Next week over 9, 000 attractions industry professionals will gather in Barcelona, Spain for the annual Euro Attractions Show (EAS) which runs from September 20th to 22nd.
This event is part of a very exciting 2016 in the global attractions industry, a year marked by the opening of two huge, ambitious, new theme parks. Disney opened their massive $5.5 billion theme park in Shanghai last June and next month, Dubai Parks and Resort will open not one but five integrated parks simultaneously in Dubai at an estimated investment of $2.8 billion.
But just as exciting this year is the consistent stream of new innovations that European park operators introduced to grow their business in 2016.
A Need for Constant Evolution
The European attractions industry is a mature market serving 159 million guests per year and has a long history. Long before Disneyland opened in 1955, many of the great European parks where in operation including Bakken in Denmark which opened in 1583 and is now the world’s oldest operating amusement park in the world. Other notable parks that pre-date Disneyland and actually inspired Walt Disney are Tivoli Gardens in Denmark (opened in 1843), Blackpool Pleasure Beach in England (1896), Tibidado in Spain (1901) and Efteling in The Netherlands (1952). All these parks understand the need for constant evolution in their programming to build on their appeal to attract guests and remain amongst the most popular parks in Europe.
Here are seven examples of what smart operators are doing to keep relevant with guests and grow their business in 2016:
1. Lisberg “Halloween” event – Following the global trend of staging ghoulish events, Lisberg located in Gothenburg, Sweden staged its first Halloween event last Fall. The staging was a great success with the park at its maximum visitor capacity at a time it would have been closed in previous years and this is in a country that has no “jack o’lantern” traditions. The park is adding a third weekend in 2016 to build on its initial success.
2. Virtual Reality Coasters – Despite the many skeptics of combining a roller coaster experience with VR, many European operators upgraded existing coasters with a VR programming overlay. The coasters that were remarketed included the “Alpenexpress Coastiality” and “Pegasus Coastiality” at Europa Park, Germany; the “Galactica” at Alton Towers, UK; the “Linnunrata eXtra” at Linnanmäki, Finland and “Mount Mara” at Bobbejaanland Belgium. The remodel proved to be a cost-effective way to refresh a coaster experience and create some exciting marketing buzz.
3. Derren Brown’s Ghost Train – This new attraction at Thorpe Park in Surrey, England is a classic dark ride reinvented by incorporating live actors, virtual reality, motion simulation and illusions designed in collaboration with British mentalist Derren Brown. Look for more attractions that combine these elements of art and engineering for the next generation in immersive experiences.
4. “NINJAGO the Ride” – This unique dark ride that opened in April at LEGOLAND Billund in Denmark features innovative technology that incorporates hand gestures instead of weapons-like devices for its game system. The ride vehicles have motion-sensing technology embedded in the lap bars to detect hand movement above the sensors. The distinctive gameplay is a perfect match to the “NINJAGO” warrior storyline and provides a ride that the whole family can enjoy.
5. “Wildfire” – Kolmården Wildlife Park is a good example of operators making large investments and evolving their business model to attract visitors. The zoo-turned-theme-park opened “Wildfire” which is both the fastest wooden coaster in Europe, and second tallest wooden coaster in the world for the 2016 season.
6. “Shaun the Sheep Land” – The Swedish zoo Skånes Djurpark is the world’s largest animal park dedicated to Nordic animals. To broaden its appeal to visitors, the zoo opened the world’s only “Shaun the Sheep Land”, a set of attractions created around the story and characters from the TV-show and movies. Recent reports have 2016 attendance figures substantially higher than the previous year.
7. TV and Movie IP – In addition to “Shaun the Sheep Land” opening, Parques Reunidos, S.A. announcement of three Nickelodeon-themed FECs is further evidence of the appeal of licensing intellectual property to provide experiences with stories and characters already familiar to guests. The new FEC will be destinations located within popular malls with initial locations announced for Spain and Portugal. The company plans to open up to ten venues featuring “SpongeBob”, “Dora the Explorer” and other popular Nickelodeon characters in the coming years.
Much to Celebrate in Barcelona!
A basic business truism that European operators are following is that you can grow your business in two simple ways. One is by finding new customers for old products, which is challenging in a mature market with a regional client base, and the other is providing old customers with new products.
In Europe, operators are seeking both means of attracting the next generation. First with their “tried and true” products that create cherished family memories and traditions that pass from generations to generation. Second, by reinvigorating their attraction mix to appeal to the next generation of guests with new technology, new events and storytelling that cross-generational guests want to experience in a new and entertaining way.
The industry has much to share, to learn and success to celebrate next week in Barcelona!