The inaugural Theme Parks and Resort World Asia Congress took place at the Intercontinental Pudong Hotel, Shanghai October 25th to 28th and was judged a great success by Oppland, the organisers. Over 200 delegates from across Asia heard speakers from many of the region’s major theme park and resort operators discuss challenges facing the industry and highlight recent and ongoing developments.
Sponsors of the event included leading audiovisual designer and technology solutions provider Funa International , high performance projector company Projection Design and Australian leisure and attractions developer Sanderson International. Speakers included Miikka Seppälä, CEO of Särkänniemi Adventure Park; Greg Lombardo of Twentieth Century Fox; Jay Lee from 4D theme park developer Live Park and Taylor Jeffs from attraction and leisure developer the Goddard Group.
The two day conference was well received by attendees. The quality of the assembled speakers made for an engaging event with much to talk about. Highlights included:
Fox, Ramayana and Angry Birds- Day One
Chaired by Martin Barratt, a British attractions consultant with enormous experience running theme parks and an extensive background as an attractions operator with Tussauds and Merlin Entertainments, the first day featured :
Greg Lombardo (left), VP Location Based Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox. The new head of Location Based Entertainment at Fox ran us through his own background as an attraction and brand specialist with BRC Imagination Arts and the reasons for his move to Fox. He discussed his work in China and how the Beijing Olympics had been a watershed moment in terms of what the Chinese visitor wanted: “an exponential leap in expectation and of what a guest experience means”. The 2010 Shanghai World Expo, “a ridiculous adventure” on which Greg had worked on the US pavilion, had a similar impact, as, he predicted, would Disney Shanghai.
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He then outlined just a few examples of the enormously popular brands and franchises in the Fox stable, including Titanic, Avatar, the Ice Age films and The Simpsons. Fox is looking for a location for a theme park (Fox Movie World?) and it seems that China might well be a suitable location for it to “make a statement”. With the Simpsons – “a benchmark in popular culture” – and other Fox brands seeing huge success across China (Ice Age 4 is the most successful animated film in China, way ahead of the Chinese themed Kung Fu Panda) Greg thought the country would welcome such a “celebration of the science and industry of film making”.
Alan Mahony (left), General Manager, Ramayana Water Park, Thailand. Alan, who has 26 year’s experience designing and running successful water parks and has lived and worked in Asia for the past 16, then spoke to us about his current project, Ramayana Water Park. Based in Pattaya, Thailand’s top tourist destination, the $41.5m water park is set to be South East Asia’s largest and Thailand’s first internationally designed, constructed and managed water park. With rides supplied by Canadian water park company Whitewater West , Ramayana look set to become a top attraction in the region.
Alan was responsible for managing the transformation of the Beijing Olympics’ iconic Water Cube from an Olympic swimming venue to a state-of-the-art water park, and has also worked on large water park projects in Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and China, including the Chimelong water Park, Guangzhou. Chimelong is the world’s busiest and most successful water park during its 5 month season, and attendance approaches 2 million from only 160 operating days.
Alan also talked through in some detail the thinking behind the park, and the extensive research that went into its feasibility and masterplanning. Water parks, it seems are taking off in Asia in a big way and 10 of the top 20 in the world are now in the region.
One session dealt with the Angry Birds phenomenon, how and why the brand has been so successful and how it is being developed in the theme park sector.
Miikka Seppälä (below left) CEO of Särkänniemi Adventure Park first spoke about his own experiences in opening an Angry Birds Land in April 2012, how this move came about and the impact it had on the business. Whilst the 2012 season was slow for attractions in Finland – poor weather coupled with a troubled economy – revenue rose significantly at Särkänniemi directly as a result of the addition to the park of Angry birds Land. The impact was even greater on merchandising with Angry Birds branded gifts and drinks boosting income from merchandising by well over 50%.
He also mentioned the “Halo effect. The effect Angry Birds had was not just with regards to the new attraction itself and branded merchandise. Sales per cap went up for other retail items too, the average time spent at the park increased significantly and visitors said they were 30% more satisfied with the old rides and attractions.
Paul Chen (right), CEO of China, Rovio – wearing an Angry Birds sweatshirt – then gave delegates an introduction to the people behind the birds, Finnish software and gaming company Rovio. Rovio’s business grew with developing games for third parties, their 52nd, and the first they did for the company itself was Angry Birds. Various cross platform deals have been done, for example with Twentieth Century Fox’s animated (and bird themed) film Rio and the Angry Birds have also been in space, Paul showing us a video of an astronaut deeply engrossed in throwing birds at pigs on his Ipad. A further meeting of powerful brands is in gestation, with Star Wars and the Angry Birds combing forces.
Sound Advice and a 4D Theme Park – Day Two
Chaired by Charles Read, Blooloop, the second day featured :
Dong Hoon (Jay Lee), Co-Founder and CFO d’strict. This Korean company has created Live Park, a 4D theme park in which visitors interact in revolutionary ways with animated characters (see video above), create their own avatars and thus become those characters in the park itself. Quite apart from the state-of-the-art highly immersive digital media employed, what is striking about the look of the experience is the quality of the animation; the creatures and world imagined are beautifully rendered and styled, Lewis Carroll meets The Yellow Submarine.
Taylor Jeffs (left), Director of Design at Goddard Group had some sound advice about how to get “the most for the least”, ie how to create a top quality project on a realistic budget. Citing two European parks each with rich histories and over 3 million visitors a year as examples, Tivoli and Efteling, he outlined 5 lessons to be learned from the continued success of these parks:
- Landscape. There is no single element from which you will get more value than landscape. Doesn’t go out of style and improves over time.
- Focus your budget. Do one thing well rather than three things badly.
- Be smart with your design choices. Search for low cost/high impact rides and attractions
- Be original. Find your own voice, direct copies never work.
- Spend the correct amount of money.
As an illustration of a project where Tyler and his team have effected such a low cost/high impact project he cited Six Flags’ Glow in the Dark Parade, which has grown to become the most successful regional theme park production of all time, with over 1, 500 performances over 6 different theme parks playing to over 12 million guests. This was created for less than the budget for just one Daytime Parade Disney float.
In summary, this was a great first show for Oppland in this sector. The theme park and attractions business is growing at an almost exponential rate in Asia, nowhere more so than in China itself, and the sophistication and expectations of the visitor are evolving rapidly. This conference provided a superb opportunity for operators from the West to exchange ideas, meet new contacts and generally network with their counterparts in Asia.
One theme that ran through a number of presentations was that of the importance of finding narratives that resonate with an Asian audience. Greg Lombardo cited a quote from an executive leading the way for General Motors in China: “In China, For China, With China”.
Images from top:
1. Tourists at Arturo Di Modica's Charging Bull on Shanghai's The Bund 2. Pottery figures at Dong Tai Road Antique Market – Shanghai 3. Alan Mahony with friend 4. Miikka Seppälä 5. Paul Chen 6. Taylor Jeffs 7. Waterpark panel at the congress, with, from the left, Martin Barratt, Anthony Van Dam, Forrec, David Bogdonov, Whitewater West, Alan Mahony.