My Orlando 2014: Struck by Beauty and Humor!

For what has become my annual US trip I attended IAAPA Orlando last week and couldn’t resist spending a couple of days checking out some of the parks; this year we did Universal Studios and Disney Hollywood Studios, which we found more relevant for our Movie Animation Park Studios project in Malaysia.

Here I share with you some of my thoughts as I was walking the show floor, speaking to industry people from around the world and visiting parks.

IAAPA Orlando is all about the big ride suppliers; there’s a certain degree of narcissism to it as everyone is showcasing their latest ride, which they’d like to think is the next big thing. In reality it’s a lot of the same stuff. This year the 4D trend is stronger than ever, with the star being the 4D tunnel (as seen at The Lost Temple at Movie Park Germany).

Going against that current is the nostalgic trend of classic rides. The wood coaster manufacturers were plenty and all seemed to be busy installing coasters all over the place, including in China. Even Dick Knoebel, who was introduced to the IAAPA Hall of Fame, came on stage and raved about his Flying Turns wooden bobsled roller coaster.

One ride that caught my attention was the Explorer from Huss. It’s a rather simple take on the classic sky tower except that it’s indoor and instead of going up the gondola goes down to a surrounding film projection room. From an Asian perspective where we try to come up with highly immersive yet inclusive rides this offers great opportunities for a variety of story telling aimed at a wide audience (including young kids and grand parents).

This year’s show was all about technology: ticketing, payment systems, dynamic pricing, etc. Maybe because Disney finally rolled out its MyMagic+ program? Technology vendors are certainly making a strong push and understandably because our industry needs more integration and efficiency, which technology can provide. But I don’t know what to think about these tech companies getting listed (Accesso, Galasys). Is there a risk that they become too focused on growth at all cost, including that of changing our industry, which should remain a people’s industry?

On the design side, the usual suspects (Thinkwell, JRA, Roto, etc) were all there and again seemed very busy. I went to have a chat with two of the European designers who have just started exhibiting in Orlando: 1st Attractions and Theming and Animatronics Industries. It was interesting to hear their views; they are certainly trying to focus more on storytelling with a high impact / low budget approach. The BBC Earth Deadly Challenge introduced by 1st Attractions at Longleat Safari & Adventure Park is a great example of such design.

Continuing on design, I had a chance to attend a very interesting session with speakers from Rhetroactive, Nickelodeon, BRC and JRA. They showed us some interactive projects from Stimulant and Local Projects, which are examples of how experience designers could bring the real 4th dimension visitors are looking for and not another pair of glasses or spray of water. A real eye opener!

In these interactive projects I find elements of beauty and humor, which I believe could be the next big things for our industry. So far, the adjectives used to qualify a ride would usually be thrilling, amazing, etc but how many times have you heard someone saying a ride is beautiful or funny!? And yet to some extend I would argue that two of my favorite experiences in Orlando this year touched me with beauty and humor.

  • Beauty: Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley (Universal Studios). It’s a mix of fascination and excitement that got me; the same feeling as being in a museum and seeing great art.
  • Humor: For the First Time in Forever: aFrozen” Sing-Along Celebration (Disney Hollywood Studios). Interesting approach by Disney for its biggest IP of the moment; a simple sing-along show with a great ‘light’ storytelling, which kept the children dreaming and the adults entertained with some very good (and quite daring) jokes!

I guess I should go back to my projects and see how I could add a bit more beauty and humor to make them more compelling! What do you think?

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Vietnam: It’s all about the right location, size and quality

A few years ago I was approached by a very nice and passionate Vietnamese woman, Ms Anh, who wanted to build KidZania in Vietnam. She is married to a Japanese and has lived overseas; she knew Vietnamese kids needed a good edutainment offering such as KidZania. But KidZania would not consider Vietnam back then and so she decided she would start her own.

She was backed up by a real estate company, Him Lam, who shared her vision and saw an opportunity to add value to the residential area they were developing in District 7 of HCMC. The location for the project allowed for a large 20,000sqm stand-alone building along the river, which I thought was a better location than a shopping mall for Vietnam where families like to walk around and ‘go’ places as opposed to stay in malls.

Then I lost contact with Ms Anh and saw a number of very bad copies of KidZania popping up everywhere in Vietnam (see my post on Hanoi Royal City). I felt bad for her, for KidZania and for Vietnamese kids.

But in a recent article about the state of the children’s amusement park industry I read about Vietopia. I went on the website, which is very nicely done, and realized that it was actually Ms Anh’s project, which had finally happened! The article says it’s Vietnam’s leading children’s amusement park and it makes me happy.

Image credit: Him Lam

Image credit: Him Lam

But let me tell you what lessons I learn from this story:

  • Location is the start of a successful project. Understanding your market and what they expect from your location is critical. It means accessibility, surroundings, etc. In this case Ms Anh understood Vietnamese families would appreciate a stand-alone building in a nice riverside setting in one of the city’s fastest growing residential areas.
  • Size matters. The right size is the one that will drive and accommodate the right amount of visitors at the right price to provide the expected return on investment. Here again Ms Anh knew that she needed to think big and spend over US$25million to build something that would become a compelling destination as opposed to just another kids play area.
  • Quality is king. For having talked to Ms Anh at the beginning of her project I knew she wanted the best quality as she had lived in Japan before. Looking at her budget that’s a cost of more than US$1,000 per sqm, which is a lot for Vietnam. But the result speaks for itself; Vietopia is very buys and families seem to be having a great time.

I wish I could have more stories like this about our industry. If you have some, please share them with me!