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.

IMG_0039

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

REVIEW: Bollywood Parks, Dubai

Let’s start with a bit of context. I visited on a Sunday (work day in Dubai) only 3 days after opening of the park. I took the red line from the city centre all the way to the end and caught a taxi (AED35), which took me there in less than 10 minutes. The road, signage and landscape approaching Dubai Parks & Resorts are as good as Walt Disney World in Orlando! The taxi drop off is at the beginning of the themed Riverland dining & shopping village, which is very similar to Shanghai Disneyland’s village. I ate a cheeseburger menu (AED30) at one of the most expensive McDonald’s featuring the latest in design and service (touch screen, staff offering desserts at the table, etc).

img_6551

Bollywood Parks was not opening before 2pm so I had time to walk around the new nearby Outlet Village and get a glimpse of the Lapita hotel and the 2 other parks: LEGOLAND (open) and Motiongate (opening Dec 2016). The entire site is still more or less under construction but you can tell it will look fantastic when it’s all done!

IMG_6532.JPG

I had purchased (or attempted to purchase) my ticket online but there was a small hiccup and I never received my confirmation (apparently they are having issues with their online ticketing in some countries). After 3 emails and 1 call I was still not able to get to the bottom of it but I won’t bore you with the details. These things happen when you open. The most important is that the team (and Guest Service Manager Hessa) was able to deal with me and make me feel welcome, and even a bit special!

So as one would expect Bollywood Parks is really about the sing & dance; the number of rides is limited so if you want the thrill you will be better served at the nearby Motiongate or the future Six Flags (opening 2019).

To get it out of the way here is a quick review of the 3 rides and 1 attraction open on the day of my visit.

  • Lagaan: Thrill of Victory is a motion simulator, which takes you on a roller coaster ride (literally) in the imaginary world of wooden puppets hitting a cricket ball: you! The choice of going without 3D glasses gives justice to some of the most beautiful visuals I have seen since Arthur: the 4D Adventure at Futuroscope; so poetic it makes you smile when the ball (you) rebounds onto parachutes showing portraits of the Lagaan movie stars.
  • Sholay: The Hunt for Gabbar Singh is a good quality 3D shooting dark ride where you will enjoy being thrown odd things at and shoot them: bottles, grenades, fruits, etc
  • One Unleashed is a 5D cinema featuring a great preshow with a live actor turning into a hologram. The movie is of good quality, the storyline is very efficient and the 5D effects are well synchronized, not too many and including some nice scented effects. Of course having Shah Rukh Khan in the cast helps!
  • Cinemagic featuring Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara was my favorite attraction and probably the most ‘on brand’. This 30min journey in the making of a movie trailer is hosted by a wonderful live actress. It involves a lot of audience participation and it is run at a perfect pace. People loved it and told me they felt they stepped into the world of movie-making for the time of the show. Hats off to the crew! Another example showing there’s nothing better than true audience participation and sharing a moment together with your friends/family or even people you don’t know.

There are another 2 rides but they were closed when I visited. Don: The Chase is a dark ride on tracks and and Krrish is a soarin-type ride. That’s it my friends: 5 rides and 1 attraction for this brand new park!

The overall layout, theming, landscape (with water features) and soundscape are all very well done and although the park was still quiet when I visited I could tell it will be very nice as soon as it gets a bit busier. The only little hitch is the view over the LEGOLAND water park from some of the areas in the park; not good!

IMG_6559.JPG

The Retail and F&B are on the light side. They will need to improve if they want to milk that cow! And this is where I think IMG Worlds of Adventure is doing a better job. A lot of the retail is based on the film franchises the park has but I wonder how strong they are for people to buy souvenirs and how will they take advantage of future Bollywood hits?

IMG_6577.JPG

Now let me tell you about the shows because that’s really why you want to go visit Bollywood Parks. Starting from 3.30pm it’s non-stop in various areas of the park. You will be running from one stage to another and you won’t even notice the night falling! My favorite was BP Remixed, which was a mix of some of the most famous movie songs featuring a Shah Rukh Khan look-alike. Good fun.

IMG_6582.JPG

Crew members are having as much fun as you are and it makes for a great staff interaction. I couldn’t help but to start a conversation with a few of them. They were all passionate about the park and of course about Bollywood movies! They told me more than 60% of the staff was from India and that’s why it feels so good! In general staff came across a lot more friendly and professional than IMG Worlds of Adventure I had visited the day before. Later I was told all the management went through a dedicated college course and some of them even got sent to Orlando to train. That explains.

IMG_6596.JPG

Bollywood Parks is much better seen at night when the magic of music, dance and lights falls on the beautiful setting of the park. The team at Dubai Parks & Resorts understood it and it is clear they want visitors to come late, which explains the Dabang Stunt Spectacular show programmed at 7.30pm, the first resident Broadway-style Bollywood musical in the UAE at Rajmahal Theatre (separate ticket) located in the heart of the park and the Rock On!! Stage restaurant and night club open until 2am. I am not sure what the experience would be for someone who comes at 10am when the shows have not started yet and the only way to escape the heat is by doing the only 6 rides and attractions in the park!?

IMG_6594.JPG

So in summary Bollywood Parks is a small park but well themed, well executed and full of energy and action to be experienced at night, which I believe will be a hit with locals and visiting Indians! I spoke with 2 couples whom I saw repeatedly around the park, one from Hyderabad, India and the other from Saudi Arabia; I thought that was quite representative!

A few questions I am asking myself though. Would this work better in India? When you see how passionate the staff is and when you’ve experienced service in some of the hotels in India, you would think this is something they can pull together over there and the market would be a lot bigger. Also, is Dubai the right location? Are there enough leisure visitors? The slow start of IMG Worlds of Adventure is not a good sign; let’s see how Dubai Parks & Resorts does.

My first aquarium

As a consultant in the themed attractions industry I get to work on a wide variety of projects from theme parks to museums but I hadn’t worked on an aquarium project until one came up last year in Jakarta.

For my client Taman Safari I started working a year ago on a development plan to establish the group as Indonesia’s leading wildlife attractions operator, recognized for the quality of its conservation and education programs. We identified aquariums as a natural extension of the existing business and at the very same time were approached to take over a project in the basement of Neo Soho mall in the very heart of Jakarta. Perfect timing!

After conducting some due diligence and identifying the project had a high potential, we conducted a feasibility study and some market research to establish a preliminary design brief. After meeting the various turn-key aquarium designers we realized we had to take a different approach if we wanted to build something unique for our market. So we decided to pull together some of the best talents from different horizons (James Peterson, Jon Coe, Judy Rand, and Peter Wilson), put them in a room and ask them to imagine a ‘new generation’ boutique aquarium. The outcome was a very rich and inspiring document, which became our ‘bible’, clearly defining what the Jakarta Aquarium should be and which we are still following to this date.

Taking from the rich heritage of Taman Safari Group, their values of conservation and education, the amazing biodiversity of Indonesian seas and the need for ‘escapism’ from a growing urban population in Jakarta we came up with a storyline around the Depth of Indonesia, which describes both the unique interactive and learning experience as well as the focus on Indonesia’s islands and waters. In addition to some very well curated tanks showing the great biodiversity of Indonesia’s marine life we wanted to introduce elements you would not necessarily expect in an aquarium such as arts installations, kids play areas and a signature live cultural show, which we believe will be a huge hit. The design team has been working hard on addressing the needs of a new generation of aquarium visitors, including the ‘plurals’ (kids born with a mobile device), who demand an interactive, multi-dimensional, and largely self-guided experience.

Construction started a few months ago and we are on a very tight schedule for an opening in December this year. All consultants including Perculas for tanks and LSS,  Aquablu for husbandry, Kingsmen for thematic, Magian for A/V and Peter Wilson for show production are working in good spirit, excited about bringing something new to Indonesia and about the perspectives ahead… maybe a second aquarium for me!

The vast majority of visitors will be families from Jakarta and more specifically from North and West Jakarta, where a huge middle / upper middle class currently lives. Second would be school groups since Jakarta Aquarium will be Jakarta’s only aquarium (SeaWorld shut down recently) offering great education programs. And third would be tourists to Jakarta and mostly from the rest of Indonesia as Jakarta gets over 30 million domestic tourists yearly. We intend to position Jakarta Aquarium as one of the top 3 ‘things-to-do’ for tourists in Jakarta.

We are lucky that the aquarium is probably in the best location in Jakarta as part of a huge development with foot traffic expected to exceed 5 million a month. We think we can reach 1 million visitors p.a. at the aquarium, which allows us to charge around USD10 and still get good returns. We have also worked on maximizing additional revenues. Our retail store and 4D theatre will be with direct access and frontage to the mall. We are also developing a penguin-themed restaurant with one of Indonesia’s most popular chefs, which will become one of the most thought-after restaurants in the mall.

For more information stay tuned!

And before I end this post I would like to thank Steph, Hans, Josua, Peter and John for giving me the opportunity to work with them on this existing project.

What’s happening in water parks in SE Asia?

This article was originally published in blooloop.com

I was recently approached by one of the big fives looking at putting together a report on water parks in SE Asia.

I realized a lot had happened in our region in the last two years, from the opening of Cartoon Network’s first branded water park in Thailand to the opening of Yangon’s first water park in Myanmar.

It certainly does look like something big is going on for someone sitting in Europe or the US. So here is a quick overview for you.

First we have to go back to the why of water parks in SE Asia. It’s actually very simple. It starts with an all-year warm weather. To which you need to add good value scalable equipment, which allow owners to start small and charge very little, and gear up and eventually charge more when they can. I have seen many small neighborhood water parks in Indonesia that would cost less than USD1million to build and still provide a good return for their owners.

The development of sizeable water parks in SE Asia is almost exclusively driven by property developers, who see them as ways of anchoring their residential/resort communities at no loss.

  • Jakarta alone has 13 water parks in its greater urban area, almost all as part of new townships. The latest in date was developed for a whopping USD13.4million by developer Sinarmas Land in Bekasi
  • In Malaysia property developer Sentoria has developed a business model selling condos in resort cities anchored by water parks (Bukit Gambang and coming soon in Morib and Kuching)
  • In Thailand, developers of resort condos in Hua Hin, south of Bangkok, have also used water parks to pull buyers in resulting in 3 highly themed water parks (Black Mountain, Santorini and Vana Nava) all competing for the same weekend/short break business

Whilst traditionally water parks in the region are either not themed or themed after local myths and legends e.g. Suoi Tien in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam or Pandawa Lima in Solo, Indonesia, the trend is for IP-based water parks, which command a significant price premium.

  • In Malaysia LEGOLAND water park opened at a price of MYR120 (USD30) and achieved 630,000 visitors in its first year of operation, making it a much more profitable investment than the next door LEGOLAND theme park
  • Still in Malaysia Sunway Lagoon finally opened its new Nickelodeon Lost Lagoon expansion and used it to increase its price to MYR150 (USD37.5)
  • In Indonesia the developers of Jogja Bay Pirates Adventure Waterpark decided to develop their own pirates-based IP commissioning a local animation studio to create a multimedia show as part of the offering, which also includes a beautifully themed pirates ship
  • Still in Indonesia Bakrieland, the owner of The Jungle water park, is planning to further develop the Jungle IP with an animation series featuring the park’s mascots and new water park locations throughout the country as part of an IPO for its leisure division
  • In Thailand Cartoon Network Amazone water park is proving to be a hit with both Thai residents and International tourists flocking and willing to pay up to THB1,590 (US$45)
IMG_3909

Jogja Bay Pirates Adventure Waterpark

Now what’s next for water parks in SE Asia? Here are a few trends we might be looking at in the near future.

  • Hybrid: it’s all about being more than just water park, from a combination with a safari park with live animals roaming the water park to a combination with an adventure park with aqua maze, etc for team building
  • Indoor: with more shopping malls being developed and always bigger it wouldn’t be surprising if developers decided to look at indoor water parks combining ‘spa’ areas for adults and kids play areas similar to Korean water parks
  • Gamified: video games are coming to theme parks, so why not to water parks too; manufacturer WhiteWater is already in the ‘game’ with its Slideboarding ride
  • Luxury: with the emergence of a strong upper middle class we see the potential for a luxury offering, which would bring the experience of an exclusive beach club to demanding families
  • Crystal Lagoons: this giant lagoon pool technology developed by a Chilean company is possibly the next big thing; it’s already in Bintan, Indonesia and Hua Hin, Thailand and expanding fast

REVIEW: Planet J, Macau

Macau has reached a turning point with gaming revenues declining and incentives from the government to make the destination more family-friendly to attract more non-gaming visitors.

Sands China is at the forefront of entertainment-based resorts. The Venetian brings to Macau some of the best concerts, sports events and touring exhibitions (Titanic, Da Vinci, Transformers, Dinosaurs Live). Across the street at Cotai Sands the DreamWorks Experience offers a variety of interaction opportunities with studio characters including a daily parade, photo opportunities and themed meals. Also at Cotai Sands is the new Planet J, the world’s first live action role-play theme park.

Planet J was first announced in November 2014 for an opening in the summer of 2015 but it was officially opened in February this year. The team behind the concept comes from Jumpin Gym USA and their vision is to pioneer family entertainment with a revolutionary model breaking free from the traditional theme park experience using interactive Live Action Role Play (LARP). The total investment is reported at MOP1billion (US$125million) for a total floor area of 100,000sft.

My visit took place on a Thursday afternoon during Easter holidays. Macau was generally busy and Cotai Sands in particular had a nice buzz about it (but not crazy busy like The Venetian used to be a few years ago). When I reached the complex I headed to the information counter but the lady didn’t know about Planet J; she had to look it up in the directory! The park is actually on the 3rd floor together with a food court and a huge toy store.

The main entrance is looking good with a couple of staff in uniforms welcoming visitors in the ‘kingdom’. They were a bit surprised to see me; I understood later the park is actually only soft opened and they don’t get that many visitors, and even fewer non-Chinese visitors.

The first counter is to purchase tickets, which are priced by the hour. On that day the price was discounted to MOP150 (US$19) from the ‘full’ price of MOP1,090 (US$136) for one hour!

Then the second counter is for checking in and collecting devices. I counted they have a total of 30 check-in counters, but only 2 open that day! The devices look like smart phones with an old book cover and the staff can choose the language for you. I am guessing the idea in the future is to collect more data to make the experience more unique. But when I went I was not asked to key in anything. The main purpose of the device is to indicate visitors their scores and when their time in the park is up.

Once equipped with my device I was offered to go in with a guide, which I thought was a bit weird but when I realized there were only 3-4 other families inside I understood it wasn’t much of a problem. I asked my guide and he said that for now they are still testing the model and prefer to have guides either with groups at all times or in the different rooms.

As you enter the park the intricate layout with a ramification of small rooms and a central hub, the theming and the great lighting make you really feel like entering a different world. The park is divided in 8 zones (not all open yet) including the darker ‘Magic Stone Mine’ and the more pop ‘Green Pasture’, where I spent most of my time. I repeat the theming is very well done, which is not surprising since part of the team is reported to be from Disneyland and Universal Studios.

The concept is actually much more simple than what I anticipated when visiting the website www.planetj.com. Each zone features a number of interactive games (200 in total but only 30 functional for now), which are mostly digital tablet inserted into a bigger themed display and some more active games such as hand-gesture fighting, twister and other skills games, which seemed fun to play as a family or a group of friends.

The games rules are not always easy to understand and I am glad I had my guide to explain and save me some time (each game is limited to 1min to complete the mission). The system is not completely stable yet and I had a couple of incidents where my device crashed once and the game froze as I was playing once.

After one hour the screen of my device indicated that the time was up so I had no other choice but to head back to the exit (through the shop of course!) and leave the ‘kingdom’ without feeling like I experienced a revolution in theme parks! And this leads me to my review of the Planet J concept.

First, there is a world of difference between what the website describes and the reality of the park. The exchange of information is only one-way (games sending scores to devices) and there is no role-playing as visitors are never asked to make a choice that will make their experiences unique. Also games are too repetitive and not immersive at all. There is no story building during the park visit. It’s just about how many games one can make in one hour and how much points one can score; very basic gaming principles.

Second, the concept is not fit for the target audience I thought they were going for – teenagers & young adults and international visitors – but more for families with young kids from Hong Kong and Mainland China, which were the only visitors when I went. I would say the reason is the lack of thrill and immersive experience, which one would expect from a LARP park.

Third, the heavy reliance on technology means something is bound to go wrong during one’s visit and that could spoil their entire experience. One more point is the difficulty to deal with 2 devices (which means I had to keep juggling between my phone and my device to take photos for example).

Fourth, Planet J’s concept relies on a new world they have created with magical characters and stories. Although I appreciate the effort, it doesn’t help with the immersion when these characters are not known to the public. I would have thought going for an established IP would have made more sense.

Fifth, the park is probably suffering from too much theming but not enough fun (no live show, no mascots, etc). Also the succession of games with their rules and the staff attending to visitors makes it almost impossible to go wild, which is something one would expect in a park.

Lastly, the business model seems a bit challenging with very limited opportunities for incremental revenues from F&B (no kiosk in the park and no time to stop when visitors’ time is counted), retail (no established IP) or any other services (pictures, etc) since there is nowhere and no place to really hangout and enjoy time with friends and families. Also the instant capacity is limited to 2-3pax per station ie 600pax, which is on the low side for a US$135million investment.

I feel I haven’t been very forgiving with this review but I wanted to be honest and share my views as a professional. I had rather high expectations and I guess I was disappointed. I am hoping it is because the park is only soft opened. If the team can really bring some level of role-play then I would gladly go back and review it again.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

REVIEW: Jogja Bay Pirates Adventure Waterpark

On a recent trip to Yogyakarta I managed to squeeze a visit to the new Jogja Bay Pirates Adventure Waterpark, a few days before its official opening. We were shown around by Indonesian turn-key waterpark supplier and installer ICFU.

This is one of the best waterparks I have seen in South East Asia. Despite the small 3ha site the team behind the park has come up with a very nice layout and a true sense of escapism where one would want to bring my family for the day. It’s very encouraging to see projects like this in this part of the world.

I was informed the total budget for pools, rides and landscaping was approx. USD 6 million, which means a total project cost of approx. USD 9-10 million when you add the entrance building, pirates ship, show and F&B outlets. Not bad for Yogyakarta!

The instant capacity is 7,000pax with an objective of 700,000 visitors p.a. which would bring it to one of the top 5 waterparks in Indonesia; an ambitious but achievable goal for one of the leading domestic tourism destinations.

The access is somewhat ‘confidential’ as the road leading to the park looks like a small countryside road; and yet it is next to the huge city stadium. The miracles of Indonesia!

On the list of things I noticed should make this park successful are:

  • The impressive entrance flanked by a lighthouse on one side and a nicely themed pirates ship on the other side;
  • The F&B outlets, which feature a light pirates theming together with a contemporary Indonesian design;
  • The branding, which looks good everywhere from billboards at the airport to signage throughout the park; and
  • The show featuring custom-made animation, live actors and mascots, which are declined into good looking retail merchandise