Travelling amusement park, The Big Bounce America is now in its third year. In March, it returned to the US to begin its 2019 world tour, visiting over 40 cities across 25 states.
The Big Bounce America is the biggest inflatable theme park ever. It features America’s largest inflatable obstacle course, as well as the world’s largest bounce house. The tour is part of a growing trend for adult active play and has introduced two new attractions this year. These are a 900-foot long obstacle course, and a space-themed wonderland.
Dodgeball games, inflatable animals, ball pits, climbing towers and confetti blasts are on offer at The Big Bouncer. Visitors can also enjoy music from a DJ.
The Giant is a new 900-foot long obstacle course with climbing and a monster slide. Another new attraction is airSPACE. This bounce house in three sections is themed around spaceships, aliens and oversized planets. It also showcases a 60-ft tall maze.
The faces behind The Big Bounce America
Blooloop spoke to the concept’s creators, Grahame Ferguson and Cameron Craig.
“Grahame and I have similar backgrounds,” says Craig. “We are both from Glasgow, and we currently run events all over the world, including Big Bounce America.”
Craig has worked for the entertainment industry since leaving school. He studied music at college and went on to DJ at venues and events across the world.
“We have both always had an interest in working in live events,” says Craig. “We put on student parties at the university student union when we were younger. This involved putting posters on lampposts and handing out leaflets. And now we put on events at colleges, universities and festivals across the world. We’re always coming up with new ideas.”
One of those ideas was the Big Bounce America concept, which the pair launched in 2017. From the outset, it was clear it was going to be a success.
“It has gone from strength to strength,” says Craig. “We started with 15 events in 2017, then grew to 52 in 2018. This year, we are hosting 70 events in the United States alone. The Big Bounce America brand has grown continuously in size and as an attraction. In addition to this, it has also grown in popularity.
“The families and attendees that come to the event have become a regular clientele that returns each year. We are able to focus now on growing the brand.”
The trend for adult active play
The idea to incorporate an adult-only session came to the pair after the 2017 tour.
“Before we launched as a touring family event, most of our work in the US was based on college entertainment,” says Craig. “We were providing themed events and brands from headphone disco to roller raves. We would take these to colleges and universities across the United States. They would book us to come, pay us a fee and we would show up and put on an event on college grounds. It was a big market for us; it still is.
“We decided that we’d like to try something new. So, we thought we might try experimenting with some inflatables. The idea behind Big Bounce America the brand was to provide some college entertainment.”
The initial plan was to tie in some other college brands, simply adding the inflatable aspect:
“One thing led to another. As we developed the brand, we did some research and did more design work on the concept. We realised, in a nutshell, that the target audience doesn’t have to be college kids. It can be a wide market of audiences.”
Fun for all ages
The pair knew adults would love the concept – and they do. But also, as Craig says, “Kids love a candy-coloured inflatable bouncy castle just as much as anybody. More than anybody.
“So, it went from a concept for the college market to the direction we have taken. In the evenings, from around 6 o’clock, it is for those over 16. During the day, it is for families: the kids are there, the grandparents, aunts and uncles. Everyone attends; it’s like a touring mini-festival where we’re open to all ages.
Charting the evolution and development of the concept over the last three years, he says:
“The idea began when Grahame and I were working at a music festival in the UK. There were some family attractions as well; there was a whole area for kids to play while their dads were having a beer or a coffee or whatever. It was just the usual type of bouncy castle that you get at kids’ parties and back gardens.
“We looked at that and thought it would be quite cool to make one big enough for Mum and Dad to play on with the kids. And that’s where the idea started. Because we thought kids would like that, we could maybe put a DJ box outside it.”
The biggest bounce
“We started developing the original idea and decided to go bigger. We thought: ‘Let’s make one big enough for people to have an actual party in. Let’s put lots of stuff inside it. Let’s put a stage in the centre; let’s have basketball courts, ball pits, slides, all within the four walls of this bouncy castle.’
“So, this idea grew. Eventually, we did some research to find the size of the biggest one ever, and said, ‘Let’s make one bigger than that.’ In the first year, 2017, we developed the world’s biggest bouncy castle, which was Big Bounce America.”
The response was overwhelming, says Craig. “We moved from doing 15 events in 2017 to 52 in 2018. Initially, in 2017, the bouncy castle was the main event. We had local food trucks and vendors and a few local companies doing some brand activity around it. But that’s all we had from an entertainment point of view.
“In 2018 we developed a smaller entertainment brand, the Bounce Village. This sat alongside the main brand. It had three ‘adventure lands’, or obstacle courses. It also had a mini bouncer for smaller kids, a slide, and a couple of other things.
“That went really well. We knew we were onto something here but felt there was so much more we could do. We said, ‘Let’s take it up a notch and develop it into a bigger plan for a bigger event for 2019’ – and that’s what we’ve done.”
However, the Guinness world record-holding Bounce House is still very much the focal point. “That’s still the thing people come to see and to get a picture in front of it,” says Craig.
Obstacles and inflatables
“We then developed an obstacle course called The Giant,” adds Craig. “It has proved incredibly popular. It is 1000 ft long; a zig-zag course that both adults and kids can play on. It is challenging enough for adults, but with alternative routes for kids. Some of the more difficult obstacles have tunnels or easier options.
“We’ve also developed a whole new branded area called airSPACE. It’s made up of a collective group of different inflatables, a five-lane slide, a 60ft tall maze and a ball pit. All themed around space. It looks really cool.
“The design is something we’ve never seen with inflatables before. We’ve got specific custom colours, so we had to get specific material made from these colours. It really is quite eye-catching. So that’s touring currently.
“Alongside the attractions, we’ve got food shops and themed shelters. There are also chill-out zones for parents.
“We also have some local vendors. There is a much bigger food court at this event and a greater number of interactive things for people to do. It has proven to be extremely popular. So, decisions have been made to continue growing the brand, what we’re looking to continue to do. We want to keep developing it, to keep bringing something new to the Big Bounce America brand.”
When it comes to expanding internationally, Grahame Ferguson says: “I think that is something we can consider now we have proved our concept. That was always a worry because it hadn’t been done before: there was no kind of blueprint.
“There are bricks and mortar inflatable parks popping up everywhere. They seem to be this year’s version of the trampoline parks. But nobody had taken this and made it into an outdoor touring concept.”
Establishing the notion was, he says, daunting at the outset. “Now that we’ve got two and a half years of year on year growth and success, and the tickets seem to back that up, taking it international is one of the key focuses for 2020.”
The duo has taken experiences overseas before. They previously did a month-long residency in Saudi Arabia in January.
“We were invited to curate a dedicated area for a much bigger area, Winter Wonderland,” says Ferguson. “We brought our attractions and all our staff, and ran that event for a month.”
One of their concerns about going international was, will this translate? Will this resonate with an audience in Saudi Arabia the same way it resonates in Cincinnati? What they learned in January was that people’s reactions are universal.
“It was exactly the same,” says Ferguson. “Seeing somebody in traditional Arab dress reacting the same way as somebody in New York or Philadelphia was really something to watch. It gave us confidence. We thought: ‘If we can take this to a culture that is so different from the culture we know, western Europe and America, then we can take this anywhere.’
“The next tour is going to be in Australia, and that’s going to be happening in January, February and March of 2020,” says Ferguson. “We’re in discussions with a few other strategic partners to get out to at least two or three markets in 2020 also. Once we’d got that proof of concept, we felt comfortable enough to move in that direction.”
There are, of course, certain limitations. “The weather is just about the hardest logistical aspect that we have to deal with,” says Ferguson. “It’s a constant challenge: if it’s not too hot, it’s too wet.
“We spend a great deal of time looking at weather charts and historical data. We want to try and go to the place that hits that sweet spot; where it is dry, but not too hot. When we worked in the Middle East, for example, it just wasn’t viable to trade during the daytime because of the heat.
“In many ways, it would be easier to do it as a bricks and mortar type thing. When you’re indoors, you get the same kind of conditions all the time. But that takes away from the vision. At its heart, about getting families outdoors and creating something special in that green landscape.”
The joy of play
Adult active play experiences are growing in popularity. Ferguson doesn’t see it as a new phenomenon.
“Adult play represents about 30% of our business. I think adults wanting to be able to behave and play like children is something that’s always been there. It is simply that there is an increasing number of operators that are providing that kind of entertainment now.
“In the States, for example, one of the big ones is the whole range of companies doing adult summer camps. they resemble the ones children are sent to, except you can drink alcohol and party.
“On that basis, I don’t see the trend going away. I just envision more companies coming in and providing more entertainment geared towards that market.”
The future of The Big Bounce America
In terms of the company’s future growth, Ferguson says: “Talking about America first, continually expanding has to remain relevant and interesting.
“There are many of these mass participation events that tour, and they all appear to have a limited shelf life. That is because there are only so many ways you can change a colour run, for example. It’s always going to be somebody throwing paint at you as you run 5k.
“We, however, are in a uniquely privileged position. We can literally do whatever we want within our footprint. Not only that, we can expand the footprint as well, as we have done every year since we started in 2017.
“So, our aim would be to continue to innovate, to continue to produce new, exciting attractions. We have to keep it constantly evolving, and we were aware of that from the start.
“Internationally, the majority of our events will be happening in 2020. So, both the events that we run ourselves and the events that we are booked to be a part of, they’re fairly soon.”