by Louis Alfieri of Raven Sun Creative
I have good news and also bad news. And they’re both the same: there’s not going to be a “new normal.”
Whether this qualifies as good news or bad news depends upon you and what you’re willing to make out of it. The truth is, even before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the whole idea of a collective “normal” had become deeply questionable.
We were living and working in an age of unprecedented accelerated technological and cultural change. A confluence of global conditions had created a new dynamic of rapid evolution.
The transformation of the attractions industry
The pandemic—no matter how it may have impacted our businesses or us as individuals—did not dam up change. On the contrary, it acted as an accelerator of transformation. COVID-19 was like a canyon bottleneck meeting a rising river.
It amplified the power, speed, and turbulence of change, creating whitewater conditions. It swept us faster into a future of rapidly advancing digitization, AI, data analytics, robotics, hyper-connectivity—the list goes on and on.
Crucially, we can’t expect the river to get any less swift or turbulent from here on out. The kind of change we are dealing with also grows exponentially. These are conditions that will increasingly favour those with a bold entrepreneurial spirit. Those who are motivated to be agents of change rather than subjects of it.
In this environment of perpetual transformation, “normal” is no longer a useful measure for the attractions industry. So, the choice we’re faced with is this: transform or be left behind.
Let’s look at three key trends that the pandemic supercharged:
1. The major theme park business model is changing
A transformation towards a new business model among the biggest attractions industry players had already quietly begun pre-COVID-19. The location-based entertainment industry is experiencing a shift away from a mass-market, middle-class, egalitarian pricing model toward a luxury pricing model.
This change is exemplified by Disney’s investment in the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser hotel. This boutique resort experience is rumoured to be priced between $1,400 to upwards of $3,300 per person for the three-day, two-night experience with a cabin for five passengers in the range of $ 7,200.
The emerging model for big players is one of premium access at increased profit margins with a third to half guest capacity. I only see this trend picking up steam as we move forward. Many publicly traded companies are going to increase fees and up-charge, as well as eliminating guest perks, in an attempt to make up for lost ground.
This then presents the opportunity for other destinations, brands, and media to fill a gap with new kinds of offerings.
2. The home vs. destination dynamic is changing
Even after COVID-19 is behind us, a host of factors are going to drive the emergence of a virtual model of experience, as opposed to in-person destination experiences.
A growing consumer middle class with less expendable income is going to get increasingly priced out of an entire category of destination participation. However, the accelerated convergence of media and digital platforms, together with home experiences offering enhanced interactivity, immersion, playability, and personalization, will make virtual experiences an increasingly appealing and economically viable option.
The destinations that then seize the opportunity to expand their brands into monetized virtual experiences will pioneer a new kind of streaming revenue model. Sooner rather than later, we’ll witness the true rise of the “boundaryless destination.”
People will always crave real-life, away-from-home experiences. But their criteria and decision-making process about how to satisfy those desires and where to put their money is going to change.
3. Even the nature of business risk is changing
Many in the industry will misread any post-COVID-19 bump in attendance as a validation of the old order rather than what it will be: a temporary blip due to pent-up demand. So, they’ll see it as a sign to double-down on what they’re already doing, on what they’ve always done.
They’ll focus on minimizing risk and maximizing short term profit. Many publicly traded companies will fixate on building shareholder value rather than stakeholder value.
That’s a house built on shifting sands. In a faster-moving, more volatile world, the nature of risk also changes. “Playing it safe” becomes the riskier proposition. The danger of someone or something else overthrowing your established order becomes greater. There will be transformation, new business models will rise—whole new industries will rise—and attractions will face more competition from beyond the traditional boundaries.
In a faster-moving, more volatile world, the nature of risk also changes. “Playing it safe” becomes the riskier proposition
More than ever, we need to be conscious of how status quo thinking ends up constraining an organization’s potential—and, by extension, an entire industry and creative medium’s potential. Our industry can’t afford to succumb to creative stagnancy or complacency in an age of such abundant entertainment choice competing for the audience’s attention.
We need to strike a new balance between risk and opportunity that recognizes innovation, organizational dynamism, and the acquisition of fresh talent as a matter of survival, success, and positive change. We also need to appreciate the necessity of calculated strategic risk, challenging basic assumptions, and boundary-pushing for continued well-being.
We’re in the transformation business
Theme park, museum, zoo, aquarium, or heritage site—these destinations are all about meaningful moments that change our perspectives and open our eyes (and hearts). Yes, they cover a huge diversity of forms. However, the fact remains that the overarching goal that unites us all is the creation of these connective human experiences.
Or it should be. We want people to leave destinations feeling changed for the better.
Now should be our time. If ever the attractions industry was in need of transformation and uplift, it is now. Experiential entertainment should be cultivating the kind of entrepreneurial vision, ambition, and sense of possibility that suits such remarkable times.
Experts have a tendency of looking back at what worked in the past. But entrepreneurs look forward, asking what’s missing? We need to be a balance of both, asking, “What can we do better? What’s over the horizon? How is the next discovery going to make a difference? Why does this effort have relevance, meaning, and purpose?”
We have so much potential to do more. The attractions industry’s recovery story can—and should—be a story of true transformation. We need to lead change, offering a vision that will then be a call to action for others to follow.
All images and artwork by Louis Alfieri, unless otherwise stated