Sekaten: probably the biggest carnival fair in the world

So I happened to be in Yogyakarta for Prophet Mohammad SAW birthday, which is a big muslim holiday, and so I managed to catch the last night of Sekaten. This Night Market celebration is a well-preserved tradition in Yogyakarta. The North Alun-Alun Square turns into the biggest carnival fair you could imagine filled with dozens of rides and endless food kiosks and clothes/gifts stalls.

What struck me was how busy it was and how excited people were about the amusement rides, and yet the rides were very old (borderline antiques) and many of the same sorts. But for IDR10,000 (0.75USD) per ride you could find all your classics: pirate ships, carousels, trampolines, bouncing castles, small trains, big wheels, flying chairs, motorbike cylinder, water boats and even a mini-motorcycle track. And everyone was happy, from your families with young kids to your teenagers and your young adults friends/couples.

For someone in our industry it is always fascinating to see that many people and that much excitement. It’s almost daunting. Because isn’t it what we all aspire to: driving huge attendance numbers and high levels of excitement/satisfaction? So it made me thinking and wondering what learnings to take out from it.

  • Classics work: be it the fear of falling off a rocking boat, or the gentle ride with your loved one on a ferris wheel
  • Size matters: it’s because there are lines and lines of rides, stalls and kiosks everywhere (to the point it’s hard to walk) that people are attracted in the first place; they feel it’s worth it
  • Simple and affordable pricing is king: can you think of anything better than IDR10,000 per ride?
  • Don’t overthink segmentation: families, teenagers, couples, they all live together anyway so they’re happy together in a park/attraction too
  • Fun is contagious: because of the proximity of the rides (safety? oh well not so important!) people see other people have fun and they also want to have fun

These were just a few simple thoughts I wanted to share. It’s always good to go back to basics and remember how our industry started. An now a few pictures of this amazing carnival fair. Enjoy!

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PICTURES: Planet Hollywood Observatory

Among the exciting new developments in Orlando is the new Disney Springs, which is Disney’s remarquable foray in retailtainment anchored by none other than the World of Disney store. The two-year redevelopment made way to one of the most interesting retail experiences, which draws big crowds of theme park goers every night.

Interestingly Disney decided to keep some of the ‘classics’ from the Downtown Disney days such as T-Rex, Rainforest Cafe and Planet Hollywood Observatory, which I decided to check out to get an idea of how this institution reinvented (or not) destination family dining.

The building is still as impressive with its huge observatory dome. Only it looked a bit more modern with a new visual identity and lighting. Once inside its a real anthill with people everywhere waiting for a table. And everyone wants to eat inside for the dome experience because we were offered a table outside and we didn’t have to queue!

Some of the new movie displays include videos built-in the glass windows; very cool. My favorite thing in the new decor is the very 80’s cosmic carpet.

But what the 700+ diners distributed on 3 different floors are here for is the massive projection onto the dome, where birthdays are celebrated and occasionally karaoke songs played for a massive sing-along.

The music is blasting, disco lights are flashing, waiters are running everywhere with huge plates of food, this is destination family dining at its best!

 

PICTURES: Montréal en Histoires

I have always thought that museums were ahead of theme parks in experience design; and it’s not that they have more money but rather that they have to be more creative to drive visitorship with less money. Museums are not afraid of bringing new technologies and new disciplines to deliver their messages to a wider audience.

Montréal en Histoires is another example of such multi-disciplinary team creating an amazing experience for visitors and tourists to discover, explore and celebrate Montréal’s history.

On a visit to Montréal I downloaded the app and ventured in the city’s Old Port at night to discover the history of Montréal differently by strolling through the largest outdoor projection circuit in the world. My favorite installation was a projection on a cobblestone street telling an old Indian story, which interacted with people when they walked over. Very cool, very immersive, very memorable.

REVIEW: Fear the Walking Dead Survival, Fremont Street Experience, Downtown Las Vegas

On my recent trip to Las Vegas I headed up to where it all started – Fremont Street – to experience their newest attraction: Fear the Walking Dead Survival.

For those who don’t know Vegas this is an area a bit less glitzy than the Strip (a lot less actually!) but which has been undergoing major redevelopment in an attempt to attract young adults. Fremont Street Experience consisted in covering the entire street with a giant LED canopy, which comes alive at night with music, live performances and all sorts of events. It houses the famous Slotzilla zipline, which takes people the whole length of the canopy. And Fear the Walking Dead Survival is by the same operator.

When I checked online the website offered to buy tickets for one of the 20min slots running from 1pm to 12am (clearly nobody would want to go to Fremont Street before 1pm!). All slots showed still available (total 36pax) before heading out so I figured it would be OK to buy on the spot, and it was. I paid $32.

There were a total of 15 people in our slot, that’s almost half of full capacity. Not bad for 4.30PM on a week day. And it was all young adults in groups of two or four. Right on target audience!

After splitting us in two groups, the experience started with a briefing by a military personnel followed by picture taking and QR code reading (for us to buy pictures at the end of the attraction), sanitization and scanning before the next briefing by military personnel. Our group was then split again into 2 small escape rooms where we had to solve a simple challenge to open the door. A nurse was waiting for us to rush us to a lift (a moving platform) after which we ended up in the dark following a few ‘haunted’ corridors to the final room: the 3D shooting game (by Triotech). Once complete we exited where we started and of course we were offered to purchase pictures.

Sorry that was quite a quick description but that’s basically what happened: a succession of proven attractions concept (escape room, haunted house, 3D shooting) to support a simple (but effective) storyline and leave you on a high with the feeling it’s worth your $32!

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Surprisingly I did have a good time! I had no idea about the Walking Dead franchise but I thought the live actors and the excellent theming delivered an experience that felt genuine. I liked the fact that I had some interaction with other people in the group that I didn’t know before. I liked that technology was used to serve an immersive experience. Overall Triotech successfully found a new way to sell their 3D shooting game, which otherwise can feel quite dated and a bit boring.

The First Malaysian Attractions Benchmark Report is out

Our friends at ParkDB recently released the first of a series of country-specific Attractions Benchmark Reports. This one is for Malaysia in collaboration with MAATFA. To download the full report click here.

And now here are our thoughts on the Malaysian attractions industry.

By 2018 Malaysia will count 3 world-class internationally branded theme parks along its North-South corridor, from Johor Bahru to Ipoh, providing the destination with great tools to strengthen its positioning as Asia’s preferred family holiday destination, which will hopefully result in an increase in length-of-stay and repeat visitors. This is a great achievement and contribution from our industry, which we should be proud of.

With both LEGOLAND Malaysia Resort and the newly opened Movie Animation Park Studios, Malaysia is spearheading a new model of theme park development through partnerships between experienced private investors and/or operators and state-owned companies, which departs from the other model of private developers building theme parks in exchange for government favors or land, which is increasingly showing limitations in terms of sustainability.

Furthermore, with Sunway Lagoon’s recent extension (Nickelodeon Lost Lagoon) and the new RM200million+ water park under development in Desaru Coast, Malaysia will be home of two of the best water parks in the region, therefore competing with Thailand, which has seen the recent addition of great products e.g. Ramayana, Black Mountain and Vana Nava water parks.

Beyond theme parks and water parks we see a huge potential for indoor attractions with hundreds of malls across the country crying for a new generation of lifestyle & entertainment anchors to save them from increased competition and online retail. Maybe this is an opportunity for Malaysia to develop a unique exportable know-how with support from the government? After all Malaysia led the way for theme park (Sunway, TAR) and shopping mall (Sunway, IGB, Pavilion) development in the region. It’s time to be regional champions again.

We need to look at a new generation of indoor attractions different from traditional FEC’s or indoor theme parks, such as Berjaya Times Square Theme Park, and more adapted to new trends such as active play (e.g. District 21), edutainment (e.g. KidZania, Petrosains, Aquaria, Entopia), lifestyle-driven (e.g. The Top) and IP-based (e.g. Angry Birds Activity Park, Thomas Town, Sanrio Hello Kitty Town). But we should always be careful to build the right product for the right audience and in the right location. If all projects announced or rumored get developed, Malaysian malls will offer lots of exciting new indoor entertainment concepts including wind tunnel, wave house, indoor skiing, VR theme park, RDE (Retail Dining Entertainment) and fun museums.

Now, as mentioned above the role of government in regulating, guiding, supporting and funding our industry is critical for its sustainability and long-term impact on the country’s economy. This is why we believe government should increase the Tourism Development Infrastructure Fund available for our industry, attract more talents, suppliers and investors through incentives and special programs, and reconsider its proposed entertainment tax, which goes against all required support.

2 major trends shaping the visitor attractions industry in Asia

Recently Celebrating Life co-organized with blooloop.com the third blooloopLIVE Asia event in Singapore at the Asian Civilisations Museum. The attendees’ feedback was overwhelmingly positive, especially on the quality of the content. Among the highlights were Wonwhee Kim from The ParkDB who shared with us a very well put together history of Singapore attractions and Kevin Barbee who took us on a journey into branding and theme parks.

This put me in a reflective mood and I started looking back at what happened in our industry in the last few months. I thought I would share with you two of the major trends I believe are affecting us and could shape our industry in the future.

A new model of theme park development

In the last few years we have seen the emergence of a new model of theme park development through partnerships between experienced private investors and/or operators and state-owned companies to develop world-class theme parks in better locations and in more integrated ways.

Shanghai Disneyland is the proof-of-concept with one of Disney’s best parks and 11 million visitors in the first year of operation. Universal Studios Beijing seems to be following the same path with a product expected to be of the highest quality. In Malaysia, LEGOLAND Malaysia Resort as well as the newly opened Movie Animation Park Studios are other examples of such partnerships. In Indonesia we are excited about the $200million Sea World announced by Ancol in Jakarta.

These partnerships are not easy and all the above mentioned projects have taken a long time and gone through much pain but the outcome from a product and sustainability perspective is by far better than the alternative model of private developers building theme parks in exchange for government favors or land. The best example of such failure is Wanda Movie Park, which was forced to close after only 18 months of operation.

In-mall themed attractions

With the retail environment changing fast due to the rise of online retail and oversupply of malls, developers are increasingly looking at themed attractions as new anchors for a more lifestyle offering. This is probably the biggest growth opportunity for our industry in the region in the next few years.

Taman Safari Indonesia partnered with Aquawalk (Aquaria KLCC) to open Jakarta Aquarium at one of Jakarta’s busiest malls, Central Park. Aquawalk is also working with the Central Group to open an aquarium in Phuket’s largest mall and back home it is working on a variety of FEC projects with the first one opening in one of Kuala Lumpur’s largest mall (Midvalley Mega Mall) end of 2017.

In China, the first SEA LIFE aquarium and LEGOLAND Discovery Centre recently opened in Chongqing and Shanghai respectively. Shenyang K11 will also see these two popular in-mall brands by Merlin Entertainments together with a new concept by IP2 Entertainment under National Geographic license.

KidZania is continuing its expansion; after opening Manila and Singapore the popular franchise recently announced Surabaya, Indonesia.

The question is who will be the next KidZania or LEGOLAND Discovery Centre in the region? A lot of IP owners (BBC, Cartoon Network, Mattel, Hasbro, Line, etc) are keen to enter that space but they will need to establish a winning concept before rolling it out in the many malls crying for help.

REVIEW: Movie Animation Park Studios, Ipoh, Malaysia

After some delay and growing frustration from people who had bought annual passes back in early 2016 Asia’s first animation theme park – Movie Animation Park Studios – soft opened on 26th June, on the first day of the Hari Raya break.

The park seemed to have been well received by local Perakians and other Malaysians visiting family for the holidays with a good coverage from print, online and social media. So I decided to head up to Ipoh on their first Sunday to check-it out.

Driving from Kuala Lumpur you can’t miss the park: massive billboards all along the highway and very good signage from the exit toll and all the way to the park. Driving into the car park from behind and looking at the park from the other side of the lake provides a very nice sense of arrival.

My first encounter with the park was with the staff at the ticketing building who were very friendly and professional. They came up to me and made sure I could get in as quick as possible with my annual pass I had bought online. I was up for a very good start and I have to say that relationship with the staff never failed throughout the whole day. Staff members at the park are incredibly well trained, friendly and helpful. They look good, happy and more importantly they seem to really be on top of things. Believe me, it’s not easy in Malaysia.

Immediately after the gate visitors take a bridge across the lake and into Animation Square, which is made of two themed façade streets covered by a canopy. It was probably my least favorite area. The facades are a bit too heavily themed and there is no real unity; it lacks of interaction between the street and inside the buildings, leading to the feeling of standing in the middle of an asphalt road in the city, far from Disneyland’s Main Avenue or Universal Studio’s Hollywood Boulevard feeling!

I decided to explore the Fantasy Forest Zone first and was very pleasantly surprised; I think other visitors too as the zone was a lot busier than Animation Square. The theming is very well done with beautiful rockwork, water features, fake trees, etc. The layout is quite intricate and the overall storyline a bit hard to get. It seems some of it is based on the Adventurers characters created for the park but not known to anyone. Lots of things for kids (and parents) to have fun including a nice water play area and merry-go-round. Unfortunately the Tree House, Upside Down Pyramid and Adventurers Walk were all closed when I visited.

The indoor playground – Coral Kingdom – was very busy with kids enjoying the various active play elements and parents sitting in the cool air.

Next to the exit of Fantasy Forest is the BoBoiBoy 4D Theatre, which seemed to be one of the most popular attractions. After a short queue I got in and the theatre was packed with young kids (and their parents) all very excited to see the latest adventure of their favorite character BoBoiBoy. The 4D theatre is state-of-the-art with very smooth seat motion. The movie hits the spot, it is full of adventures and a bit funny at times but it could do with a bit more interaction with the viewers. Nice plug-in at the end of the show for the Tok Aba Kokotiam café serving BoBoiBoy’s famous hot chocolate at the exit of the theatre!

Now time to catch the 4:30pm Stunt Legends show, which is clearly the signature attraction of the park, especially on that day when a lot of attractions were closed: the entire Dream Zone, BoBoiBoy Hero Academy, Cartoon Factory, etc.

The arena was not full but busy with visitors excited about seeing Southeast Asia’s first car stunt show. Foreign and local talents try cheering the crowd before the show starts and then it’s on for 20min of car chasing, smoke and loud engine noise. The script did not make much sense to me (and to the majority of people I guess) but the colorful characters seemed to be entertaining enough and the crowd left happy. Overall the show delivers but might need a bit of tweaking to become more memorable.

The next attraction I went to was a bit of a let-down. Wormwhole Technologies is a mix of glow-in-the-dark, magic mirrors and 3D art. Maybe good for selfie-obsessed millenials but WTF is this doing here? It felt like a last minute afterthought to fill in some empty space.

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Next was a much better planned and executed zone, the Smurfs. Like Fantasy Forest, very good theming and a playful environment anchored by the Smurfs theatre with a meet & greet area and the Smurfs Partyland. The theatre offers a live show featuring Grandpa Smurfs in a story, which is a bit too complicated for the audience and in English, which is not necessarily widely understood. Overall acting, show set and A/V is good though.

Before leaving I tried a few of the Zamperla rides in the Lakeside Zone: Disk’O, Flying Carousel and Hawk. They seemed to be very popular with young adults and tweens (maybe because not many rides were open that day). But on the negative side they project the image of a carnival fair instead of an international theme park from the entrance of the park. This could become an issue in positioning and pricing.

Now let me share with you some of my general thoughts on F&B, retail and entertainment.

All F&B outlets I saw were at-the-counter service with limited menu selection and quite reasonable (too cheap?) prices. The interior design is on the simplistic side and did not visibly get visitors too excited. Even the giant starship restaurant, which looks really cool from the outside felt like a basic shopping mall food court inside.

On the retail the side my main observation is the lack of generosity in the merchandising. Shelves are not full and the range of products is very limited, even for BoBoiBoy and Smurfs for which you would think there are a lot of cool existing products to choose from.

And as far as entertainment is concerned it is a bit light for the time being without the Dream Zone. The Center Stage located in the heart of Animation Square is where small shows happen every 30min. In my time in the park I saw a short hip-hop dance number by a local group and a sing along by the park’s international and local talent crew. The main issue is the poor stage design, which makes it hard to see (especially at night) and to pull in the crowd.

After spending a few hours in the park I realized one thing missing was a good sound system to provide a sense of immersion. It just wasn’t consistent and often times contributing to a sense of emptiness or incompleteness of the park, in Animation Square for example.

One last note before the final judgment, on the visitors profile. A majority of them were Malay and to my surprise more middle-up than middle-low. This means a lot for the overall atmosphere and the future potential of the park: more ancillary revenues, more attractive for international visitors, more rewarding for staff, etc.

And now the final judgment! Overall I am feeling very positive about Movie Animation Park Studios. Of course the price, even at RM131 (USD30), was way too high for the little that was open when I visited but I would definitely give it another chance because what I saw was a great insight into what this park can become IF (and it’s a few big IF’s):

  • The staff remain as friendly, helpful and professional
  • The show content is improved and refined (sound system, better scripts, bilingual)
  • The F&B offering caters more to a middle-up crowd
  • The park fills up with more retail, more music, more mascots, etc