The financial crisis has forced the theme park industry to re-evaluate the way they operate in order to ensure they survive the recession. The question is, how much will this crisis change the way in which theme parks are run in the future?
Before the current recession many theme park operators aimed to produce the biggest and the best parks in the world. Universal opened Islands of Adventure in 1999 to critical acclaim whilst Disney opened the $4 billion Tokyo DisneySea in 2001, a record cost for any theme park in the world.
Theme parks were in with tourists, as proven by the ever-increasing number of visitors hitting Central Florida each and every year to take in Walt Disney World, Universal, SeaWorld and Busch Gardens.
The popularity of parks led to a number of destinations looking to add theme parks to their offerings to potential visitors. The most notable plan for a themed entertainment destination was Dubailand, a huge destination set just outside the city of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
The recession put an end to many of the expansive projects planned around the world. Dubailand dates have been put back considerably or halted altogether whilst a number of the major theme park operators have kept very tight-lipped about their plans for the future that hadn’t already been announced pre-financial crisis.
But whilst Tatweer are struggling with finance for their entertainment super-destination in Dubai another project in the same city has been a huge success.
Sega Republic, a small indoor theme park in Dubai Mall, represents a new age of themed entertainment which puts quality over quantity. I was personally incredibly impressed by the number of highly-themed attractions in the park which kept me wanting to ride over and over again.
Despite its great selection of well-themed, quality attractions there’s no doubt the price to build Sega Republic will be considerably less than even the smallest parks produced by the major operators in the industry.
This begs the question is, are theme park operators ready to rethink their future plans in order to ensure they are safe from external shocks?
Whilst Sega Republic is only one small park in a huge industry there is other signs that major operators are trying to bring some of their theme park magic in a more compact style around the world.
Recently the Walt Disney Company started a huge refurbishment project for their stores around the world, which included adding a number of high-end, interactive, experiences which are aimed at keeping guests in their stores for longer.
Whilst the store refurbishments are by no means fully-fledged mini theme parks what they do represent is Disney shifting their operations strategy after the recession in order to bring some of the Disney Park ‘magic’ to customers rather than them having to travel to one of the five international resorts themselves.
There’s no doubt it has become incredibly hard for developers to obtain the credit needed in order to build new large-scale parks and this could well mean we see more and more of these smaller outlets coupled with further expansion of the already established major destinations, with a prime example being the major expansion of Disney’s California Adventure.
Of course once credit markets loosen up we could see a return to the more traditional style of theme park development, but until then we could be looking at an all-new way in which the theme park industry is run.
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