

AT&T Dolphin Tales Georgia Aquarium dolphin

AT&T Dolphin Tales Georgia Aquarium

Stacey Tarpley continues her review of innovation in zoos…

I want to talk about the things that have been slowly happening, without much fanfare, across the United States in nearly every city from New York to Saint Louis to Portland. I want to talk about how things that the supposedly paradigm-changing design from Europe insists are innovative, or at least ‘rarely seen in zoos’, have actually been around for years (and in some cases, decades) here in the United States.

Zoo Innovation #4: Sneaking in the Veggies: Education Disguised as Fun, and Fun Disguised as Education

Ultimately, the zoo is supposed to be fun. But all AZA accredited zoos and aquariums must include education and conservation as part of their mission. As such, disguising conservation education into a fun, engaging experience is a recent innovation on which many zoos are still working. Today’s zoos are using many strategies (and often innovations unto themselves) to achieve this.

The first is a deeply thematic exhibit. Think theme park attraction quality storyline, thematic architecture and propping. Animals are not just being presented in their “natural” habitat; that’s just layer one. Add complex stories involving cultural, historical references, and conservation threats and solutions alongside imaginative, adventurous settings, and visitors are being swept away to another place and time to encounter an animal experience.

PGAV Dolphin Tales Georgia Aquarium

AT&T Dolphin Tales at Georgia Aquarium

In addition to the thematic exhibits, some zoos and aquariums are truly taking a cue from theme parks and are adding shows—from elaborate stage productions with lighting and sound to more modest (and therefore more often implemented and repeated multiple times throughout the zoo) keeper chats and training demos.

PGAV Glacier run at louisville zoo training panel

Glacier run at Louisville Zoo

Some zoos even embrace non-animal shows with a conservation message, like the puppet show at the Bronx Zoo.

Rides are also a commonplace element of a zoo these days, but the real innovation here is the integration of ride and animal habitat. From the very simple skyride across an African savanna exhibit, to monorail systems immersing guests in large enclosures. New ride systems are continuously being evaluated for the ability to direct guests exactly where the animals are, controlling flow, and generally controlling the experience as a whole.

Finally, interactions with animals are becoming more and more popular. This is a bit of a retro innovation as guests feeding animals has long been a tradition in historic zoos as well as in less than ideal zoos of today. But the innovation here is not in the interaction itself, but in how it is being achieved. Today’s interactions are highly controlled, managed and messaged by trained keepers, and provide the animals the choice of whether or not to participate. Regulations for dolphin encounters, for example, require a ‘sanctuary’ space into which dolphins may retreat if they decide they no longer want to participate. Giraffe feeds occur on a single platform and giraffes decide if they want to participate. Feedings in general occur on a timed schedule and the food is carefully allotted, allocated, recorded, and considered an integral part of the animals’ diets.

All of these provide a platform for communicating an educational message while guests are just having a great time.

What great data will be available in the 2014 Walt Disney Company Fact Book?

Disney castle

Throughout my years in the leisure time business, I have become known as a tenacious researcher and the one that is able to find data that others can’t. Therefore the reason I have chosen to report on secondary data as the basis of this and most of my prior Blooloop Blogs.

The quality and quantity of data available in each of Walt Disney annual Fact Books has always amazed me. While these books cover statistics pertaining to all operations of Disney, this Blog focuses only on Parks & Resorts. As far back as I can remember each of annual books has included the statistics (opening dates, resort acreage, ticket pricing – base and options available, #hotel venues, # hotel rooms) that are shown below for the most current year available (2013).

Prior years of the Disney Fact Book have included additional data as well. Take for example the 2010 fact book included the rarely quoted and often asked for number THEME PARK ACREAGE. In 2010 the Disneyland Resort was 85 acres and Magic Kingdom was 142 acres. I wonder if the current acreage will be listed in the 2014 Fact Book? The Fact Book for 2008 reported the Domestic Convention Space at Disney-Owned Resorts — In 2008, the Disneyland Hotel had 136,000 sq. ft. of Net Meeting Space. And, the “Estimated Workforce” was included in the 2005 Fact Book.

What do you think will be included in the latest Disney Fact Book? I don’t know about you, but I am hoping for capture rates, length of stay, merchandise per capita for each of the theme parks. Well, a girl can wish can’t she?

Disney Fact Book: Operations – Parks & Resorts, 2013

(You may need to adjust the zoom view in your browser to see all the figures!)

Disney 2013 factbook pg 8

Disney 2013 factbook pg 9

Disney 2013 factbook pg 10

Roller Coasters for the Non-Enthusiast

Jeff Havlik of PGAV destinations

We all know that coasters are the mainstay of many parks. They often drive the marketing campaigns with the eternal race for statistics such as the “tallest”, “fastest”, or “steepest.”

And they work. Guests show up wide-eyed and thrilled to ride the latest and greatest record breaking coaster. The coaster enthusiasts hungrily review every airtime hill and new maneuver. The rides are applauded by the industry and competitors, both parks and manufacturers, while at the same time they begin to lay plans to unseat the latest king. I’m a fan of this competitive spirit. It drives the industry to dream, innovate, design, and build. But I think that they can do more than simply fuel marketing and excite the enthusiasts.

cheetah hunt rollercoaster bush gardens tampa bay

If you look at the penetration of big coasters in a family park, they’re often quite lower than one would expect. Height restrictions, health restrictions, age, and the “fear factor” cause many guests to be non-riders, or “non-enthusiasts.” Shouldn’t these record-breaking coasters, which also often set records for capital expenditure, strive to capture the attention of the non-enthusiast as well? I believe these monumental attractions need to engage guests in ways other than just riding. For example, they should create a visual icon strong enough to be appreciated as a piece of sculpture like the tower of Cheetah Hunt (above) at Busch Gardens Tampa (BGT).

The ride should engage the guest on the surrounding walkways where the speed, force, and exhilaration can be experienced by everyone. Air at Alton Towers or Griffon (below) at Busch Gardens Williamsburg (BGW) are excellent examples, especially where the first drop of Griffon dives below the bridge.

Griffon rollercoaster at busch gardens williamsburg

When a guest on the path can see the coaster speed past, feel the wind, hear the roar, and see the faces of the riders, it creates a powerful, lasting impression. Add some interaction like the water effect at BGT’s Sheikra and BGW’s Griffon, and you have broadened the appeal well beyond the bounds of those that just ride the ride. On a hot day, there are often more people waiting for that splash than are in the ride queue (a slight exaggeration, but you get the point).

This broadening of appeal is tremendously important because it directly correlates to overall guest satisfaction. This enduring appeal will help continue to bring guests back to the park long after the first year attendance surge has died down, and another coaster has stolen the top spot. I do realize things are easier said than done. Mature parks that are trying to incorporate a big, new ride with a massive footprint and, worst of all, crane access to reach a 300-foot tall track, are forced to make room by tearing something down, placing the coaster on the outskirts of the park, or plowing through the parking lot.

thorpe park rollercoaster

But it doesn’t take much to draw the non-enthusiast in. Bringing the spectators in close to just a short piece of track (not the break run before the station) that showcases the ride’s speed, height, nimbleness, or whatever makes it special, can go a long way. When we look at the rankings of best coasters, the ones that have endured year to year, they aren’t all record holders. Some of the best ones are the ones that engage the non-enthusiast in enduring, thrilling, memory-making ways.

Images. 1 Jeff Havlik and 2. Cheetah Hunt at Busch Gardens Tampa courtesy of PGAV Destinations 3. Griffon courtesy of Busch Gardens Williamsburg 4. Rollercoaster at night, courtesy Thorpe Park.

The Buzz on Tracy Kahaner

Here at Blooloop, as a small company we haven’t done Meet the team Mondays as such a series would last less than a month. However, I thought it time I highlight the career, skills and all round wonderfulness of our indefatigable News Editor, Ms. Tracy Kahaner.

tracy a kahaner

If you read our site because of ours news, and thousands do, then here is a brief introduction to @TracyAK
and some insight as to why our news service is – and this is no marketing hyperbole – the best in the business.

B.K. (Before Kahaner)

When I started Blooloop my aim was to provide a reliable news service for professionals working in the attractions business. I looked at the various methods of doing this.

  • Have it automated
  • Get a third party agency
  • Get an expert

I decided against the first when I saw an item about, ‘Roger Federer’s Rollercoaster year” appear on many sites. I discounted the second when I realised that such news feeds were generally not put together by industry insiders but by huge agencies which also catered to hundreds of other vertical sectors, anything from off shore oil and gas to wastewater treatment.

Because finding the news that would be of most interest and use to our readers was not just about looking for key words on Google, the job needed a person who really knew the business, who lived and breathed it, who would be alive to the subtle ebbs and flows of the market and who would realise which items were important and which were not, who could appreciate which opinions pieces carried weight, and which did not. Put simply, someone who could separate the wheat from the chaff.

So early on I decided that our news feed should  be managed by an expert, be business orientated – we wouldn’t deal in rumours – and only be sourced from reputable/reliable sites.

Photos: Walt Disney, CV Wood, and Harrison Price

Ms. Kahaner and Buzz

Tracy lives in Santa Monica. A potted biography: like all Californians, she runs on the beach, does yoga and enoys driving along the freeway in open top cars with her blonde hair blowing in the wind. There is a portrait of a much older looking Tracy in her attic.

harrison buzz price with tracy kahaner

Tracy’s degree was in marketing and she cut her teeth in advertising. In 1985 she joined the Harrison Price Company to conduct research. This company was formed in 1978 by Harrison (“Buzz”) Price, a renowned leisure-time economic analyst and a key person in the history of themed entertainment (above right, with Walt Disney and CV Woods). He was a close friend and colleague of Walt Disney and in fact so central to the success of the Disney theme parks that Michael Esiner (Disney CEO 1984-2005) said Price was, “as much responsible for the success of the Walt Disney Co. as anybody except Walt Disney himself”.

nick winslow

Price had worked for Walt Disney from as early as 1953, and was behind over 150 studies looking at the development of potential theme parks. He considered several sites in Southern California for Disney’s first park, opting for Anaheim due to its climate, accessibility and projected profitability. Furthermore, in the Sixties he identified Orlando as the optimum location for an East Coast Walt Disney World.

So Tracy fine-tuned her craft alongside Buzz and his colleague Nick Winslow (left), himself a recognised industry leader, having held senior positions at Warner Bros., Paramount and as president of the USA Pavilion -Shanghai 2010.

For almost 20 years she carried out the vital background research which enabled them to advise their clients around the world. She provided them with the information necessary for analysing the market potential and competitive environment for the projects they were working on – the solid data that enabled them to put together the feasibility studies.

In her career both with Harrison Price – and since 1992 with her own company Kahaner Research – she has worked with a huge variety of companies and on a vast array of different attractions. These include aquarium projects, theme parks, resort developments,letter from harrison buzz price zoos, FECs, museums and with clients such as Universal Studios, ERA, Warner Bros. Village Roadshow, Sony and of course the Harrison Price Company.

Blooloop’s News Desk

As Blooloop’s News Editor Tracy compiles the news added to Blooloop.com and also manages our LinkedIn and Twitter feeds. Her work ethic, tenacity and drive to ensure we provide an excellent service is extraordinary. (I am told she gets this from her father Bud, who was a managing partner at an accounting firm conducting royalty audits for entertainment industry clients.). On any given day a flurry of mails and messages cross the Atlantic as we discuss potential news items: is this source reliable? Is this fair comment? Is this speculation? Is this from The Daily Mail?

On occasion if I see a news item on another site and we don’t appear to have it I will drop her a line. Inevitably I get the same response. I can almost see here eyes rolling as she tells me that ,“Yes we have it. We had it three weeks ago”.

If you enjoy reading Blooloop and value our news coverage then do drop a note to Tracy some day, she is always pleased to hear from our readers. She is fastidious, ultra-reliable and a total pleasure to work with. Wearing her Kahaner Research hat she is always keen to help companies in need of research services. Setting up a new attraction, considering a country for a resort destination, want to open a museum? Give her a call.tracy kahaner

Although she is basking in the Southern Californian sun as we slog away here in the North Devon winter, she is very much a fundamental part of Blooloop’s continued development , hugely appreciated and a vital cog in the machine. So, here’s to a great 2015 and here’s to Tracy, our brilliant News Editor.

Photos: 1. Tracy in a restaurant. 2. Walt Disney, CV Wood and Buzz 3. Tracy and Buzz man an exhibition booth.  4. Nick Winslow. 5. Note sent to Tracy from Buzz.

Where can you find data about the Empire State Building’s Observation Tower?

As shown in my last Blog on Ardent Leisure Group, Investor Presentations can be a great source data. The amount of statistical data found in these presentations can be mind-boggling.

For example: Are you aware that last year a total of $1,450 per square foot was generated by the Empire State Building’s Observation Tower or that this tower attracted 4.3 million visitors? If you had read the Investors Presentation of Empire State Realty Trust you would.

To illustrate what I am talking about, I have taken the liberty of copying the following data:

Empire State Realty the worlds most famous office building
Note that Empire State Realty Trust is “focused on a modern guest experience” and that “regular upgrades and new enhancements (are) planned.”

Empire State Realty stable revenue source

Or, the “Observatory has been a Stable and Growing Source of Revenue” as shown below:

Empire State Realty stable revenue source graph

Or,

Empire State Realty repositioning

If I have convinced just a handful of you that Investor Presentations are full of great data then this Blog has served its purpose.

Thanks for reading …

’tis the Off-Season for Holiday World’s Leah Koch

eah Koch holiday world with clock

Halloween is officially over, therefore ’tis the season!

Of course, when I say, “’Tis the season, I mean for the annoying, borderline-hurtful question we at seasonal facilities get: “What do you do when the park is closed?

Then while you formulate your response, they start hypothesizing: “Do you just take a vacation for a couple months and show up right before you open again?”

For me, the sarcastic reaction in my head immediately starts on something like this: “That’s correct. There’s nothing we have to do in the off-season. We literally just sit around waiting for the season to begin again.”

But I don’t say that.holiday world and splashin safari  logo 250

First I take a deep breath, then my real answer formulates—generally something along the lines of: “Oh we have a lot to do. Before we were even done with the 2014 season, we were planning for 2015. Now it’s just time to implement any changes.” Nine times out of ten, that response goes through slightly gritted—but smiling—teeth.

Realistically, it’s time for me to start thinking about it from a different point of view. If people think we have no work to do, then we’ve done our job well.

Because making sure our guests have a wonderful time can be rather simple: just be sure they can’t see how much has to be done ahead of time to create their carefree day. (We on the inside know better, though, don’t we?)

I’ve worked in more than five departments at Holiday World (the blessing and curse of being family at a family-owned park), and I’ve watched guests’ faces light up when our Hosts and Hostesses show that they love their jobs. Overall, I think the hardest challenge of making it look easy (and answering that pesky question) was around this time last year.

We had Thunderbird coming, and I was spending days at a time researching Thanksgiving’s origins in hopes of finding a name half as good as The Voyage … to no avail. (Believe it or not, Thanksgiving as a holiday does not lend itself easily to a series of interesting ride names.) When people would ask what I was doing, I could share nothing. I’m pretty sure a lot of people thought I wasn’t doing anything. Or that I was really inefficient working on the few projects I could talk about freely.

Meanwhile, we were hard at work within our “cone of silence.” Once we had a name, we developed the overall feel of the ride and worked with PGAV on how to theme the station. We had a very contentious (for us) debate about track colors, and then train colors.

Every decision received a lot of thought and discussion—especially the train colors. We asked to see the train rendered about six different ways. And when people asked what we were doing at Holiday World, we all would sputter off something vague about planning, marketing, or training.

Vague on the outside, but dying on the inside for everyone to know how incredible Thunderbird was going to be.

It’s all becoming real now, and I’m growing more and more excited. The track is going up quickly (75 percent is up at last report) and it looks beautiful.

Leah and Lori Koch, holiday world try out the Thunderbird train

My family and a few members of the Holiday World team got to go see the train last week, and we’re very proud that we get to reveal a car next week in Orlando.

Are you planning to attend IAAPA’s Expo next week? Please drop by B&M’s booth, number 4815, on Tuesday at 4pm ET to say hello and see Thunderbird’s colorful wings. We’ll save you a seat.

Images and video kind courtesy Holiday World
1. Leah Koch standing next to Santa’s countdown clock – it counts the days and months of the year. The hands are currently at this year’s closing day, October 26.
2. Animation of the Thunderbird train.
3. Leah and her mom, Lori Koch, trying out the Thunderbird train last week in Cincinnati.

Exhibit Design and Compelling Points of Entry

space shuttle at kennedy space centre visitor complexWhen I read a really good book, the story hooks me in the first few sentences. But what got me to pick up the book and open it in the first place? Maybe it was the cover design, the review I heard on NPR, the reputation of the author, or all of the above.

Unless one of those things, or all of them in concert, compelled me to notice and invest a few precious seconds, the most brilliant writing in the history of humankind could have been lost on me. The pages of the book could have revealed the mysteries of life, the path to infinite riches, nirvana, or even how to operate Windows 8, but it wouldn’t have mattered if I didn’t take the first step.

It seems like things used to be different. You remember young Abe Lincoln—walked mileslincoln by rockwell
to borrow a book, any book, with a plain black binding. He experienced enough backbreaking labor as a child to be motivated to seek knowledge and a better life. You could call that personal relevance.

Back when I walked to school in the snow, seekers of knowledge—students, museum visitors—worshipped at the altar of keepers of knowledge—teachers, professors, curators, who projected a take-it-or-leave-it attitude. “If they aren’t willing to hang on my every word, then they deserve the dismal fate that awaits them.” But nowadays, knowledge is everywhere, on my phone, my computer, my TV. And it seems like the tables are turned. Keepers of knowledge have been forced to compete for bandwidth. It turns out the keepers actually want people to take an interest in the subject they care about, even if they are motivated by self-preservation. Whatever works, right?

So for me, and perhaps others that curate, plan, design, and otherwise contribute to exhibits, programs, and the whole the museum experience, it helps to remember that I want people to leave the museum with a bit of knowledge, a spark, a light bulb, or heaven forbid “inspired.” But they can’t leave the museum—inspired or not—unless we entice them to enter the museum, and once inside, continue to emotionally and intellectually enter the multiple treasure troves of stories about science, history, art, etc. of. It reminds me of the food court at my shopping mall, where they keep offering samples and saying “taste me.”

And that’s where compelling points of entry come in. They may be visual, interactive, shocking, shiny, mysterious, or maybe just an emotion-provoking line of text, but it somehow stirs the emotions and entices people to take the first step. From there, we have a much better chance of getting them to take the second and third steps into the mysteries of life we hope to share. And like a good book, maybe it will change the way they see the world—even motivate them to share it with a friend.

So nothing new here. Everyone already knows this stuff. I just find it helpful to remind myself of these basic principles to keep me on track developing exhibits.

Images: top Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex courtesy Kennedy Space Center. Middle, A young Abe Lincoln by Norman Rockwell.

Ardent Leisure Performance Reports for 2014

Main Event Ardent Leisure t

For you data hungry types out there, this is something for you …

If you know where to search on the web, you will be pleasantly surprised with what can be found. Since I have been providing economic and market research for several years, I know where most of the data are located.

Take for instance, the detailed statistical data that are available on Ardent Leisure Group’s website.  Two of the documents I found particularly interesting are the Main Event Investor Presentation, a May 2014 report by UBS, and Ardent Leisure Groups FY 2014 Results.

Types of data that can be found in the publically available Main Event Entertainment Presentation include Revenue and EBRITDA over the last 15 years and also Average Center Revenues Compared to Best in Class Brands.

It is that time of year again when Ardent Leisure produces its FY 2014 report, which covers each of the Groups businesses (Main Event Entertainment (fec), Health Clubs, Bowing, Theme Parks, and Marinas) separately and then compares the performance with prior years.

As in previous Blogs, I have pointed out some of the tables which particular interest to the economic consultants, developers and operators in this group.

For instance …

Ardent Leisure EBITDA 2014

Ardent Leisure Main Event EBRITDA 2014

Ardent Leisure Development Sites 2014

Ardent Leisure Theme Parks 2014

Ardent Leisure Capex 2014

Considering I supply research for consultants, developers and operators in the Leisure Time Industry, I tend to mostly be focused on a certain type of data. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, please check out Ardent Leisure Group’s website for a goldmine of information.