Rachel is a Director of Blooloop. She has an engineering degree and is a Chartered Accountant with over 20 year’s industry experience. She writes about the attractions industry from a business perspective.
Rakuten, the Japanese B2B2C internet marketplace, aims to realise ambitions to be “the number one internet services company in the world" with an interesting globalisation strategy. As well as a series of bold ‘internet shopping’ acquisitions, the company has instigated compulsory ‘Englishnization’ and a DIY clean desk policy to prepare for taking on Amazon.
Rakuten chairman, CEO and founder Hiroshi Mikitani requires all employees to be fluent in English and gave them just three months to get up to scratch! All meetings and internal communications are now to be conducted entirely in English to ensure that the internet giant can operate as a truly global group.
The plan is known as ‘Englishnization’ or ‘disgalapagosisation’ [dis-Galapogos-isation] which reflects Mikitani’s view that Japan needs to be less isolationist and communicate better with the rest of the world to compete globally. Rakuten laid on language lessons for staff, but those unable to get to a suitable level of proficiency risked losing their jobs.
Rakuten is still relatively unknown outside of Japan, deliberately keeping a low profile until ready to take on competitors in the global market in 2012. The company, founded 15 years ago with just 13 clients, now has annual revenues of $4 billion.
For those interested in learning more there is an excellent interview with Mikitani on Wired which looks at his background and plan for world domination. Some key elements below:
Another initiative from Mikitani is to do without office cleaners; all employees are responsible for cleaning their own work spaces on Monday mornings to "to bring us back to basics".
In addition to insisting that all staff become fluent in English and clean their own desks, Mikitani instigated a series of acquisitions of internet retailers which has catapulted Rakuten into 27 countries:
America’s Buy.com – $250 million
France’s PriceMinister – €200 million
UK’s Play.com – £25 million
Canada’s Kobo – $315 million
… as well as a series of other investments:
$100 million investment in Pinterest
$10 million funding round in AhaLife
A minority investment in Russia’s leading etailer, OZON
From the moment we walked through the entrance to the hotel, guarded by a giant “fire breathing” dragon, my little boy was in LEGO heaven and any disappointment that the hotel was not actually made of LEGO bricks was quickly forgotten.
The whole hotel is themed with LEGO, from the reception desk with 6,000 minifigures (and a large moving magnifying glass to view them), to the walls, carpets and rooms.
There is LEGO everywhere: over 15 million LEGO bricks were used to create the hotel’s 1,600 models. The three floors of the hotel each have an iconic LEGO theme, Pirates, Kingdom or Adventure and each of the 150 themed bedrooms has hand-made LEGO models of parrots, monkeys, spiders and ladybirds.
The rooms are fantastic – cool theming but also really well thought out. Ours had a Pirate theme – skulls, buried treasure and cutlasses. The adult’s area is separated from the kids’ bunk beds so that bedtime can (theoretically) be enforced, and each area has its own TV. A nice touch is a room-based game where the solution is the combination for a safe containing LEGO goodies. There is even a big box of LEGO – it was hard to persuade our son to leave the bedroom.
In the restaurant a lot of planning has gone into creating an area where kids can play safely while their parents relax. The centrepiece is a huge castle play structure with other areas to play and build LEGO with new friends. All the kids seemed to be having a blast and getting on together.
The adjacent Skyline bar area had LEGO skyscrapers – complete with the odd bathing stormtrooper- set against a setting sun. The designers have done an excellent job incorporating the quirky humour of recent LEGO brands into the designs. The children’s entertainment, helpful staff and design of the space together with lifts that only work with room keys, means that parents can enjoy a pre-dinner drink and grown up snacks whilst the kids are having a great time in a safe environment.
The restaurant is bright and cheery with loads more funny LEGO figures to look at, and holes in the partitions to be climbed through. Dinner is buffet style, another huge relief for parents of fussy eaters. The kids’ food is at a low level with child-proof bowls and plates so little ones can help themselves. The food is good too – a nice selection, fresh and good quality, healthy options and an ice cream maker and LEGO shaped chips. Breakfast was also wonderful with gorgeous waffles.
Tables have paper tablecloths with crayons provided. The whole thing is just fun and relaxed and about having a good time as a family. No-one was bored and fidgety, and even if they did get fed up there was no problem with leaving the table, climbing through a wall or helping themselves to another bowl of cheesy pasta. There also were plenty of meet and greet LEGO characters for photo opportunities.
The only regret I have is that we were having such a good time we didn’t get to have a movie and popcorn back in the room.
I do have two older daughters (12 and 14) who although they have enjoyed playing with LEGO did wonder whether they’d like the weekend. In fact, they had a ball largely thanks to the lovely Karen (Customer Service) who was just brilliant at talking to them and making the whole experience fun.
The next day we hit the park. My son got his driving licence which he took for show-and-tell on Monday and we went on Atlantis (the park’s underwater aquarium experience/ride) twice –wide eyed amazement that we were under water. Staying in the hotel meant that we got in an hour early and being able to beat the queues for our favourite rides was much appreciated.
We had an illustration of why LEGOLAND is just so great at providing a perfect environment for younger children. We were standing in a (small) queue for a ride and my son was playing at being Ben 10 watched by another boy of a similar age. Suddenly my son slapped his wrist, saying “It’s time to go Ultimate!” with an appropriately grave countenance. The other little boy looked really impressed. “Uh, oh,” he said, realising the seriousness of the situation. This is a place where boys can be boys and LEGOLAND understand. A refreshing change from hanging around with a bored small boy while my “cool” daughters queue for some mega coaster whilst listening to hip hop on their ipods. It was wonderful to be in a place just for pre-teens.
For the older kids, however, the dragon coaster was thrilling enough to be fun and we all absolutely loved the Star Wars film. Even in 2D LEGO have taken a brick from Pixar’s model and made family films with enough humour in to appeal to adults. We enjoy the LEGO Wii games at home for their humour as much as the hours of gaming fun. It’s a great move for LEGO to branch out into movies and ultimately create their own IP, for instance with Clutch Powers, star of LEGO’s first feature length character film. There is more of a link to the video games in LEGOLAND Billund, with a Wii area and I will be interested to see if this will be extended to the other parks as it’s definitely an element of the brand that our kids enjoy.
In an interview with Blooloop last year, LEGOLAND MD John Jakobsen explained that the appeal of LEGOLAND is to provide a “completely differentiated experience based on interactivity and engagement by all family members”. With this in mind, we battled as a family on the firetrucks, a race to put out a fire and get your fire engine back first. Like many families, the inter-family competition is fierce and we struggle to play games harmoniously: there was much taunting and jeering as the girls romped home to an easy victory.
In the shops the Star Wars range was a hit. Again the customer service is top notch. A very helpful girl at the Castle shop rang around to try to help me in my ultimately hopeless quest to get a Bellatrix minifigure.
With prices starting from £247 in low season to £337 in high season for a themed family room (2 adults / 2 children), including breakfast and park tickets for two days, this isn’t a cheap night away.
However, I would say that our trip was one of the best 24 hours we’ve had as a family with something for everyone. My little boy now wants to live at the LEGOLAND hotel and even the girls want to work at LEGOLAND when they grow up.
LEGOLAND position themselves firmly in the pre teen market, successfully leveraging the LEGO brand to promote an experience rich in imaginative play and family participation. John Jakobsen, MD LEGOLAND Parks, describes their deceptively simple strategy: “we specialise in knowing exactly how we can make children happy”.
Owned by Merlin Entertainments the park, set in Winter Haven Florida on the site of Cypress Gardens, marks another step in Merlin’s aggressive growth strategy in the US. “Our ambitions for this marketplace are tremendous,”* said Nick Varney, Merlin’s CEO pictured below at LEGOLAND Florida beside the Coastersaurus, the only wooden coaster in LEGOLAND Florida .
In my opinion it was a brilliant piece of film making, and the plot and characters, though perhaps perfunctory, were always going to be secondary to the astonishing world of Pandora. It is the unique visuals and of course the promise of sequels to come that will propel the franchise to further continued success and with Disney sprinkling their magic the theme park rides and experience will undoubtedly be ground breaking. We spoke to some leading theme park creatives to see what they thought…
Dave Cobb, Sr. Creative Director at Thinkwell Design & Production:
"At first glance, it may look like an odd fit to put AVATAR into Disney’s Animal Kingdom park – “isn’t that a sci-fi movie?” seems to be a common question. However, AK was always intended to have a section with mythical animals: "Beastly Kingdom" was an abandoned land concept with unicorns and dragons. Replace that with Pandora’s creatures and glowing bioluminescent environments, and you have some truly amazing creative potential. AVATAR was both a metaphor for ecology and an eye-popping, cutting-edge spectacle — both of which would fit perfectly in Animal Kingdom. I can’t wait to fly on an Ikran amongst the floating mountains!"
Brent Young, Owner CCO Super 78:
“This development is proof positive that the theme park arms race is on and Disney’s going head-to-head with Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter. There’s no other reason for Disney to shoehorn an Avatar attraction into a park they’ve spent 14 years positioning as an animal park, because the minute the new experience opens, it becomes the Avatar theme park, upstaging the Animal Kingdom brand. The better play would be to leverage the new Marvel relationship and blend it with Avatar to create a new park that’s more appropriate for the more adult themes those brands represent – Disney’s Sci-Fi Kingdom.”
Norm Elder, President/CEO at Norman J.T. Elder & Associates, Inc.:
"Avatar is a terrific content "fit" for Disney on many levels. First, it is certainly the most vivid and convincing creation of a fantasy world ever seen in the history of motion pictures. It immerses you in a thoroughly compelling world, imagined and crafted with a depth of detail that is amazing. And it conveys multiple profound, challenging messages via an archetypal story designed for mass appeal….for those "eight to eighty," as James Cameron said. And the Disney organization has the creative talent and financial horsepower to bring the story to life experientially and emotionally. Blending their multi-dimensional story-telling talents with those of James Cameron can only result in experiences never before presented in themed entertainment environments."
Amelia Ulmer, Business Development at Mousetrappe, Inc.:
"This is an exciting announcement for the themed entertainment industry. James Cameron pushed 3D visuals to a mind-blowing new level and Avatar has raised the audience’s expectations for in-theater immersion. Of course, we’ve all been lost in the story of a film before, but together we “went to” Pandora.
What an exciting challenge for Disney to push the boundaries of immersive storytelling and technical execution that will transport park goers into a touchable Pandora.
It is an intriguing and compelling concept to join the immersive natural environment of Disney’s Animal Kingdom with James Cameron’s otherworldly vision of nature and environment. I can’t wait to experience it."
Dave Goodman, CEO at Goodman Experiences LLC :
"I think the addition of "Avatar" to the Disney family of theme parks is a brilliant choice. With close to 3 billion dollars in revenue worldwide, the film clearly captured the imaginations of a global audience.
The race to obtain recognizable intellectual property that can propel immediate revenue growth within a larger brand like Disney, Universal, (or now SeaWorld), is getting more and more competitive.
Management seems to be searching for the "sure thing" during these challenging economic times. It seems to me that Iger and Staggs have found what most would consider a "sure thing".
That being said, the execution of such a strong property like "Avatar" is always a challenge and for some possibly a concern.
There is no doubt in my mind that the team at Walt Disney Imagineering and Entertainment will find the right methods, (attractions, live shows, atmosphere entertainment, merchandise etc), to properly showcase the essence of the film in ways that reach their Guests.
It will be interesting to see how they execute the content and even more importantly, how they tell the story itself and create a positive emotional response…one that can fit well with both Disney’s core conceit and the overall message in "Avatar".
William Gorgensen, Board Member at TEA European & Middle Eastern Division:
"There came a point after the loss of Frank Wells when the developers took over the reins of WDI and the focus shifted from innovation to acquisition. This was the period that started with non-Disney brands such as Planet Hollywood, Rain Forest Cafe, House of Blues, etc. were included into Disney locations. Some of these were successful, some not and even some of the more successful ones were not necessarily up to the design, story or level of quality that we had been told was the Disney trademark.
I see this bonding with Avatar much in the same light. I realize it was a big film in terms of technology and box office but the story was a bit mundane ( Dances with Wolves is often alluded to). Although there are two more films in the pipeline, the 3D craze is slowing tremendously and the capture method is in use more and more so, in order for this franchise to be one on which to hang a number of multimillion dollar theme parks, they have to be much better than the original. If not, the franchise will die and it might take the parks with them. This is not an IP like Indiana Jones, Star Trek or Star Wars consisting of multiple films, some good, some bad, which allow the IP to take a hit off and on and still survive. This is only one film and, in industry standards, a dated one. Personally, I would have like to have seen an innovative addition coming from the WDI brain trust rather than one where an outside idea is brought in and a Disney name is put on it but, who knows? Maybe it will work."
Al Cross, Vice President PGAV Destinations :
"Star Wars and Indiana Jones proved Disney’s ability to adapt non-Disney properties into theme park experiences. So, on the surface there’s no reason to doubt that Avatar will succeed. I can imagine a rich, wildly themed environment, and ride concepts are already jumping out of my brain. What I hope for is an approach that engages the real (earthly) animals who are the genuine heart of Animal Kingdom. And while that’s easy to say, merging a story about another planet, with its own imaginary wildlife, into the story of our planet, its wildlife and its future … and still meet the expectations of the theme park guest … well, now, that’s a tall order. It sounds like fun. I wish I could be involved."
David Willrich, Managing Director, DJ Willrich Ltd. :
I am intrigued that Disney do not feel that they have enough of their own IP to have to dive down this path. Whilst I can understand the concept of AVATAR being a good fit in Animal Kingdom, I don’t see it integrating well into the other parks around the world. Having said that, they have a great opportunity and excuse to go as high-tech as Imagineering can muster up the budget for!
In my view the all time best Theme Park attraction is Spider Man, in Universal’s Island of Adventure and I have to confess that I was disappointed to not have replaced this with Harry Potter in the same park. With AVATAR, Disney certainly have a theme that can both take on and deliver the worlds best Theme Park attraction………
Image:WALT DISNEY PARKS AND RESORTS WORLDWIDE CAMERON & IGER Groundbreaking filmmaker James Cameron and Bob Iger, CEO of The Walt Disney Company, share their collaborative vision for bringing the incredible world of AVATAR to life in Disney parks.(PRNewsFoto/Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Worldwide, Scott Brinegar) BURBANK, CA UNITED STATES
Non-gaming revenues increased by 40% from S$94m to S$132m. The S$6.6bn resort which began a phased opening in January 2010 and so the quarter ended 30 June 2011 is the first that can be directly compared to prior years full operational trading. Daily average visitor numbers were 10,300 with an average spend of S$83 per head. Occupancy at Singapore Integrated Resorts’ hotels for the quarter was 88% with an average rate per room of S$317.
Genting suffered significant losses this quarter in their gaming business which resulted in an overall decline in revenues of 17% from S$874m to S$727m.
The company plans significant new attractions in the near future to continue to develop the resort, as set out in the following comments from the quarterly financial announcement:
“We are particularly excited about the jump in volume and earnings from the non gaming business in the second quarter of 2011; with Universal Studios Singapore drawing 40% more visitors compared to the preceding quarter. The park’s growth is most encouraging not only from a short term perspective, but more importantly it continues to establish the Singapore IR as the premier resort destination for the affluent in Asia. We continue to build on the Singapore IR’s appeal with new attractions. The Maritime Experiential Museum will open in October 2011, followed by the world-wide debut of Transformers – a major blockbuster attraction in USS in December 2011.
Also at the end of this year, we will add more luxury rooms at our high end West Zone. There will be larger suites and magnificent luxurious villas. Each of these villas have its own swimming pool, access to a beautifully landscaped environment and views of the spectacular sun set over the Straits. These accommodations, when fully completed by first quarter of 2012, will be highly complementary to our vision to be the playground for the rich and famous in Asia.”
Below is a graph showing the comparison between Q1 2010 and Q1 2011, with a “bridge” between the two. Unfavourable reductions in net sales across the business are partly offset by cost savings. .
In an update describing the recent situation OLC noted that:
Guest numbers had recovered to prior year levels by July due to solid admissions of guests from metropolitan areas, recovery in the guest numbers from the regions and guest recognition of new products such as “Fantasmic!”
Net sales per guest had recovered by May
Hotel occupancy rates have improved with the summer holidays
Cost efficiency measures will continue
Efforts to attract more guests will include rolling out 10th Anniversary events at Tokyo DisneySea from September together with various marketing initiatives
¥3 billion has been invested in private generators which will come online in late August to combat effects of government’s power saving measures
¥2.1 billion to be posted as an extraordinary loss in Q2 relating to the cancellation of "ZED" performances at the Cirque du Soleil Theatre Tokyo from 31 December 2011
Aside from making enough money to re-invest and a commitment to staff welfare and customer service, Tivoli are keen to develop a year-round business less at risk from the weather and expand into other areas of the leisure industry both within AND outside the park.
Key projects include:
Hans Christian Andersen Castle – Tivoli are looking to maximise the use of the castle having already obtained a casino licence in 2010 and hosting a Titanic exhibition in 2011. The annual report says, “The casino licence gave rise to developing a new concept for the entire Castle of which the casino will form part. It is the intention to renovate and reopen the Castle with the casino at the end of 2012…Obviously, the plans include adjoining restaurants etc, but it will also be natural to consider whether other leisure activities would fit the new concept for the Castle.”
Increase attendance by:
entertainment and theme days or offers targeting special groups
increased package sales and the new pricing structure implemented in 2011 which are directed at families and aim to fill idle capacity
Combat the weather – Cultural visitors to the daily shows at the Glass and Concert Halls also typically eat at the Tivoli’s restaurant and “generally form a good basis of the daily revenue”. A classical music programme, the Tivoli Festival, will be launched to develop this area of the business.
Increase the offering for cruise ship visitors – In 2010 Disney Cruise Line ships moored Copenhagen for the first time and this is a market segment that is growing. “It is the intention that Tivoli will, in cooperation with a number of business partners, launch packages offering to take care of the visitors from they leave the ship until they re-embark in the evening.”
Breaking out of the park - Tivoli own the Danish Wagamama franchise, and are looking to develop it: “The possibility of opening one or several restaurants outside Tivoli is also being explored.”
LEGOLAND Florida, set in Winter Haven Florida on the site of Cypress Gardens will be the biggest LEGOLAND park so far, and promises to be “one of the most beautiful theme parks in the world” according to Adrian Jones, General Manager. In attendance at the update, representing the Florida team, were Kim Isemann (Sales and Marketing Director), Todd Andrus (Sales Manager) and Nigel McShine-Jones (Trade Sales Manager).
Jakobsen was keen to emphasise the lessons learned from the first foray into the US market with LEGOLAND California. That move was, said Jakobsen, like “going into the lions den”, and not a decision that had been undertaken lightly in view of the local competition. Having learned in California the importace of sticking to core values and market in order to differentiate the LEGO experience, Jakobsen said, “Our success formula is now very clear. We are a family park for families with young children offering an interactive experience based completely on LEGO theming. As long as we stick to that people will consider us different and we will rank as one of the things they absolutely have to do.”
With seven million visitors in 2010 across the four LEGOLAND parks in 2010 it’s clear that the focus on families with pre teen children is hitting the spot. Although the provision of theme parks in Orlando is rather good already, LEGOLAND aim to win over the families with younger children who want an experience designed just for them, and become one of the “must see” attractions on a holiday itinerary. The 150 acre site will have more than 50 rides including some “pink knuckle” coasters and a nod towards Cypress Garden’s history with a stunt water ski show.
Jakobsen then went on to set out the key elements of LEGOLAND Parks’ overall strategy:
Cash invested on a defined cycle so that each park has at least one new component a year to encourage repeat visits and keep the product fresh, eg the £8m Atlantis submarine ride at LEGOLAND Windsor (see image).
Resort development – hotels planned for Windsor (2012) and California (2013) and “aspirations” to add a hotel in Florida and at other parks
Second Gates – LEGOLAND California has a SEA LIFE centre next door as well as a waterpark
As with all Merlin’s attractions, expansion continues apace and LEGOLAND’s first theme park in Asia, LEGOLAND Malaysia, is set to open in 2012. Ambitious plans, but as Jakobsen says based around a deceptively simple strategy: “we specialise in knowing exactly how we can make children happy”.
See below for video of Adrian Jones showing us what to expect when LEGOLAND Florida opens:
Merlin was forced to abandon plans for an IPO in 2010 due to a jittery market – rethink which cost £4.9m of professional and advisory fees. The clear market leader in Europe and second only to Disney in terms of visitor admissions Merlin has an ambitious vision to become "the world-wide leader in branded, location based entertainment".
In December 2010, Blooloop asked Merlin’s MD Resort Theme Parks, Mark Fisher, what Merlin’s ultimate ambition is (see Interview with Merlin Entertainments’ Mark Fisher). Fisher says, “I’ve been asked before, “What is success for Merlin?”. The answer is, it’s not about growing and selling the company, its about one day looking at this fabulous team that is rocking around the world and knowing you’ve been part of growing that. It’s not about where we’ve been, it’s about where we’re going.”
Lower operating income at Disney Cruise Line due to increased costs associated with the launch of the new cruise ship, the Disney Dream, in January 2011 and higher fuel and other operating costs for the existing fleet, which offset higher passenger cruise days.
The earthquake and tsunami in Japan resulted in a temporary suspension of operations at Tokyo Disney Resort and therefore a loss of royalties. [Oriental Land Co Ltd full year results to 31 March 2011 came in 5% lower on operating income than the February 2011 forecast and an extraordinary loss of ¥10bn was recorded.]
The timing of the Easter holiday meant that the current quarter included one week less of the Easter break than 2010. The effect of this was wipe out a potential 2% increase in domestic attendance figures which remained flat compared to the prior period.
On the upside, Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland Resort reported higher attendance and hotel occupancy, and there was higher guest spending at Hong Kong Disneyland Resort. Also domestic performance showed a 6% rise in per capita guest spending driven by higher pricing and lower discounting.
Capex was significantly up on the previous period(Six months ended 2 April 2011: $1.5bn, Six months ended 3 April2010: $0.6bn) mainly due to the final payment for the Disney Dream. For Euro Disney there was good news: because performance objectives have been met, lenders have agreed to an increase in the capex budget. [See Euro Disney 2011 First Half Results: Revenues Up and Increased Capex]
In the May 10th Q2 earnings call Bob Iger, Disney’s President and Chief Executive Officer, said, “While the spotlights shine brightly on Shanghai this quarter, work has continued on some other important parks and resorts initiatives. Crews are putting the finishing touches on Aulani, our Resort & Spa in Hawaii, which will welcome its first guests this August. Construction also continues on the expansion of Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom in Florida, which will more than double the size of 1 of Walt Disney World’s most popular lands.
And on the other side of the globe, shipbuilders in Papenburg, Germany continue to make progress on the Disney Fantasy, the sister ship to the Disney Dream, which will begin sailing in the spring of 2012. Disney Cruise Line also announced new 2012 itineraries that will enable us to bring the Disney Cruise experience to more guests and more places and demand for our cruise product remains very high.
I’m also pleased to report the Tokyo Disney Resort is now open following closure due to the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. And following its best year ever with record attendance, Hong Kong Disneyland continues to post-strong attendance numbers this year as well. The multiyear expansion effort that will add 3 new theme lands is running ahead of schedule, and we look forward to welcoming guests to the first of these Toy Story Land later this fall.”