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.

An Immersive Tech-Tour of Europe – Physically & Virtually

My bucket list is nearly empty. Sloshing around at the bottom was the burning desire drive the exciting roads through and over the Alps made famous by the infamous ex-boys of Top Gear.

martin howeBy Martin Howe, CEO TEQ4 Limited,

So when faced with planning a trip to Paris for the 2015 Euromax conference followed immediately by Ecsite in Trento, Italy (which just happens to be located in Northern Italy, on the southern side of the Alps), the conclusion was obvious – drive there! But after a little web research it was clear there were risks. My perfect vision of my perfect bucket list item would likely be dashed following long lines of tourists, cars towing caravans, trucks and other slow moving non-petrol heads. OK, plan B, take the motorbike. 2,000 miles on a sports bike with the luggage capacity of laptop bag? Mmmm. OK, plan C, buy another bike. There, plan hatched. What has all this to do with technology, attractions and virtual reality? Read on…

Firstly the bike. Probably the most tech-laden piece of transport this side of a Space-X project, especially once I’d finished laden-ing it with the tech I needed to take to Ecsite for the Gamelab I’d been skilfully coerced into supporting.

Martin Howe Motorbike

Summary of tech outside La Philharmonie de Paris; the new €390m tech-filled concert hall

So packed up and fuelled up I set off to the wonderful La-Géode in Paris to attend the 2015 Euromax event. The first significant point to notice was that attendance was up by 50% on last year when I reported that attendance was trailing off. Well done to Laurent Dondey, directeur général of La Géode and his team, as well as Beth Nicholas of Tilted Entertainment, for organising such a cool event in such a cool venue. The uptake in attendance I put partly down to the convergence of domes from three sectors; the giant screen film world (nee IMAX), large planetariums and themed venues. All are seeking new audiences, new content and better technology. I sense the tides are turning, especially in the attraction sector where the immersive facilitation that domes provide are still yet to be fully exploited. Simply put, Domes are Virtual Reality for everyone to share. Well at least everyone in the same theater. Whereas the virtual reality that is increasingly making its way into daily news pieces, is still a solitary experience. So as VR becomes more popular, so will domes, I posit.

It’s no secret that the ever passionate Laurent, has been, and still is, seeking to find the best technology and suitable content to develop his audiences for the future.

One opportunity is to fill his dome with laser light, and the newest kids on the block are also one of the oldest! Cinemeccanica, founded in 1920, showed up with their own laser technology. They’ve developed a plug-in system comprising boxes of lasers which couple together to feed laser light, via fibre-optics, to existing cinema grade DLP (series 2) projectors. This can deliver close to 60,000 lumens, a wider color gamut, very high brightness uniformity across the screen and over 30,000 hours of use.

Cinemeccanica brought along one of their systems coupled to a Barco projector to show on the dome and it certainly demonstrated the higher light output versus the existing ‘dome insert’ digital projector. Unfortunately the side by-side test they showed didn’t quite stand out as I’m sure they would have hoped; a result probably of limited set-up time and therefore less than perfect calibration. A minor missed opportunity perhaps but this is a big market and a long road and I’m sure they’ll be around for another 95 years or more delivering lasers and whatever else comes next. As will others. Laser is here. Dim domes will become a thing of the past. Hoorah!

Just as well because one thing the VR headsets have in abundance is brightness. Just turn the brightness to full on your phone and put it up to your eyes. Bright enough isn’t it? That’s because it has to work outdoors as well. What they still lack however, is resolution. But that’s changing too. For too long we’ve had to play with Oculus’s development units, low resolution prototypes let loose into the market as, well development units. This was a wise move because clearly they’re not up to the job. But despite that, what really A M A Z E S me is the universal wow reaction when people don the headset and for the first time look down or look behind them. This extended field of view is a revelation to generations brought up on a field of view that can be obscured by a magazine held at arm’s length. Tightly packed onto my tech-tourer was Oculus’s DK2 unit and Samsung’s Gear VR; a very nearly consumer ready version that simply clips their high spec smartphone to a plastic headset with lenses that couple the screen to your eyes. It’s really rather good. As you can see below, Mark Katz of National Geographic is experiencing VR for the first time. But not with my headset, this one belonged to Robin Sip of Mirage 3D (on the left). Looks like we’ll all be carrying them around soon!

Martin Howe Ecsite Mark Katz

Mark Katz, Immersed!

So au-revoir Paris and hallo Schweiz; my stop off in the Alps was the quaint little village of Wassen in Switzerland, nestled among the best driving, and riding, roads in the world. Tomorrow was going to be a good day.

And oh-my. While I have enjoyed many a virtual reality and immersive experience in domes and wearing headsets, there is nothing quite like living it. And feeling it. The cool air, the wind and the OMG-that-was-close moment of realising that the mind can really only focus on one task at a time. Taking in the stunning view, which changes around every corner, versus making sure that you make it around every corner for the next view. One task or the other. Not both. I calculate that I negotiated over 1,000 corners that day, hundreds of which were WOW moments.

Martin Howe Motorbike Blooloop 1

8:00am start. Mountains ahead. It’s going to be a long day. One amazing day.

Martin Howe Motorbike Blooloop 2


Martin Howe Motorbike Blooloop 3

Stelvio Pass. Top Gear’s best road in the world. No it’s not, there are even better ones, just around the corner!

I’ve never been so wowed. And the thing that made it the most compelling was that I was controlling, most of the time (!), the speed of events and the intensity of the wow. Faster, faster, run out of breath, slow down take and in the breath-taking view. All day long. You can probably tell I had a good time. Bucket list done.

So, next stop Ecsite at Muse in Trento.

Martin Howe Ecsite Muse

Muse. A beautiful science museum in a beautiful location.

And I wish, like last year, I could report on the conference and the sessions. But due to the sheer popularity of the VR tech that I’d brought along, I was tethered to the GameLab, busy servicing the lines of people eager to experience VR for the first time!

Firstly a little about the Gamelab. This was a hands-on space to experience examples of games developed, or being developed for science centers. Malvina Artheau, head of the digital department at Science Animation Midi-Pyrénées in Toulouse did a super job of wrangling a disparate and very enthusiastic group of volunteers to bring along their wares including Carrefour Numérique and Universcience Paris, the Science Museum London, Le Casemate Grenoble and HKD based in Margate. There was a wide range of activities to engage with, both digital and physical, exploring such topics as how can a board game be used to talk about evolution? Is a card game a good way to understand how html language works? Is the LivingLab approach easier to engage with once having used a multi-touch video game explaining it? And even exploring how to co-create games with visitors and Students?

Martin Howe Ecsite GameLab

Most of the GameLab team – hard at work, again. The others went for a wild night out!

But by far the most popular were the two VR headsets. We ended up taking it in turns to manage the participants, then eventually the participants managed it themselves, handing the headsets to the next in line and showing them how to operate it and recommending what to watch.

Martin Howe Ecsite VR

Another immersed couple. Oblivious to the group talking about them!

And without exception, “wow”. Everyone. Within 10 to 15 seconds. I could have charged. I should have charged (it would have covered the eye-watering speeding fine in Switzerland). I was particularly surprised by how long people wanted to be immersed. 5 minutes, 10, 15, more! Yes, even knowing there was a queue of people waiting, many would stay immersed in their own world completely oblivious to the world around them and moving from one experience to the next. This isolation is the Achilles heel of VR headsets.
This VR thing is going to catch on though. There’s a lot of headroom in terms of developing the technology and the content, and there are a lot of big players putting big money into it.

I suspect though that once the experienced of being immersed in the headset, with its 360 x 360 field of view, has made it into the mainstream, then that element of the experience will wane. From then on content will need to amaze all by itself. But what this conference showed me was just how few people have experienced immersion like this, and how intense and how positive the reaction was, by everyone. This points strongly to a very immersive future of isolated experiences like these headsets and group experiences such as domes and other very immersive theaters. Which is good news, all around (pun very definitely intended.)

Next we need to develop a way of recreating that motorcycle ride through the Alps, with all its thrills, sensations and the real sense of danger. Ideally without the real danger. That will take a while. In the meantime just visit and go and make your own thrills!

Martin Howe Motorbike Blooloop 4

Home sweet Dome (yes, that’s Brighton Dome in the background).

blooloopLIVE London 2015: Strategy Wheels and Sheep

gay coley kew gardens

Travel commitments prevented me from attending the first blooloopLIVE event last year, but on hearing nothing but good feedback, I was sure to keep it firmly in my diary for 2015. And I’m so glad I did.

by Martin Howemartin howe

As is regularly the case, there are always a few nuggets one takes away from an event; an idea, a new product, new contact or even a new project. And my first blooloopLIVE on May 7 was no different. In fact it was even better; everything packed into a single day and close to home; it delivered a whole load of bang for the buck.

Charlie (Charles Read, managing director of blooloop) was in a humorous mood and set the scene for an informal, yet informative day. He did suggest that it was in fact his wife Rachel Read, who does all the hard work and essentially runs the business. Which is probably true. However they run things behind the scenes though, they do a great job in front of it.


Bob Rogers‘ (BRC Imagination Arts) presentation Finding the Emotional Connection Bob rogers brc imagination artskicked off the Brands session and featured seven of his keys to a successful attraction. If Bob’s cabinet of awards is anything to go by (and it’s a big cabinet – I’ve seen it) it would be wise to use these keys as guides for your next design. I will be, thanks Bob!

Also on brands, we enjoyed presentations from Kieran Stanley (dan pearlman) and Sean Clarke (Aardman). Islands at Chester Zoo, the latest immersive zoo environment from dan pearlman, is now on my list of places to visit after it opens on the 13th July; six tropical islands re-created 25 miles from the heart of Liverpool! Now that’s a must-see. Sean meanwhile took us through the pun-tastic journey of Shaun the Sheep and the character’s brand strategy. Aardman didn’t deliberately plan to launch Shaun in Asia in the Year of the Sheep, but the coincidence didn’t pass them by. Did you know 2016 will be the Year of the Monkey, Sean? Yes, you probably do!


In the Technology session, Kati Price from the V&A asked us consider how tech can add value to storytelling. Story-teching she called it (yes she did!). In his bid to expand to share the British Museum with the world, Dr Chris Michaels must reach 7,313,970,558 people (as I type this, more by the time you read it). Currently they are reaching about 10 million. Rather than just relying on passing traffic to bump the numbers, Chris is embarking on a different, technology-led approach. Perhaps he won’t get to all 8.3bn (by 2030) but possibly a very large proportion with a little help from Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Cloudera, Domo and a few others you haven’t yet heard of!

Tony Guillan at the Tate and independent digital producer Adam Clarke showed us wizard keen i.e. adam clarkehow the Tate is embracing technology through a game/app called Tate Worlds, embracing Minecraft to recreate the environment that paintings at the Tate portray. I already have see a few opportunities where this idea could be used; to engage young people while they are in the venue and as a form of outreach and ongoing relationship with the museum.

The final technology presentation, from Colette Hiller at Sing London, highlighted the Talking Statues project being piloted in London and Manchester. It’s a great way to add a form of interactivity to existing art and I can imagine further applications will spawn out of these. Next stop for Colette and her talking statues, Chicago!


Who better to put on after lunch than a comedian? David Schneider (Guardian columnist and broadcaster and expert Tweeter) kept us all alert in the People session by regaling us with stories and fun examples of how to tweet, and not to tweet, to support and develop your brand. His best advice of the day? Get him to do it for you. I probably will, one day. He’s with that lot at

Then on to the serious stuff of HR. Tea Colaianni from Merlin Entertainments walked us through ‘The Merlin Way’; a comprehensive staff engagement programme. What it proved to me is that fun is serious business. But any business that has grown as fast as Merlin, which is now in the FTSE 100 with over 22,000 people, needs a programme to keep everyone ‘on message’ and on plan. Merlin’s own survey says 95% of them enjoy working for the company. That’s a lot of happy employees.

Jamie Thomson and Drew Stevens-King from Butlin’s shared with us the cultural small boy and girl at butlins 1970sjourney and the history of the holiday park operator since it was founded by Billy Butlin back in 1936. It was like a trek back in time through the eyes of working class Britain. After a lot of hard work and a £300 million investment in 2000, the team (and they clearly are a team) have grown to 5,500 strong, serving 1.5 millions guests a year. There’s clearly a lot of pride and passion at Butlin’s.

It must be contagious as I remember being caught up in that same passion back in the ’70’s when I was proudly awarded the grand title of Mr Butlin’s (that’s me on the left, embarking on my own cultural journey!).


I’m not quite sure why natural history photographer, filmmaker, diver and author Doug Allan’s presentation was included as part of the session on Strategy, but it was interesting to hear, and see the lengths he has gone to, to capture stunning images and footage of wildlife, mostly at the coldest parts of our planet.

Gay Coley from Kew Gardens talked about passion, and with passion, about her career at the Eden Project and at Kew. You may have heard the saying ‘if you want something done, give it to a busy person’. Well I imagine Gay is one of those busy people that just gets things done.

Last and, certainly by no means least, we were treated to an energetic presentation by Juliana Delaney chief executive of the Continuum Group. Her recommendation on juliana delaney ceo continuumstrategy; live it! Either spend your time writing a business plan, or spend the time delivering it. She did have a Strategy Wheel that she shared with us. From where I was sitting it looked much like Merlin’s and Butlin’s, but that’s no great surprise. With a staff of hundreds, thousands or tens of thousands, it’s important to concisely articulate your values and expected behaviours across all team members.

Which left us with Charlie to sum up. “Off to the bar”, he cried. Great tactics Charlie, great tactics. But what about strategy? Off to Hong Kong next month then back here again next year. That’s a great plan Charlie (and Rachel). See you then!

Martin Howe is CEO of TEQ4 Ltd

Hong Kong Disneyland: Tracy Sheds Some Light

paint the night hong kong disneyland artwork

“Where can I find financial information on Hong Kong Disneyland?” was a question recently asked in Blooloop’s LinkedIn Group and since I did something I typically don’t do — I answered this question privately — I figured that it would only be fair if I shared my answer with the rest of you.

Familiarizing yourself with Blooloop’s Park Ownership data is a great place to begin (and an updated version is to be released shortly – watch this space!). In this instance, as in many others, knowing the park ownership is key to finding the answer to your question. In this particular case, knowing that the Hong Kong Government (aka Hong Kong Special Administrative Region) is one of the owners of Hong Kong Disneyland was the key to finding the answer.

Locating the website for the Legislative Office of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China (legco) was like striking gold for me, as I will illustrate below:

Once there, you will find the latest three papers that were published in conjunction with he 16 February 2015 meeting:

• Administration’s paper on update on Hong Kong Disneyland;

• Paper on Hong Kong Disneyland prepared by the Legislative Council Secretariat (background brief); and

• Paper on update on Hong Kong Disneyland provided by the Hong Kong Disneyland Management Limited (power-point presentation material).

While all the papers have great data, it is the initial one that provides detail of the performance for fiscal year 2014 and this is the one I highlighted in my response to the question asked. As promised, I am showing you some of the great data here:

key revenue hong kong disneyland

year on year key revenue hong kong disneyland

origin of hong kong disneyland visitors

When searching this site, you will find data that takes you back to year 1999 and I have listed some of these papers below.

• Environmental Impact Assessment for the Development of Hong Kong Disneyland;

• Financing and Financial Benefits of Hong Kong Disneyland;

• Hong Kong Disneyland Third Party Investors; and

• Hong Kong Disneyland: Paris / HK Comparisons

It is the last paper that I find extremely interesting and again I will take this opportunity to show you a few of the items found here:

hong kong disneyland data

While I got carried away with the data per usual, my initial purpose was to show you why Blooloop’s Theme Park Ownership document is significant.  If I hadn’t known that the Hong Kong Government was one of the owners of the park, I wouldn’t have known where to begin finding the answer to the original question, “Where can I find financial data about Hong Kong Disneyland?”

Images & video copyright Disney

Come to Wuyishan and Extend your Life!

Ms Guo, President Wuyishan Culture & Tourism Investment Group, says that she feels lucky to have been born and live in such a beautiful place as Wuyishan with its clear waters, beautiful countryside, tea and relaxed way of life.

“Come to Wuyishan and extend your life,” Ms Guo told us when Blooloop visited Wuyishan’s latest attraction, the multimedia spectacular, “Fountain of Dreams” from ECA2 (see full article and press release).

countryside in wuyishan china

We thought our readers might like to know more about the plans for Wuyishan.

Ms Guo and Mr Zhong, General Manager Wuyishan Clearwater Festival Tourism Cultural Ltd Co, are heading up the development of Wuyishan from a small (250,000 population) town in Fujian province with a UNESCO World Heritage site on its doorstep to a fully-Mr Zhong General Manager Wuyishan Clearwater Festival Tourism Cultural Ltd Co fledged world class holiday destination. Over a traditional tea ceremony they explained the plans for the region.

The development strategy for the area is focussed on enhancing the existing local areas of interest as well as introducing world class attractions such as the Fountain of Dreams show, all with a view to preserving the Ms Guo President Wuyishan Culture and Tourism Investment Group environment and the pace of life.

The local Wuyi Mountain scenic area park is an established draw for tourists. With stunning limestone rocks worn smooth and etched by waterfalls and a nine bend river, the area has many beautiful walks and areas of historic significance as well as a bamboo raft ride.

In 2010 the Impressions of Dahongpao show by Chinese movie director Zhang Yimu was introduced to encourage guests to stay overnight for one or two nights. In 2014 the Impressions show welcomed 530,000 people generating tax revenues of 8 million RMB.


Scheduled for completion on June 30th is a rail fast link to Fuzhou, joining Wuyshan to China’s high speed rail network. Journey times to Beijing will be reduced to seven hours and Shanghai to 3 hours 20 minutes. There will be a potential 40,000 train passengers a day with access to Wuyishan at this point of which it is estimated that 10% may stop off in Wuyishan.

Figures from the Wuyishan Tourism Culture Group record tourist numbers for 2013 at 7.3 million. This rose to 9.3 million in 2014 as a result of marketing efforts and the rapid increase in the numbers of car owners in China. In addition the Group ran a promotion for 1RMB entry to the national park during a Chinese autumn festival to test how the area coped with being at full capacity.

There are eight attractions to be included in the next phase of Wuyishan’s development:

Fountain of Dreams

WUY_BestOf-15The Fountain of Dreams multimedia spectacular from ECA2 opened on April 10th. The impact of the show is expected to be to increase the length of stay of visitors and the show is aimed at a family audience.

Flower World

lotus blossom flower park wuyishan

WuFu is a local town which has around 7,000 hectares of lotus flowers – 350 species – and 1,000 hectares of roses. Accommodation and restaurants and infrastructure are being built around the town.

Tianhong Polar Aquarium Park

Tianhong Polar Ocean Park 1200

A large aquarium is being built by a private developer (Tainhong Touristic Projects Investment Ltd Co) across the road from Fountain of Dreams. It is expected to open in summer 2015.

Historic Attraction

An attraction is under development to celebrate the area’s involvement in the roots of the cultural revolution.

Wuyi Palace – Song Dynasty Street

A street with architecture reflecting that of the Song Dynasty is under development at Wuyi Palace.


A camping area is under development.


XiaMei wuyishan china

XiaMei is a historic tea town with architecture from the Song dynasty will feature in the group of attractions presented as things to do in Wuyishan to tour operators.


An attraction recreating the home of local poet Zhuxi is under development. Phase one of this is already completed.

For more information about Fountain of Dreams please see article and press release.

Further pictures from Mr Zhong, General Manager Wuyishan Clearwater Festival Tourism Cultural Ltd Co can be seen in this gallery.


Disney’s Citizenship Performance: Live Healthier

Jiminy Cricket

Jiminy Cricket summed up the principle of corporate and social responsibility rather snappily – “always let your conscience be your guide.” All very well in theory, of course, but as Pinnochio found to his cost, not so easy in practice.

So, are Pinnochio’s creators doing any better?

Disney’s Citizenship 2014 Performance Summary report certainly seems to suggest so. Like all big companies, Disney has a CSR programme governing their own conduct, “Act Responsibly” (which covers all the usual stuff about Ethics, the Environment and Civic Engagement), but what’s different about these initiatives is that the company is looking beyond itself and considering ways in which it can use the power of its brand to constructively influence its vast network of fans.

Disney Citizenship Framnework

Under the banner “Inspire Others” Disney is targeting 4 key areas where it believes, not unreasonably, that it is in a position to make a real difference to the happiness and well-being of children and their families: 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.” I’ll be looking at their vision, targets and performance in a series of four blogs 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.

Disney CSR Inspire Others

Disney’s 2014 Citizenship Performance Summary: Live Healthier

Disney CSR Inspire Others Live Healthier

This section of the report is introduced thus: “At Disney, we are committed to creating healthier generations, and we believe that inspiring healthier lifestyles today will create a brighter tomorrow.”

There is no doubt that the spiralling problem of childhood obesity needs to be tackled by a heavyweight. It is a priority of the World Health Organisation with reports suggesting that 32% of US children are now classed as obese or overweight. If they remain so into adulthood, they are at risk of associated health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. The problem is one of the priorities of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and figures bandied around suggest that the medical care in America alone is costing an estimated $147 billion.

With Disney-branded foods filling supermarket shelves the company is perfectly placed to confront the problem head-on and arguably has a duty to do so.

A recent report on childhood obesity in medical journal, The Lancet, is very damning of the way the food industry targets children: “The food and beverage industries as a whole have a financial investment in creating overweight ..[children]. With about 50 million school-age children in the USA, the combined value of their excess food consumption each year approaches $20 billion.”

It’s hard enough to steer children towards healthy choices without the ever-present white noise of temptingly packaged carb and sugar-laden rubbish. So, in my book, if a Disney-branded item also happens to be a healthy item that doesn’t just help the child, it helps the parent, too. I find it reassuring that they are now aiming “to prioritize and promote wholesome foods such as fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grain, and lean proteins that contribute to a healthful diet”. In 2006, they set a long-term target to ensure that 85% of Disney-licensed foods met Nutrition Guidelines and support children’s health. According to the report, “In 2014, 71% of globally licensed wholesale food sales consisted of everyday foods that meet our global Nutrition Guidelines; we remain on track to meet the 2020 target of 85%.” Why not 100%? They say the remaining 15% allows for celebration items such as birthday cakes and seasonal treats. I’m prepared to give them that. If treat items really are only consumed as treats and as part of a healthy diet, that’s fine. Who wants a broccoli birthday cake?

Already well-documented is their initiative, announced in 2012 and hailed by Michelle Obama as a game-changer, to allow only food-and-drink advertisers on its network that meet federally approved nutrition standards. Branded ‘The Magic Of Healthy living’, it’s a strong stance for a commercial company to take, even if you argue that with a reach of 100m homes, it’s more likely to be the advertisers who lose sleep over it. The fact is, that when you’re the world’s largest media and entertainment company, you make the rules. And, if you make the right rules then you not only improve your own behaviours, you give others no choice but to improve their behaviours, too.

The report also highlights other Disney initiatives to spread the message of healthy-eating such as the Mickey Check and the TRYit campaign.

Disney Live Healthy

Introduced in 2012, the Mickey Check is a tool that makes it easier to identify nutritious choices in stores, online, and while on holiday at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. To qualify for the Mickey Check, foods must meet Disney Nutrition Guidelines developed by health experts and align to federal dietary guideline recommendations.

The TRYit campaign uses on-air content, digital tools and local events to encourage children and their families to try nutritious foods, exercise and generally improve their health. Last year it reached 100m homes and the report states that “75% of surveyed kids reporting willingness to make changes in health-related habits.” The TRYathlon road tour reached 500,000 people.

‘Live Healthier’ is not just about diet. The report also references the company’s creation of play spaces to encourage children to get outside: “Since 2012, we have helped support the creation of 34 new playgrounds and 18 Imagination Playgrounds, for a total of 52 play spaces.” They have already exceeded their target of 50 play spaces by 2016.

All in all, I’m heartened by this section of the report. It will be interesting to see how their lead will affect the entertainment industry, the food industry and beyond. A few ripples from Disney can bring about a sea change.

Images: Disney and Jiminy Cricket –

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.