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.

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.