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).

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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!

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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!

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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!?

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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)
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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.

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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

Why video games are the future of theme parks

Let me go back on a recent article published in Fortune and entitled “Why Nintendo and other game companies are teaming up with theme parks”. This follows this year’s third announcement of a video game company’s foray in the theme park industry.

The article lists a number of reasons for such partnerships:

  • The desire/need for video game companies to expand their successful franchises beyond games and into other forms of entertainment
  • The need for more interactivity (or intra-activity as EA puts it) in theme parks, which video game companies have learnt how to master
  • The similarity between theme park and video game designs aiming at “creating an experience that takes people out of their day-to-day lives”

This last point deserves more development. Being involved in the concept development of Ubisoft’s first theme park in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia I realize that during our workshops Ubisoft teams keep pushing the envelope. Every bit of the park has to fit in the bigger picture, the visitor journey is carefully planned with rewards, modifiers, fillers and other ‘gaming’ tricks making it more ‘intra-active’. Designing a theme park together with a video game company seems such a natural evolution for our industry.

This leads me to a comparison with Disney and Universal Studios and their first theme parks. Back then cartoons and films were the most popular forms of entertainment and it was only logical that they gave their followers a ‘real life’ experience in a theme park, whilst expanding the footprint of their IP’s. Well today video games are the most popular form of entertainment (In China, video games are the highest grossing entertainment industry at US$14.5billion in 2014) and it’s about time that a video game company brings us the next generation of theme parks.

Disney invented the meticulously themed journey (e.g. It’s a small world) and Universal Studios invented the highly immersive dark ride (e.g. Transformers). What will video game companies invent? Is VR the answer? I personally think it’s more than that; it is probably the gamification of the whole experience, where “every guest is a player, every ride is a playground, every visit is a game” as Jean de Rivières from Ubisoft puts it.

Jean De Rivieres (Ubisoft) talking about the next generation theme park at blooloopLIVE Asia

Jean De Rivieres (Ubisoft) talking about the next generation theme park at blooloopLIVE Asia

Stay tuned for more updates as we keep developing the Ubisoft theme park concept. You can also read my interview of Jean de Rivières for blooloop here.

RSG Takes Lead in MAPS and Enters into Partnership with MONSTA

PETALING JAYA, April 8, 2015: RSG, the co-owner and co-developer, together with Perak Corporation Bhd of Movie Animation Park Studios (MAPS), today entered into a partnership with MONSTA, an animation content developer and creator of BoBoiBoy.

The partnership with MONSTA paves the way for BoBoiBoy to have his first theme park home in MAPS, and be the first local animation character to join the MAPS animation family of popular animated characters from DreamWorks, like Mr. Peabody and Sherman, The Croods, Megamind and Casper the Friendly Ghost.

MAPS is RSG’s inaugural foray into best-in-class integrated family entertainment theme parks and resorts.

“While RSG is committed to redefining family fun, MONSTA is redefining family entertainment through animation. Together we have a synergistic partnership that excites and meets Malaysian and Asian family values,” says RSG founder and chairman, Ramelle Ramli.

He explains, “From day one, RSG led the MAPS project. And, from the very beginning, we have had tremendous support from Perak Corporation; financial institutions who believed in us and the project, and the Sanderson Group, our turnkey contractor, who is fully mobilised on site and is currently at 40% completion. Together we are making MAPS a reality.”

Moving forward, RSG’s middle to long term plans in redefining family fun in Malaysia will include Phase II of MAPS, which will comprise a hotel, serviced apartments, and a unique lifestyle retail and dining concept that will serve theme park visitors, Ipoh residents and commuters from Penang to Kuala Lumpur.

RSG is currently working on securing a few more integrated family destination projects in strategic locations in Malaysia that are expected to be announced by end of the year.