A study into the use of theming and design as a marketing medium to enhance the visitor experience at theme parks. RJ Cumberworth BA (Hons) Leisure Management Birmingham College of Food, Tourism & Creative Studies
Preface & Acknowledgement
The topic of theming and design at theme parks has been chosen due to a very strong interest in the global theme park industry, with possible career implications in the marketing department of a major theme park. The topic, which is very expansive, combines three core aspects of the theme park industry – the need to visit for leisure stimulation, the marketing practices and operational service characteristics and the acts of theming and design themselves.
Working at the National SeaLife Center has allowed great repose to personally relate theories of operation and marketing to the working environment, especially while simultaneously studying a leisure degree.
Academia aside, I would personally like to thank Barry Emery for his continued support throughout this study and for having faith in me when this unusual and potentially disastrous topic was proposed! Also, particular thanks to Nate Naversen, founder of the Themedattraction.com (USA) and one of the few people in this world with direct experience in the industry, who has given me a lot of ideas to work with in an area, which is very limited in theory.
In relation to the objectives of this study, listed in the methodology section, it is possible to summarize the findings briefly. The concept of theming and design has been related to leisure stimulation, play theories and service marketing and the practice analyzed thoroughly, using relevant and up to date examples.
Therefore, in summary it is possible to state that the themed entertainment industry, and the theme park industry in general terms is developing through organic growth. Much of this is down to technological innovation and advancements and indeed the talent to put such ideas into practice. Ideas are also developing in accordance to marketing practice, with new ways of ensuring customer satisfaction and enhancing the core service product that a theme park offers.
Technology and innovation is allowing the ability to construct higher, faster, longer rides and attractions but when coincided with theming, complete new environments can be produced and with the use of virtual reality, complete false environments are being created. There is a coming move away from the traditional iron ride, although they are by no means in decline, technology and VR is being further developed to create more ambitious ‘dark rides’ where story telling combined with special effects creates visitor immersion, which is also apparent in restaurants, shops and other service orientated aspects.
Thus, in reflection, the future of the industry remains to be seen; yet serious adaptations need to be considered as visitors demand meaningful and often educational entertainment, with particular consideration to the increasing gray market.
Aim & Objectives
To study the use of theming and design as a marketing medium to enhance the visitor experience at theme parks.
Ø To thoroughly analyze the theming and design concept at theme parks in order to develop an understanding of the practice.
Ø To relate the concept of theming and design to marketing theories.
Ø To analyze theme park attractions in accordance to common leisure theories.
Ø To assess the importance of theming and design at theme parks with respect to consumer behavior.
Ø To conclude with justified forecast of the future of the industry. Methodology
This project examines the growing need to improve the leisure ‘product’ at theme parks, both in the UK and overseas. As competition becomes much more extreme, the need to produce bigger, better and more spectacular attractions is becoming much more important. New technology is helping to create the framework for these new physical experiences; however, the business marketers and project designers have the important challenge of creating more than just an iron fairground ride.
“Secondary research is material that has been gathered by other people before you. It is available through a wide variety of sources such as books, academic and trade journals, company sources, newspapers and magazines.” (Research Methods, semester 1, 2000)
Secondary research is the main source of research used for this project due to the number of industry examples illustrated to define a topic, somewhat limited in business theory. A number of texts have been used, some common such as Kotler (1999) and Dibb (1994) for marketing theory, and some specialist publications such as Swarbrooke (1995) “The Development & Management of Visitor Attractions,” and Torkildsen (1992) “Leisure & Recreation Management” for business and leisure theories, respectively. Other specialist publications include souvenir texts from theme parks such as Port Aventura and Walt Disney World and respective design texts.
Secondary research is of great importance to this project as it enables the ability to set the scene through relevant examples. A number of the texts may however, now be limited through age and may give irrelevant examples, which are not up to date. The use of the Internet, leisure journals and magazines has helped to balance these issues, as they do offer the most up to date industry examples available. Apart from the general possibility of information being out of date, there is always the question of validity and reliability with secondary research, and indeed how this information was found initially. Thorough analysis is thus important to this piece so as to be unbiased in discussion (Research Methods, semester 1, 2000).
“Sometimes researchers seek to understand, rather than to explain or predict behavior. This is the case particularly when an area of enquiry is in its infancy.” (Marshall, 1997, p.46)
The topic of theming and design is very much described in the statement by Marshall (1997), above. Indeed, research for this project has enabled explanation and a degree of prediction; however the majority of the research has given scope to understand the link between leisure and marketing theories at theme parks and of course theming and design – a growing business area which is arguably still in its infancy. It is fair to say that secondary research and the data triangulation of different visual and published literature, has worked to a great advantage both in theory and industry practice: “The use of multiple methods, or triangulation, reflects an attempt to secure an in-depth understanding of the phenomenon in question.”
(Denzin & Lincoln, 1998)
“Research undertaken in the field using one or several methods to collect data. Some generic sources of collecting primary data are interviews, questionnaires, surveys, focus groups, observation and experiments.” Research Methods, semester 1, 2000)
Primary research has been of great importance to this project because of the limited information available and the general wide spread basis of information, thus making it difficult to specify in which direction to approach for first-hand experience. Questionnaires and surveys seemed unnecessary for the theming and design topic, which can be confused in many ways and indeed, is a generally unknown field of information for the general theme park visitor.
The main basis for primary research therefore was to be an interview with an industry expert. The industry however is limited and those with a good deal of experience are few and far between. As the project explains, the UK is limited in development of its theme parks at present, so America was targeted for an expert, who was found via email over the Internet.
The Themedattraction.com, an interactive website for theme park designers and enthusiasts was the means to find Mr. Nate Naversen.
An unstructured email questionnaire/interview was arranged and the outcome has proven to be extremely beneficial for this dissertation through identification of further researching opportunities and validation to theories. The unstructured approach was chosen in order to allow the interviewee to talk freely about the subject thus giving further scope for discussion. Also the interview utilized broad open-ended questions: “An open-ended question is one which does not limit the answer to a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ or a range of set alternatives. Participants can answer questions any way they like. An advantage of this kind of question is that it does not threaten to bias the findings by imposing a frame of reference; effectively limiting the way the participant may answer. The main disadvantage is that the completed forms will be difficult to analyze.” (Marshall, 1997, p.39)
This interview however was easy to analyze, as there was only one solitary set of answers due to the lack of scope for further participants. Further email correspondence with Nate, also had benefits through the snowballing effect, as new opportunities were opened as new contacts were supplied: “Snowballing is a sample compiled by starting with a small group and asking the members for referrals to others who may also be prepared to participate.”(Marshall, 1997, p.108)
A full record of the ‘interview’ can be found in the appendices of this piece, however the main outcome to this correspondence was that theming all boils down to entertainment and escapism. Primary research has allowed the most up to date and first hand knowledge to be researched, as in addition to the interview, first hand observation through industry knowledge and personal visits has also been of benefit through many of the discussed examples. Marshall (1997) states that observational methods are: “Better quality data than retrospective interview accounts, are adaptable to many research problems and can tap data which may not be available by survey methods where the participants are relatively inarticulate and not very introspective.”
(Marshall, 1997, p.49)
However, Marshall (1997) also talks of observational findings having low reliability and validity. In reflection, observations where clearly justified with business theory.
Constraints & Limitations
The main constraints and limitations to this dissertation would be the general lack of business theory in relation to the speedily developing industry of theming. The topic, which comprises of three core directives -leisure stimulation, service marketing and theming and design issues, made it very difficult to integrate the three in an academic manner. Clearly, the three directives are integrated however it was important to focus this in writing and create a justified conclusion to the research. The other main limitation was the general unhelpfulness of many venues regarding the project and the inability to find first hand help initially.
The mentioned British parks offered little or no information regarding the topic, whereas there were language constraints imposing on correspondence with other European parks. These constraints did not disrupt the flow of progress, and contacts were discovered and sufficient information was researched by various means in order to coincide with the aim and objectives of the project satisfactorily.
“The themed entertainment industry is growing as corporations all over the World seek their skills out.
.Our industry specializes in story telling.”
(Brian Edwards, President of the Themed Entertainment Association, May 2000)
Theming the Thrills
In today’s increasingly diverse market, the need for product differentiation in the leisure industry has become vital as a source of competitive advantage between different organizations. Visitor attractions, with particular emphasis on theme parks, have been paramount in the rapid increase of the tourism and leisure industries, aided by advancements in technology and increasingly sophisticated demands of the market.
The prospering success of theme parks will inevitably begin to decelerate in the coming years, with the prevailing shift in demographics heading towards an aging population in the developed World (Leisure Development lecture notes, 2000). Individuals are looking for more challenging, worthwhile and educational experience in their leisure. This poses a problem for the theme park industry, who normally cater for families and the youth market, a more sophisticated slant is required in design and marketing of their products and services to offer more than just a single tier experience.
Many theme parks and similar tourist attractions have based their cultures, theories and ideas on the brand leader of themed entertainment: Disney. However, through mass demand and industry advancements, such venues that initially based themselves on Disney’s fantasy environments, are now in fact competing with them, often posing as a threat.
The industry growth has almost reached saturation point, especially in more developed countries such as Japan and the United States, thus putting excess pressure on individual attractions to offer standards of high quality products and services to the consumer. In practice, what has been developed is a war zone with many different armies, in a battle with each other for survival and success in the market place. In this battle however, warfare is played by means of creativity, design, technology and new concepts to enthrall the consumer in the struggle for brand leadership.
This dissertation will analyze to what extent the theming, design and creativity of a theme park or indeed, an individual ride or attraction, is necessary in the eyes of managerial practice. Is theming just decorative ‘eye-candy’ (Themedattraction.com, USA Website – downloaded 28/11/00) to create the feeling of quality in the environment, or does the concept hold a much deeper social theory? Indeed, a vital question to pose is whether the consumer even notices the effects of the huge amounts of capital investment injected into a basic ‘toy’ for play, and whether the experience would be less satisfying if that investment never even took place?
Using theories of marketing management, especially in terms of service marketing and the social leisure theories of stimulation and play, this project has aimed to conclude these questions, theoretically and through primary and secondary researching, with the use of modern examples of the theme park industry. In both terms of social need and business need, the matter will provoke unbiased, analytical discussion in an exertion to develop greater understanding of themed attraction management and its related issues. The dissertation uses current examples of theme parks in the UK, Europe and the USA, and indeed, some attractions from the parks. All of the mentioned parks utilize theming for their experiences at different levels.
Chapter two introduces the works of contemporary theorists in leisure needs and stimulation. Relating the ideas of such scholars to the themed attraction industry can be linked to why theming and design has become so prominent in the attempt at consumer satisfaction. Chapter three examines marketing theory in accordance to service marketing, analyzing the themed attraction concept in business marketing terms. Chapter four then illustrates these concepts in the developed world, with the effects that ambience has on the consumer and how theming and design can be utilized and facilitated in more expansive ways, discussed here with theme park examples.
Chapter five draws all theories together and concludes the dissertation with an insight into possible future trends of themed attraction design and the changing face of the theme park.
“The attraction should be a creative blend of sights, sounds and storytelling devices used to stir the emotion and imagination of a guest. With the proper use of all these elements it is very possible to create a guest experience exciting enough to keep guests coming back time and again. And that’s what it is all about.
(Nate Naversen, “The Sixth Sense, the Story & the Cliché,” downloaded 28/11/00)
Theming the Thrills
Theme Parks & Leisure Stimulation
“Theme parks are commonly perceived as attractions where visitors can participate in a number of, often high-thrill white knuckle, rides. However, theme parks are broader than just places for thrill-ride seekers. Theme parks are specific, purpose built attractions, which generally focus on a specific theme and base a range of amusements or experiences (such as rides, shows, restaurants and bars) around this theme.”
(Tourism Trendspotter, July 1998, p.2)
This chapter discusses the characteristic of ‘play’ in concern with aspects of leisure attractions. It is possible to identify these aspects with the continued development of the theme park industry. Over the years, many contemporary theorists have discussed the meaning of play in relation to stimulation, an often-complex subject, but one, which may have links with the origins of theme parks. Theme parks are usually visited to experience a day of fun and escapism from a mundane routine. This can be defined in coordination with Podilchak (1991), who claims fun to be: “Exciting, exhilarating, unique and not everyday. Doing things on the surface, being silly, laughing. A shared experience with others who are also open, relaxed and carefree.”
(Podilchak, 1991, “The Tourist Experience”, p.157)
The general nature of theme parks tend to bring out the child in all of us, they are basically playgrounds for everyone where even adults can play with the younger generations. Theme parks need to create this fun environment to ensure that consumers are satisfied in accordance with the general statement above, however, everyone has different opinions of what satisfaction actually is, so this may be difficult, and of course, not everyone visits a theme park for the same reason. Technology is used alongside theming, branding and storytelling to differentiate these attractions so as to supply something for everybody to participate in.
As children grow up, they learn the characteristics, norms and values of life through fun, education, role models and play. Thus it could be argued that play is a necessity of humankind and an integral part of the process of growing up. This is not to say that theme parks are important to self-development but the idea of playfulness, fun and stimulation, both physical and mental, is more than equitable by every human being. Ellis (1973) argues that play is not only educational but that it represents a basic human need for stimulation. He suggests that,
“psychological well-being is dependent on human beings being able to experience periodically heightened levels of arousal, and that stimulus seeking behavior occurs largely in the sphere of play.”
(Haywood et al, 1995, p.14)
A theme park ride is an excellent example of this. A typical roller coaster ride lasts for only a matter of minutes, in which during this time, the individual experiences a heightened level of physical and mental arousal as adrenaline is released into the blood. Indeed, ride designers; park managers and marketers have started to relate the heart rate levels of an individual on a ride, to the product life cycle of that particular attraction (Leisure development lecture notes, 2000). The length of time in which the rider is stimulated may reflect the overall popularity of the attraction over time, the more exhilarating the ride, the longer its appeal.
This is problematic for theme park and ride designers who have to create experiences, which are different, and often more exhilarating or ‘daring’ than the last. If an attraction is too tame for an individual they will be bored, unsatisfied and will seek greater excitement, which may often be at competing parks. Alternatively, if the attraction is too extreme and intemperate for the individual, they will suffer anxiety and discomfort, which will again cause dissatisfaction, as they are ‘over-challenged’.
If the correct balance between these two extremes is achieved, then the concept of ‘flow’ may be created (Csikzentmihalyi, 1975). This is the ideal of a perfect balance where total immersion is created and the individual will be totally satisfied by the experience because it will meet their ‘skill’ level, which they will remember and may want to experience again. Achieving ‘flow’ is different for every individual and is but an ideal solution – in reality, no one can predict the balance. As all individuals are different, this is very difficult to achieve. This is why in the general environment, theme parks seem to create bigger and more exciting attractions year after year to entice visitors and offer them a greater challenge in which to participate, often one which they may never have tried before.
In studies of human needs, Maslow’s Hierarchy (1954) outlines the basic human needs of an individual (appendix 1). In 1974, Tillman built on this theme and determined several leisure orientated needs of society. The factors of new adventures, relaxation, escapism, fantasy, response and social interaction with people and places and physical and mental activity were outlined as being important leisure needs of society as a whole. However, it is difficult to define leisure needs with individuals because everyone is different in what they perceive as a need or a want and the degree of necessity of these factors. Yet with these enhanced factors, it is possible to experience this leisure at many theme parks, although the way in which they participate will be varied.
Johan Huizinga (1955), another leisure theorist believed that to play was to do so like a child and that there is no explanation as to why we play.
George Torkildsen (1992), perhaps one of the most foremost theorists in leisure and recreation management deduced a number of characteristics from Huizinga’s explanation. Amongst these characteristics is that play is not real but merely a step outside of reality into a temporary sphere where the player realizes that they are simply pretending. He also believes that play is creative and once played a newfound creation is formed which can then be repeated or alternated. Finally, he states that play is uncertain with an undetermined end-result which once discovered, causes the loss of all involved tension and excitement.
This criterion can be related to the themed attraction industry in a number of ways. Many attractions such as ‘dark rides’, as they are commonly known, where guests are transported around a make-believe environment and pyrotechnics and animatronics are used to create a story, shows how play is a step out of reality into a temporary sphere. Visitors understand that they are merely pretending but the experience gives them a sense of fun and escapism for a temporary period of time.
Creativity is a very important issue in the themed attraction industry. If an attraction is created and appears to be appealing, then the industry may follow and reproduce alternative attractions of a similar nature. This is apparent from many ride manufacturers who recreate similar attractions all over the world – such as log flumes, river rapids and haunted house rides. If an individual enjoys the experience, which they partook in on an attraction, they will be more inclined to repeat the experience and try another ride at the same site. Hence, the more creative and innovative the attraction, the more general appeal there should be. Finally, in correspondence, play is said to be undetermined, like many attractions, especially if a story is unfolded as the attraction progresses, visitors anticipate the ending of the experience.
In relation to the product life cycle example, when the end has been discovered or the ride fully experienced, it will eventually lose its appeal and something else is needed to keep the attention of the visitor. This is similar to that of a film, once the ending has been seen, the film may lose its appeal, but on the other hand, if the individual believes it to be very good, they may wish to see it again and again. Often theme parks re-theme and change attractions so as to extend the product life cycle. Alton Towers has done this several times by re-theming areas year by year. Through observation over the past years, ‘Aqua Land’ has become ‘Katanga Canyon’; ‘Festival Park’ has become ‘UG-Land’ and also particular rides have been modified such as the ‘Black Hole’ and ‘Corkscrew’ rides. This would have been done in an attempt to differentiate the park and its rides from others, make the site more visually appealing and change the experiences on the rides slightly, hence lengthening their product life cycle. Play is often associated with gaming, in its different forms; games can be divided into two main areas, as done by Caillois (1961). ‘Paidia’, or childlike play is associated with spontaneity, frivolity, exuberance, frolic and romping whereas ‘ludus’, or adult play, which is concerned with meaningful thinking and the joy of solving problems. Generally, theme parks are associated with the first area of gaming, in terms of rides, attractions, games of skill and coin operated machinery. However, Caillois categorized four types of gaming and play: ‘Agon’ or competition, ‘Alea’ or chance, ‘Mimicry’ or simulation and ‘Ilinx’, the confusion which vertigo creates (Torkildsen, 1992, p.55) – all of which are identifiable in many types of theme park attractions.
These conditions, especially the latter two, are likely to be more appealing to the youth market, which may help to outline the importance as to why a change in theme park development is needed to accommodate the ageing population and secure a future for the industry (Leisure Development lecture notes, 2000).
At this point it is important to clarify that this project regards the theming and design of theme parks and individual attractions, from a marketing point of view. This chapter is necessary to understand the feelings and emotions, which an individual may or may not experience when participating in theme park leisure experiences. This then helps to identify the important role which marketing and design has in the industry, and how marketing techniques and effective designing can be used to enhance the visitor experience.
At a theme park, the rides, shows, shops, restaurants and also the simple landscaping and infrastructures are the bare essentials to make a theme park a sound product for a visitor to experience, yet it is simply the core framework with a minimum amount of appeal. When aesthetics are added, names are given, branding takes place, music is played, stories are told, characters come to life, souvenirs are sold and a general atmosphere is created, the theme park comes to life and an entire product is produced, from the basic design to the finished, packaged product. It is by implementing such imaginative design ideas as these that a theme park is made. These ideas can be altered or changed over time to create new experiences, as indeed, all aspects are part of the final product.
The visitor or consumer visits a theme park to experience enjoyment, fun and excitement. Very often, they may wish to experience escapism in its many forms of fantasy or simple relaxation. The design of a theme park is thus of great importance to create a complete environment where the consumer can indeed enjoy a mixture of activities from high speed thrill rides to a simple stroll around a landscaped garden.
The greater the level of satisfaction in which the consumer participates, the more likely the consumer to spend on merchandising and refreshments, and to take away fond memories is also to increase the likelihood of a return visit. The marketing and design of the facilities and attractions are of vital importance as the more appealing and the higher the quality, the longer the life and the greater the satisfaction, which ultimately should all correlate.
“A service is intangible; it is the result of the application of human and mechanical efforts to people or objects. Ideas are concepts, philosophies, images or issues. They provide the psychological stimulus to solve problems or adjust to the environment.”
(Dibb, 1994, p.194)
Theming the Thrills
Chapter 3: Theme Parks & Service Marketing
This chapter demonstrates the many theories and practices of marketing, in particular relation to service marketing and the extended marketing mix. The sheer size of many theme parks, especially the theme parks discussed in this project, gives great scope for much marketing activity in the business. Theme parks tend to involve marketing activity with the design departments, like many industries, to intensify the marketing strategies and make them more effective in regards to the products.
It is difficult to define theme parks as either products or services as there is a great mixture in what they offer. Although theme parks offer products, in the forms of actual merchandise, food and drink and in respect, rides and attractions, they are more commonly classed as service products. Merchandise, food and drink are tangible products and result in ownership, whether temporary or long-term. Theme parks as a whole, with the main attractions being the rides and shows, offer intangibility and do not result in any ownership. Thus, services have a number of characteristics. Kotler (1999) states that: “A company must consider five main service characteristics when designing marketing programmes: intangibility, inseparability, variability, perishability and lack of ownership.”
(Kotler, 1999, p.647)
In many ways, theme parks have all of these characteristics in different senses. However, if applied to Kotler’s tangible-intangible continuum for goods and services (Kotler, 1999, p.647), like fast-food outlets, theme parks would be centered between tangible-dominant and intangible-dominant in a neither-nor situation (appendix 2)
Intangibility occurs at a theme park because generally, the experiences cannot be tested beforehand, they may not even be able to be seen, especially at parks where visitors pay for the whole day on a one-price entry ticket at the entrance, thus buying their rights to the park before they have even entered it. Quality of food cannot be discovered until tried and entertainment cannot be questioned until one has been entertained.
Theme parks, like many service-orientated companies, must add value to their service to make it more tangible. This is often done, amongst many possibilities, by the way in which the product or service is delivered, the perceived length of queues and the ‘after-sales’ service, which the customer receives (Dibb, 1994, p.681).
Theme parks, like many visitor attractions have to deal with inseparability, which also determines the perishability of the service product: “A major characteristic of services – they are produced and consumed at the same time and cannot be separated from their providers, whether the providers are people or machines.”
(Kotler, 1999, p.649)
At the park, the staff, the atmosphere and the attractions provide the service. Without the customers, there would be no service delivery and, as to an extent the service is consumed simultaneously as it is produced there is provider-customer interaction, which is very important in term of smooth operational and total quality management. This however, also means that when a visitor pays to enter the park, they are buying into shared-use rights of the product and the hundreds of other visitors, which visit on the same day, may conflict or harmonize with the individual and the environment.
This may be problematic as there are often conflicting groups such as school parties conflicting with elderly guests, for example. Proficient planning and programming, general staff training and guest monitoring can usually overcome this problem, and the problem of increased demand throughout peak seasons. The high reliance on staff and intemperate machinery in the form of steel rides means that variability can occur with the service product. At theme parks, staff may perform well or may offer poor service at times, rides may fail to operate and weather conditions greatly effect the satisfaction of visitors at these mainly outdoor attractions. This is very problematic in operational terms but methods are often used to help, such as the implemented systems at the Walt Disney theme parks which attempt to mould their staff into specific job routines, which standardize the service, which the visitors receive (Management of Change lecture notes, 2000).
Finally, in terms of service characteristics, when a visitor pays an admission to a theme park, they don’t receive actual ownership of anything but the enjoyment of the day and the memories that they take away. Kotler (1999) recommends reinforcing brand identity and affinity with the consumer to resolve this. Theme parks may operate incentives such as discounted entries, free return visits, and season tickets and children’s clubs to entice the consumer into repeat visits.
Kotler (1999) developed three levels of product, these being the inner core, the tangible aspects and the final augmented product (appendix 3). Applying these three levels to a theme park is the best way to define what a theme park actually is. Swarbrooke (1995) did this and defined that the core of the product was the excitement and the atmosphere. Theming and design indeed enhances this aspect of the park and so is an integral part of the product.
The tangible products at a theme park are the rides, the brand names (such as Disney, Cinderella Castle (appendix 4), Alton Towers and Oblivion for instance), and the quality of service, the other visitors, the range of attractions and the safety aspects. Finally, the augmented product also entails commercial and ancillary services (catering and retailing), car parking, and services for disabled guests, procedures for handling complaints, opening times and weather conditions (Swarbrooke, 1995, p.40).
There are many ways in which marketing can enhance the experience of the consumer.
“Marketing is the management process involved in identifying, anticipating and satisfying consumer requirements profitably.”
(The Chartered Institute of Marketing)
This indicates that the marketing process can be implemented in many different ways, and indeed many more ways than simply advertising and selling. It could be said that at a theme park, marketing takes place everywhere through many different medium, such as entry tickets, signage, music, entertainment, merchandise, souvenirs, staff, ride photography and aesthetics to mention but a few. To set the scene, upon entry, the consumer will here music that may be recognizable from the television advert for the park, it may be exciting music, cheerful or emotional. Their entry ticket will be printed with the brand name of the park or a particular attraction.
As they progress, signage around the park will be consistent, often standardized and may be themed to particular areas or zones. Entertainers around these zones may provoke emotion from the consumer, a friendly member of staff who is also entertaining may convince the consumer to purchase an ice cream from a path side vendor and still themed music will be heard amongst the other atmospheric noises. In the distance, the noise from a ride can be heard, screams of laughter and exhilaration and a recognizable aspect will be spotted, such as a rollercoaster car just like from the advert which was seen on the television and the newspaper from when the press release was published. The ride will most likely be themed to that particular zone, such as the Dragon Kahn roller coaster at Port Aventura in Spain (appendix 5), with its distinct Chinese feel. After the ride, memories are made tangible by purchasing an on-ride photograph and then the consumer is led into a souvenir shop where they can purchase, for instance, a Dragon Kahn cap and mug from a friendly member of staff, dressed in an imperial Chinese costume and animated to that culture.
This rather clichéd scenario is however, very apparent at many modern theme parks, and indeed in all of the chosen parks discussed in this piece. Theme parks have realized that such standardization is of great importance in both marketing and customer care. Not only does it ensure quality but it makes all aspects instantly recognizable, and in a service context, more tangible.
Branding is a marketing term and Dibb (1994) describes a brand as: “A name, term, design, symbol or any other feature that identifies one item, a family of items or all items of that seller.”
(Dibb, 1994, p.215)
Theme parks brand themselves with park logos and merchandising yet they also utilize brands through sponsorship. Alton Towers have on-site KFC, McDonalds and Pizza Hut outlets; they sell Coca-Cola in their shops and restaurants, whereas Drayton Manor Park’s ‘Shockwave’ roller coaster has been sponsored by ‘7-Up’ for the past 7 years. Kotler (1999) states that this kind of practice gives added value to the product by associating them with prestigious companies. Arguably, Alton Towers is now a brand in itself being the number one theme park in the UK.
Parks also tend to brand particular attractions to make them more prominent. Alton Towers’ ‘Oblivion’ roller coaster has been labeled with a distinctive logo (appendix 6), which appears on all ‘Oblivion’ merchandise in the park, all over the ride, and the area itself. This example, however, even exceeded beyond the park boundaries as ‘Oblivion’ became somewhat of a fashion label, with designers creating urban street wear clothing to sell at the park, and aftershave products, deodorants and even condoms appeared in selected branches of ‘Boots’ stores throughout the UK brandishing the ‘Oblivion’ logo.
American theme parks, especially the Universal Studios parks have used brand names in their attractions for many years now, as is discussed in chapter four. The first Universal Studios Park in Orlando, Florida, opened such attractions as ‘Jaws – The Ride’, ‘ET – The Adventure’ and ‘Back To The Future – The Ride’. All have been successful and this method has continued and will undoubtedly remain to continue into the future, with chances that it may even appear on our shores. In discussion with Nate Naversen from the Themed Attraction Association, relating to Walt Disney World and movie themed rides: “Brand recognition is one of the most important elements in making a successful themed attraction. Sometimes brands can be built over time without the movie tie-in (as today’s wisdom would indicate). Pirates of the Caribbean, the Jungle Cruise and It’s a Small World (Disney) are brands in and of themselves.” (Nate Naversen, 27/02/01)
Brands like these famous attractions are also appearing in Britain, such as the ‘Nemesis’ and ‘Oblivion’ rides at Alton Towers, and attractions such as ‘Madame Tussauds’ and ‘Legoland’, Windsor.
Theme parks being service products are associated with the extended marketing mix. This takes into account the physical ambience of the sales base, the process of the selling and the people involved in the selling of the product (Dibb, 1994). Marketing, combined with theming, branding and customer care can all result in consumer satisfaction and can enhance the experience for the guest.
Theming and design is related directly to the physical ambience of the sales base in often very imaginative ways, much more so in this industry than others because of the need to recreate a fantasy environment. The service is given to consumers through the staff with a much greater emphasis on branded customer care, far exceeding the expectations of the visitors to ensure loyalty and satisfaction between visitor and personnel, which will keep the visitors returning again and again. This kind of sales technique, relating areas of secondary spending to the attractions themselves, helps to prolong the experience and thus make it more tangible as an extension as it were. After all, the enjoyment and sensory feeling of a roller coaster ride can be prolonged for years to come through means of memory, for instance if an instant photograph is brought on exit, and of course, the memories will always relate back to the original excitement of the stimulation factor.
“The intent of the theming is to immerse the visitor in an alternate reality, to suspend disbelief that they are in the world which has been created and transported them from the one they were in.”
(Eddie Sotto, Themedattraction.com, 10/07/00)
Theming the Thrills
Chapter 4: Theming the Industry
“Amusement parks of old most likely themed their rides to make things more exciting, more interesting. Walt Disney themed his attractions to allow one to escape into a blissful world of nostalgia and fantasy.”
(Nate Naversen, 27/02/01)
Theming the industry is greatly concerned with enhancing the visitor experience, thus altering the intensity of the leisure experience and encouraging further developments in other, alternate areas such as retailing and merchandising for souvenirs. Chapter four examines a number of theme park examples in an attempt to provide a greater justification for these theories.
The themed entertainment industry allows the development of theme parks and indeed these make-believe ‘worlds’ and offers a greater sense of escapism for the visitor. “Europe has entered an age of extreme theming. Theme restaurants and theme hotels, well established in the United States, are being introduced into Britain and several other European countries as fast as developers can find sites for them.” (Tourism Trendspotter, July 1998, p.3)
Thus, if theming were becoming more apparent in other sectors of the leisure industry, surely this would suggest that the public demands a more elaborate means of leisure provision for their enjoyment and escapism in general? Theme parks, however, are developing their attractions with theming and new design techniques to better their product portfolio of attractions and further develop the whole industry. As mentioned in chapter one, this is undoubtedly due to the issue of competition and a higher level of quality entertainment to entice the consumer. The industry of themed entertainment is continuing to diversify as the leisure industry grows in comparison. Nate Naversen states on the company website that: “Like storytelling, illustration or musical composition, the design of themed attractions is very much an art form. But it is much more complex because of the need to accommodate all five senses.”
(Nate Naversen, 2000, Themedattraction.com)
The creation of the so-called ‘fantasy environments’ often means complete immersion for the visitor. This makes the experience much more enthralling and intensifies the experience. Modern ride designers, such as Nate Naversen at the Themedattraction.com; use technology to stimulate all five senses on many modern attractions. These methods have only just been introduced to Britain’s developing industry, as arguably, the industry here is somewhat lagging behind counterpart countries, namely the United States. The aforesaid five sense are visual imagery, sound, tactile stimulation, taste and smell. Implementing all of these factors into a theme park ride is often very difficult, especially with the common steel rides found in many parks. However, when considering the attractions found at American theme parks such as Universal Studios and the Disney parks, it is possible to relate these sensory effects. Universal Studios’ tag line is that the park is the place to ‘ride the movies’. The majority of their attractions are based on famous Universal films such as ‘Jaws’, ‘King Kong’, ‘Earthquake’ or ‘Back to the Future’, for example. All of these films have respective rides at the park where visitors can experience recreated environments through technological means. The Jaws ride for example, allows guests to be transported by boat through a recreation of the films Amity harbor. The tour then takes a turn and the giant shark attacks guests and a number of special effects take place to create a story. During the experience visitors feel the heat of fire, the motion of a capsizing boat, and splashes of water. They hear gunshots, explosions and screams, they smell the sea and taste salt water as they are splashed and the whole visual experience is integrated around the films brand name. Everything is recreated such as hearing stories, which may be related to the town’s ‘history’ as they queue, and even the boats ‘skipper’ plays his own role and animates the story to create a sense of realism. Arguably, it could be said the final effect became one of the greatest rides ever made because of the mixture of ‘live’ action and the anticipation and fear, which is created.
American theme parks have specialized in this form of entertainment for many years and it has been successful, thus parks in the UK have begun taking these methods in their attractions. Drayton Manor Park opened ‘Stormforce 10’ in 1998 (appendix 7), a ride that recreates a lifeboat rescue. The ride is basically a water ride but the theming is very much educational towards the RNLI, which sponsors the attraction. Similar effects are used on this ride with tactile effects and sights, sounds and smells of a recreated Cornish fishing village. Alton Towers built an attraction deep within the ruins of the historic towers themselves in 2000. ‘Hex: The Legend of the Towers’ is a walkthrough attraction, which puts an actual legend of the Staffordshire area regarding the then Earl of Alton into play, and recreates a mysterious dark ride within the ruins. The attraction uses holograms, tactile effects, orchestral collaborations and cinematography to bring the legend to life and subjects visitors to the wrath of the same curse said to be cast upon the Earl (www.alton-hex.com, downloaded 12/04/00).
The designers of Hex and the marketers at Alton Towers promoted the ride very well by setting up a website which monitored a renovation project on the towers and tied this in with the story, explaining that mysterious artifacts relating to this myth were discovered during the work, thus shrouding the ride in mystery – not really being obvious to what was real and what was fantastical. The attraction itself is bizarrely mysterious in that it is set inside the towers amongst an array of scaffolding and renovation to work – as if work really is going on around the visitor. Thus, the customer actually believes that they are involved in this historic discovery and that it isn’t a ride at all, until of course things out of the ordinary start to happen.
Out of the five senses, visual imagery is the most apparent at theme parks as architecture and scenery is used to create themed lands. Parks such as the American Adventure, in Derbyshire and Camelot in Lancashire, concentrate on a specific theme – America and Medieval times respectively, whereas parks such as Alton Towers, Chessington World of Adventures in the UK and Port Aventura in Spain, vary their ‘lands’ to differentiate their attractions more. When looking at visual imagery, architecture, landscaping and lighting can all be examined as a means of recreating environments (Themed Attractions: An Unusual Medium, 2000, themedattraction.com).” Visual imagery is the most obvious and most necessary tool for creating the themed environment. Each visitor will enter a themed attraction and then judge whether or not he believes what he sees. It is this critical judgment that the designer must try to positively influence. In doing so it is imperative that every detail be thought out so that the created environment is perceived as real.”
(Nate Naversen, 2000, Themedattraction.com)
Port Aventura, which opened in Spain in 1995, utilized the extent of visual imagery to a somewhat new level in the way that it recreated five ‘countries’ within the park.
Francisco Cerva (1997), a Spanish architectural designer, wrote much about Port Aventura in his book – “Theme & Amusement Parks”: “The architectural designs of the park’s themes were reproduced with great accuracy and detail. Many structures had to undergo a meticulous ageing process to achieve greater realism. Native species were imported, if possible, or other indigenous species were used.”
(Cerva, 1997, p.20)
The park consists of five themed lands: Mediterrania, Polynesia, China, Mexico and the Far West and using the above criterion, replicas were built with distinctive realism and the rides, most of which are steel rides and roller coasters, built into the landscapes and themes. Realism is impeccable from the types of trees in the ‘native’ lands to the music played and even the staff working in the areas are native to that recreated country.
Port Aventura appeals to many holidaymakers to the costal region of the Costa Dorada as it offers something for everyone, often through this meticulous theming. The park offers live entertainment such as imperial Chinese acrobatics in China, Western stunt shows in the Far West and Polynesian native dancing in Polynesia. Food and drink is typical of each area where the restaurants are situated, shops sell authentic crafts made from the countries in which they are sold and even each ride and attraction is named in the language of that country. The attention to detail creates more than just a theme park experience but a cultural and educational experience for all ages, because questionably it may be the nearest thing to actually visiting the countries themselves.
“The regions selected were those that Europeans considered to be exotic and difficult to reach. Furthermore, the areas chosen had some relationship to Spain, the park’s host nation.”
(Cerva, 1997, p.20)
This is indicative to mean that native Spaniards are able to learn more about the cultures and origins of their country as well as being culturally enticing to all tourists visiting the park.
Port Aventura has distinctive brand names linked with it including Anheuser Busch (American brewer of Budweiser and owner of Busch theme parks, USA) and more recently, Universal who now owns the largest share of the venue.
However, the park relates fantasy and history to its attractions. The Wild West town, known as ‘Penitence’ is recreated like a real western town with its sawmill, saloon, hotel and rail station – stereotypical traits utilized internationally at such venues, yet China has a replica of the Great Wall, Polynesia teaches visitors about the voyages of Captain Cook and the Tutuki Volcano and Mexico has a replica of El Castillo at Chichén Itzá (appendix 8).
The rides in the park tell many stories, mixing historic fact with fantasy tales. A good example is that of the Dragon Kahn roller coaster in the China area of the park. The station and queuing areas of the ride are heavily themed around a Chinese palace, replicated from the Forbidden City in Beijing (Secretos y Curiosidades, 1995). Promotion for the ride informs visitors: “When you finally get your feet back on the ground again, your knees will be shaking and you’ll have learnt the price mere mortals have to pay for daring to defy the deities of the Orient. Think yourself lucky you’re not the evil Prince Hu. He’s destined to remain trapped inside the Dragon Khan until the end of time, as punishment for having dared to make fun of the Gods.”
(Secretos y Curiosidades, 1995)
Such interpretation allows scope to blur the extremes of history and fantasy and creates a story which visitors may be able to relate with. This kind of interpretation links with the theories of Tilden (1957). Tilden was a specialist in interpretation of British culture and heritage; however, his theories of interpretation to visitors are widely used. He determined that interpretation, whether found in a souvenir guide book, an interpretation panel or simply a animated story should relate, reveal, teach, provoke, be holistic and not dilute information – whether it be fiction or fantasy, in order to be effective (Interpretation & Animation lecture notes, 2000).
These six principles are often used in the themed entertainment industry, immersing the visitor in storytelling whether for educational gain or to merely enhance the environment. Relating these theories and this aim to chapter one enables correlation between mental and physical stimulation and a recreated environment. If the visitor believes that they are involved in an unreal experience, the effects of the stimulation will be much more intense. Nate Naversen, when interviewed, claimed that theming “has a profound effect on the visitor. It shapes the entire atmosphere and the mood of the guest. When psychologists try to explain behavior they often debate whether they are caused by primarily genetic or environmental factors. In the case of the theme park, the environment is nearly completely controlled. In that respect, at least half of the bases are covered if the theme park employees do their jobs right.”
(Nate Naversen, 27/02/01)
This statement examines the impacts of the environment on the visitor, very much the main issue of this entire project, however it also introduces the importance of staff in their many roles as service providers, animatuers, general employees and storytellers. American theme parks, such as Disney and Universal Studios, often employ actors to work at their venues in many positions – often unexpected. Simple operational tasks such as ride controllers and queue workers are dressed to coordinate with the theme, act in an entertaining manner and often animate a story to the visitor: “At many theme parks the employees are treated as part of the show. They can take pride in the fact that they enhance the experience of the guest. This goes from the paid stunt man / actor all the way down to the guy sweeping the streets. The ‘cast’ adds the human element to the theme. Do you remember your first reaction in the Haunted Mansion at the Magic Kingdom when the employee in the grim butler costume instructs you to “step into the dead center of the room”?”
(Nate Naversen, 27/02/01)
It would now appear that British parks have begun to realize the importance of using staff to enhance the environment – after all, surely an actual human being is far more superior to an animatronic model used to enhance the venue? Pleasure Beaches such as those at Blackpool and Great Yarmouth have opened up attractions whereby actual human beings are the attraction.
These attractions, known as ‘walkthrough’ attractions (‘Passaje del Terror’ as it is so called at Blackpool Pleasure Beach) are simple recreated environments of famous horror film sets. The combination of relating to the recognized sets and the anticipation of not knowing what may happen next helps to create a very unnerving experience for the participants, who are subsequently chased through the dark by staff dressed in horror costumes, brandishing weapons. The fear is easily created as visitors are actually put in the positions of the victims, which they may have seen, inevitably slain in the films. The idea in itself is very simple and effective, and undoubtedly much less costly technological animatronics and pyrotechnical effects? However, it has now become apparent that back in the states, these ideas have been further developed to create combination environments where people are actually used alongside technology in order to enthrall the visitor.
Such attractions as ‘The Great Movie Ride’ at Disney MGM studios and ‘Terminator 2: 3D’ at Universal Studios use live actors alongside ride machinery, cinematography and pyrotechnics to create realism (Personal experience, 1996).
Human resources are not only utilized in the rides but also in such obvious positions as retailing, catering and entertaining and not so obvious positions such as marketing. Alton Towers have used staff and arguably actors, when developing their major attractions. When their Nemesis ride was in the construction stages, they parked Ministry of Defense vehicles and army tanks at the site and had ‘soldiers’ guarding the site, turning inquisitive visitors away, to make it look like something unusual was going on and creating a live teaser campaign. The same practice was implemented four years later with the development of Oblivion as a large, high security and somewhat futuristic fence was erected around the huge 120 feet deep trench (into which the ride now falls) and having security guards patrolling the area, sworn to secrecy regarding the project (Modern Times, BBC2, 1998).
The guards, dressed in bright orange costumes, brandishing the Oblivion logo created a sense of excitement and elusiveness regarding the project as they taunted passers by. These kinds of plays on human emotion can be very successful in advertising terms, as Alton Towers surely discovered afterwards. The importance of staff in any position is paramount at theme parks; due to the strong reliance on the service product characteristic of customer care. Staff can enhance a visitor’s experience through making them happy and exceeding their expectations. A happy visitor is undoubtedly more inclined to partake in secondary spending and will also want to come back again. Theming and design is also obvious and apparent in more than just the rides at a theme park: “Theming restaurants and shops is a good idea because it helps complete the picture. Whether it increases spending. if you can equate it to stay time then it would certainly be of benefit.”
(Nate Naversen, 27/02/01)
British parks have begun theming their sales outlets and selling heavily branded merchandise inside them. Commercial managers at such attractions have recognized that.”Marketing works hand in hand with retailing and every single element of the park, from the experience of arrival to the quality of souvenirs, is appraised with the same ruthless criteria. That old cliché ‘retail is entertainment’ springs to mind.”
(David Fraser, Leisure Manager October 1997, p.14)
As the importance of increasing secondary spending is becoming more apparent, every diminutive detail may be analyzed, from the layout of the shop in regards to ride exits, use of color and light, quality of the products and staff uniforms and attitudes. Catering outlets operate along similar lines, with heavy theming taking place at many destinations. Alton Towers operates themed versions of common fast food franchises such as Pizza Hut and McDonalds and also the infamous Alton Towers Hotel, ‘the UK’s first and only fully themed hotel and the only one located within a theme park’ (Alton Towers Student Pack, 2000). Such outlets in American theme parks sometimes use further enhancements, such as the ‘Richter’ restaurant at Universal Studios in Florida. Based on a San Francisco diner, the restaurant actually suffers the periodic seismic patterns of an earthquake, whereby the tables and chairs shake as if in the middle of a disaster. The restaurant has obvious ties to the Earthquake ride, nearby.
At this point it is worth repeating the aforementioned topic of Port Aventura and its culturally themed outlets, offering native cuisine from each ‘land’. This gives visitors the opportunity to participate in a cultural experience, often with themed entertainment nearby, which is equally as effective in terms of involvement and interest, yet carried out in a much more ‘sophisticated’ manner. As time continually progresses, the concepts of increased technology are becoming more apparent. Every year, as new attractions open, they are seemingly more adventurous than the last as designers continue to participate in the intense competitiveness of the industry. A worthy example of high technology is demonstrated at Universal Studios ‘Islands of Adventure’ theme park in Florida. The park, which is fairly new, opened with a mass of highly technological attractions, divided into a number of distinct areas, some branded and instantly recognizable, and others developed form historic themes, stories and cultures. The areas are Port of Entry, a Mediterranean themed village; The Lost Continent, an area devoted to the origins of myths, legends and pure fantasy; Marvel Superhero Island themed on the likes of The Incredible Hulk and Spiderman; Toon Lagoon with Popeye and Dudley Do-Right; Jurassic Park from the film; and Seuss Landing (appendix 9) where stories rom the works of Dr. Seuss are brought to life. To go into a great depth of detail on the park would be an enormous task however, it is possible to justify the genuine uniqueness of Islands of Adventure. The detail of theming and landscaping is impeccable, as can be seen in the appendices of this piece, and the park really has led the way in theming and technology advancement. Amongst the rides in the park, of which there are many, visitors participate in a number of both physical attractions and steel rides, themed to fit into their unique and innovative surroundings. The Jurassic Park area contains ‘lifelike’ animatronics of dinosaurs and thus, visitors can stroke a triceratops – indeed an experience unlike any other. Seuss Landing allows visitors to ride through the works of Dr. Seuss such as The Cat in The Hat and children are able to meet The Grinch, in person. Poseidon’s Fury (appendix 10), in The Lost Continent is a walkthrough show where the Gods battle each other for rule of the Earth. During this show, visitors experience numerous special effects including the unexplained phenomenon of watching the seas part, just as was written in the bible. Other technological advancements include Dudley-Do-Rights Ripsaw Falls, a log flume ride where the boats actually plunge under the water, the Dueling Dragons (appendix 11) combined inverted roller coasters where passengers come within inches of each other and Spiderman: The Ride, explained by Nate Naversen to be: The most technologically advanced ride to date. It is a great combination: outstanding show and outstanding engineering.”(Nate Naversen, 27/02/01)The Spiderman ride uses a combination of motion simulator seating on a dark ride track with special effects and 3D cinematography. In essence, the ride takes the next step to virtual reality, where riders see, feel and hear the comic book characters battle around them in ‘real-time’ (First Drop Magazine, May 1998). In actual fact, the ride won the 2000 Themed Entertainment Association award for best attraction, and Islands of Adventure, won best theme park (Attractions Management, October 2000, p.7).When looking at the themed attraction industry, it is obvious to see that technology makes it thrive. However, as chapter five, examines the concepts of technology, and especially virtual reality, in more detail, it is clear to see that technology alone is not effective, however when combined with marketing and management strategy, the concept becomes much stronger. “Disney no longer has a lock on the creative talent in the world. Everyone knows how to design the Disney way, so it will get harder and harder for them to stay ahead. With enough money anyone will be able to have a Disney-style theme park – the design talent is available.”
(Nate Naversen, 27/02/01)
Theming the Thrills
Chapter 5: The Future
This final chapter looks at the use of technology as the medium in which the industry will travel into the future. Research has enabled the discovery of many opinions, regarding the future of the industry, from executives within the industry, and of course, the construction of this dissertation has also refined some initial considerations regarding this issue.
“I see more consolidation. Theme parks now cost a billion dollars to put together, and that’s more than the average individual, or company can do. Theme parks of the future belong to the entertainment conglomerates. the Disney’s, AOL’s and Time Warner’s of the world.”
(Nate Naversen, 27/02/01)
The above statement is the general consensus from Nate, when questioned about the future of the industry. Indeed, it is already apparent that large entertainment companies are leading the industry, with the given example of Universals acquisition of new parks including Port Aventura in Europe.
It will be interesting to examine how long Disney will lead the industry as we progress into the future, as Nate has mentioned, many parks are now alongside Disney in terms of attraction quality. When comparing large theme parks such as Port Aventura and Islands of Adventure, it is possible to equate the standards to those of Disney and see that there is very little difference.
The technological advancements of the industry have created an accelerated rate of production in which more and more attractions are being developed to make more exciting environments for the visitor. Relating back to chapter two and the theories of stimulation, surely the more unreal these environments, the higher the level of arousal in the individual. New experiences will always offer the most arousal, before the experience becomes mundane, and the more different and unique the attraction, the more exciting it would be. The use of virtual reality to create ‘false’ environments is being further used, such as the Spiderman attraction at Islands of Adventure. This technology allows visitors to participate in unreal events, and interact in total fantasy, thus transporting them to another plain, where they have never been before.
Theme parks can use this technology to their advantage in the quest to create new experiences for their visitors and increase attendances at the parks. The question is whether these kinds of virtual reality attractions will surpass the traditional iron ride? Howard Kelley, president of the US heavyweight animatronics manufacturer, Sally Corporation claims that: “Interaction is also a big draw for customers and their audiences. New technologies are providing the opportunity to bring the park visitor closer to, and more involved with the entertainment. No longer will the typical park visitor be as passive as he or she used to be, and there will be less dependence on expensive iron rides.”
(Howard Kelly, Attractions Management, July 1998, p.35)
This statement is a good example to argue the point that the old style fairground rides, will indeed become redundant in some fields. This may link in with the initial views that the changing demographics of society with an increasing gray market, may lead to a change in these fantasy experiences with a more sophisticated and indeed more educational appeal being incorporated.
However, the general change of culture in society has made a new slant nevertheless. John Hughes, managing director of Kirton Playworks, stated in the October 2000 issue of Leisure Management (p.62) that “Educational play is a big trend.” Whereas Sophie Cooke, reporter on the same article stated that:
“Play installations are combining intellectual and physical challenges to attract the Pokémon generation. Companies are building on the computer culture fostered in the last decade to create installations that can hold the attention of increasingly sophisticated young users, within a space where their parents are happy to leave them.”
(Sophie Cooke, Leisure Management October 2000, p.62)
Thus, attractions like the Millennium Dome have taken this approach to leisure, admittedly, the Millennium Dome is not the best example to use in terms of success, however this kind of ‘play’, which again relates back to chapter two of this piece, is becoming more apparent at venues worldwide.Therefore, is ‘edutainment’ the way to progress into the 21st Century? In terms of museums and more educational visitor attractions, certainly, however, this is very much a different industry from that of theme parks. The state of these museum transformations may just reflect the commercialization of society and indeed, an arguable point would be to state that educational attractions are becoming more like theme parks, and thus a role reversal is occurring.In the short-term, it is quite possible to foresee the future of the theme park industry in the UK, as it is expected that British parks will simply follow in the footsteps of our American counterparts, as we have done to this very day, yet it is a notoriety in marketing philosophy that Americanization does not implement well in Britain, yet theme parks may be one of the few exceptions to this. The general growth in theme park attendances over the last decade (Tourism Trendspotter, July 1998) would indicate that there is a demand for these ‘thrills’ with a seeming increase in the so-called ‘adrenaline-junkie generation’. The Internet alone gives obvious indication to the amount of theme park enthusiasts in modern society and the general increase in the participation of extreme sports (Leisure Development notes, 2000) shows that people want to be stimulated in such a way so as to really escape from the norm. The theme park industry therefore has a great advantage because of the constantly updated advancements in technology and the growing scope in the ability to turn even the most outrageous ideas into reality.The designers at the Themedattraction.com, in particular Bob Rogers, who gave a forum on the future of themed entertainment at the IAAPA Tradeshow, Orlando, 1997; have forecast changes for the theme park industry into the future.The Themedattraction.com website, outlines a number points which indicates the changes taking place in the industry, and changes which need to be made in order to accommodate.
The general consensus is that there will be great changes to the practice of queuing for rides; individual pricing for attractions and not just a single admission ticket; much faster obsolescence of attractions; more refreshing appeal in the environment with a greater focus on relaxation; better food; offering ‘first class’ experiences to those who can afford it and having a general increase in meaningful and intelligent entertainment.
Some of these changes have begun already. Alton Towers started the process of ‘virtual queuing’ on selected rides last year, where visitors pass through a turnstile and take a timed ticket at which to return for their ride.In the past, however, queuing has been used to ‘ration’ the number of visitors in the park, for usage, carrying capacity and safety reasons (Themedattraction.com, 27/02/01), so what would be the effect of reducing these queue times?Individual ticketing systems are in place at a number of theme parks already. This may be a reduced admission charge and then individual costs for each ride and attraction, once inside. This gives a perception of value, like Drayton Manor Park, for instance, however, in the long and short of it, it simply creates a higher level of spending. This entire study has mentioned repeatedly the rapid rate of innovation in concern to theme park rides, so obsolescence is bound to accelerate.In regards to the extent of ‘refreshment’, the idea of a theme park in the past has been a leisure activity, similar to that of a short break but squeezed into a single day. It has become apparent now, however, that a day at a theme park is often spent riding, queuing, rushing to the next attraction and repeating the entire experience until closing time. What with often high admission charges, it is natural for the individual or indeed the family to rush around, feeling the need to get their money’s worth’ and not to miss anything. The construction of on-site hotels has helped to combat this, as has systems such as annual season tickets and extended opening hours, to slow down the pace for those in question. These traits do relate to the typical theme park visitor, families and especially the youth generation who are likely to live a faster pace of life regardless, however with an ageing population, theme parks need to reconsider the general culture and feel to slow things down in order to adapt to the older markets. The issue of bettering food and refreshments has been touched upon, what with the implementation of McDonalds, KFC and Pizza Hut at Alton Towers and the ethnic restaurant experiences at Port Aventura. Managers and constructors need to consider the implication of quality refreshment areas in order to increase stay time, satisfaction and increase secondary spending.According to Nate, Disney was constructed with the idea in mind that everyone is a VIP, thus having only one tier of ticketing and the same service offered to all visitors. Theme parks, being service orientated, will always work on this theme of looking at customers as ‘guests’ and exceeding expectations, however according to recent articles, visitor attractions are now changing pricing strategies to suit the different markets. Alton Towers temporarily introduced the sale of the ‘X-Cellerator’ pass in 2000, and it was such a success, it is being sold again for the 2001 season. The pass cost in the region of £60 per person, respective of £20 for a standard ticket, yet the ‘X-Cellerator’ pass allows visitors to ‘queue jump’ all of the rides and actually receives VIP treatment. The tickets are limited each day so that ‘normal’ visitors are not effected too greatly by this approach, however somewhere in there must be an issue of general morality – after all, how many British families will be able to afford in excess of £200 for a single day out (Attraction Manager, October 2000, p.22)?Finally, in giving examples of these forecasted issues, it has already been discussed how attractions are changing to be more meaningful and unique or even more sophisticated experiences. This indeed will be of great importance in relation to the shifting demographics of society, whereby entertainment needs to suit all markets yet with more emphasis on the older generations. Therefore, after moving slightly away from the core subject, it is very possible to relate all of these issues back to the theming and design issues of theme parks. When taking everything into account, the bottom line is that theming and design is a perfect medium to alter and shape a ride, attraction, shop, restaurant, building, or even a person. As long as the theme park industry continues to develop, as it surely will through organic growth, the theming and design aspects will continue to develop with it. The bigger, faster, longer the ride, the more exciting, aesthetic and appealing the theming, the more intense and adventurous the marketing campaign and the more thrilling the stimulation level, and there you have it – the ability to achieve success. The industry strives wholly on being better than the last, continued development and acceleration, generating higher and higher levels of revenue.A researched article discussing the future of theme parks in the Millennium Issue of ‘Park World’ magazine, was prominent in the development in this study: “My guess would be we will see many new technological leaps as well as an audience that expects and demands total interactive and immersive experiences.As once portrayed in Michael Crighton’s ‘Westworld’, we will see living, breathing themed experiences that put people into real, working, interactive themed environments, where each element is alive and reacts. We will see more people wanting to escape the stresses and pressures of the real world through fantasy escapes.” Gary Goddard, Park World Millennium Edition, p.28)The statement says it all. Realism is key as the industry progresses and the natural changes in demands of the leisure participant will expect this. Ride technology will continue to develop, however theming will develop it further and take it to new plains of sophistication. The clearly defined statement derived from this massive topic of discussion is that this progression, combined with the increased diversity of marketing practice and the need for leisure in society will assure the continued success of the theme park. What is yet to come remains to be seen, as in any industry but people will always want leisure, some will need leisure and the competitive leisure environment will always benefit from strong marketing activity. What better way to finish this study, than with a quote?”The bottom line is this – it comes down to entertainment. The great places know how to capture a guest’s attention. They are willing to take risks to touch an emotion. They know how to use the rich texture of stories, myths and legends to make a persons fantasy realm come true. A place that pulls on our heartstrings. It allows us to have wonderful times with friends and family.to build memories and it keeps us coming back for more.”
(Nate Naversen, 27/02/01)