The year 2022 promises to be full of celebrations for amusements parks, with Disneyland Paris turning 30, Puy du Fou reaching 45 and Efteling celebrating 70 years. A sector that is reaching a certain maturity in different parts of the world, but which nevertheless continues to evolve and reinvent itself to continue to amaze young and old alike. New attractions, new equipment, new shows and new hotels are all major items of expenditure for the parks. In the meantime, the health crisis has hit the sector hard, forcing these major amusement destinations to close their doors for many months. How is the sector faring after two up-and-down years? Which parks have proved to be the most resilient and have continued despite everything to develop? What changes have been made to cope with increased competition and to meet the new expectations of visitors?
Parks in the age of new technologies
Amusement parks must constantly innovate and renew themselves in order to meet the new expectations of their visitors. And nowadays, roller coasters are no longer enough. Some parks have decided to take the plunge and use new immersive technologies to make themselves stand out. Virtual reality, augmented reality, metaverse... so many words that have enriched our vocabulary over the last few years and that are now enriching the offer of amusement parks. While 3D and 4D cinemas have been popular in parks up until now, they have decided to push the envelope even further by employing virtual reality and augmented reality.
Disneyland has announced that it is developing a new technology that would "work by following visitors using their mobile phones, generating and projecting personalised 3D effects on physical spaces, walls and objects in the park’s vicinity". A mix between the real and virtual worlds that the group says would work without headphones. The future of The Walt Disney Company is thus to be found in emerging technologies, as its CEO, Bob Chapek, reminded us by reaffirming the group's desire to "connect the physical and digital worlds even more closely, allowing us to tell stories without limits in our own Disney metaverse".
Europa Park is not to be outdone and is already using virtual reality to immerse its visitors in unique worlds. The park has opened an entertainment centre dedicated to virtual reality. Called Yullbe, this new space promises "an innovative virtual reality experience in which the whole family breaks through the barriers of their usual reality and where the incredible becomes possible". Participants are equipped with VR headsets as well as hand and foot sensors for the most immersive experience possible. The park has also developed another virtual reality experience but this time in an existing roller coaster, the Eurosat, where it offers the "Eurosat Costiality" experience. The theme of this adventure is inspired by the science fiction film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets by director Luc Besson. Visitors board the roller coaster train equipped with a VR headset to immerse themselves in the world of the film for the duration of the ride. A world first which is the result of a collaboration between MackMedia, VR Coaster, Holodeck VR and EuropaCorp. It should be noted, however, that a ticket costing €6 must be purchased in addition to the park entrance ticket to take part in this new experience.
Futuroscope remains one of the pioneers in technology, as its whole theme is built around it. In 2008, the park inaugurated Les Animaux du Futur, one of the first attractions in the world to use augmented reality technology. Ten years later, the Sébastien Loeb Racing Xperience attraction uses the new VR5D technology, which combines virtual reality, electrodynamic simulator and various effects. This new attraction required an investment of €6.5 million, financed by the Vienne department to the tune of €100,000 and the Futuroscope company.
Legoland Windsor is unveiling a new attraction this year: The Magical Forest. Visitors enter the forest through a tunnel of lights and discover mythical creatures along the way, created from over 80,000 Lego bricks. The experience can be enhanced with augmented reality via the Legoland app. Thanks to augmented reality Bits and Bobs, the park's mascots, and all the creatures in the attraction, come to life and accompany visitors,. The area in which this attraction is located, Lego Mythica: World of Mythical Creatures also features the UK's first flying theatre attraction, Flight of The Sky Lion. This attraction takes visitors on a 4D cinematic adventure in a flying gondola.
PortAventura World has also decided to review its digital strategy. As part of its joint venture with LaLiga, the Spanish football league, and entertainment specialist Kosmos, the park has unveiled a themed restaurant with an augmented reality mobile app called The Beat Challenge. Visitors can play the game from home but must visit the restaurant to finish their games. Since its launch in 2021, the app has been downloaded 50,000 times. The park is also interested in the metaverse and has invested in the Roblox metaverse, in which some attractions and the digital copy of its restaurant with LaLiga have been recreated. The park's ambition is to eventually create its own metaverse. The park does not stop there and has recently offered its hotel guests the possibility of paying for their stay in bitcoins. Thus, at check-out time, it is possible to pay for one's room using a cryptocurrency wallet. This is a first in the sector that should no doubt inspire other parks in the future.
After the digitalisation of ticketing, other connected services have appeared in the parks to improve the customer experience. Thus, in addition to the signs estimating the waiting time in front of the attractions, visitors can also follow it in real time from their smartphone thanks to the parks' mobile applications. Even more revolutionary is the virtual queue. Thanks to a digital ticket, visitors know when to go to the attraction and can therefore wander through the parks' aisles while waiting. Walt Disney World Resort has gone one step further by making FASTPASS+ one of the features of its Magic Band technology, a wristband with an RFID chip that dematerialises visitors' tickets. This service also includes a contactless payment system. Other applications will also be used as a pastime to keep visitors busy in the queues, for example with mini-games.
Becoming a destination in its own right
The days when visitors stayed in the parks only for a day are over with the development of the hotel offer. Parks are transforming into leisure complexes. More than just entertainment sites, they are becoming real destinations in their own right. The addition of hotels within these complexes allows them to increase their attendance rate but also to extend the length of stay of visitors, notably with packages including overnight stays in a park hotel combined with admission tickets.
Disneyland's hotel offer is currently the most developed in France with no less than 7 hotels, a Nature Village in partnership with Center Parcs and 8 partner hotels. In addition, one of its establishments, Disney's Newport Bay Club, is the second largest hotel in Europe and the park's hotel division is currently the 5th largest in France. Disney is easily in first place in terms of accommodation among the many French amusement parks, which can be explained in part by Walt Disney's determination, from the beginning of the construction of the first park, to focus on the construction of hotels. The group devotes a large part of its budget to its CAPEX. Over the last ten years, a vast programme to renovate the entire hotel portfolio has been launched. The programme was completed this year with the renovation of Disney's Hotel New York. The establishment now offers a range of services based on the Marvel superhero theme and has been renamed Disney's Hotel New York - The Art of Marvel.
The other French parks are doing their utmost to compete with Disneyland's hotel park, with Puy du Fou coming in second in terms of capacity. The Vendée park has 454 rooms in 6 different hotels, each with a historical theme such as the Gallo-Roman or medieval periods. In 2020, the park inaugurated a new hotel called Le Grand Siècle which plunges visitors into the world of the Sun King with 96 rooms. This vast project has mobilised €20 million out of the park's annual investment budget of €52 million. Parc Astérix has also decided to increase its hotel capacity with the construction of a new 150-room hotel. This new establishment, named Quais de Lutèce, will allow the park to increase its capacity by 50%, with a current offer of 3 hotels. The objective of this establishment is to immerse guests in the era of the Gauls, and it was also voted best theme hotel in the world in 2020 by the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA). To reinforce its strategy of becoming a short-stay destination, Astérix is now considering building a fourth hotel to increase its capacity, currently at 450 rooms.
Futuroscope has just inaugurated its new Station Cosmos hotel. The hotel's decor is inspired by the worlds of science fiction and high-tech and has 76 rooms. It is also equipped with a restaurant with a mini looping system to keep in line with the park's emblematic futuristic universe. The budget for this establishment amounts to €19 million. The park also plans to build 120 eco-lodges, offering an unusual and unique experience of immersion in nature. These two new establishments will not only transform the park into a real resort, becoming a holiday destination in its own right, but will also enable the park to upgrade its accommodation offer, as its only current hotel is rated 1 star. Pal also plans to expand its accommodation offering with the Savana Reserve Hotel project. The hotel will consist of 60 family suites in 8 buildings connected by walkways. The hotel will also have a restaurant, a terrace, a bar and a seminar room. The cost of this project is €15 million, which is much higher than the cost of these lodges.
Building new establishments is not always easy, especially due to a lack of land, so the parks are turning to other solutions. PortAventura World has just bought its first hotel outside its complex, the Atenea Aventura Hotel, located in the town of Vila-seca, less than two kilometres from the park. This 94 room and flat hotel will strengthen PortAventura World's hotel offer and is aimed in particular at the MICE clientele that frequent the Spanish park's convention centre throughout the year. The company plans to implement this new accommodation model with other hotels in the region, as part of an expansion plan that supports and strengthens the value proposition of PortAventura World, which already has six properties under its management, totalling almost 2,500 rooms. The new strategy aims to adapt the accommodation, as well as update its offer by including tickets to PortAventura World and other benefits.
The parks also want to capture the MICE clientele with the development of dedicated offers and services. In 2011, Parc Astérix created its "Conventions & Séminaires" brand, which was transformed into "Business Experience Parc Astérix" in 2021. With its two amphitheatres, its auditorium and its convention centre, the park offers a wide range of services from seminars to conventions, including team building and themed evenings. Up to 10,000 people can be accommodated at these events and, to top it all off, it is possible to privatise the attractions and hotels, to theme the event or to personalise the services. In 2017, Europa Park inaugurated the Europa-Park Arena, a vast multifunctional event hall that can accommodate up to 6,000 people. It joined the park's other MICE facilities managed by Europa Park Confertainment, including the Europa-Park Dôme, the Berlin Ballroom and Le Palace des Rêves. The Arena Futuroscope was opened in April 2022, after more than two years of construction. A modular space with 15 different configurations, capable of hosting sports events as well as shows.
Disneyland Paris, Europe's leading integrated MICE destination, hosts more than 850 events each year. The park has had a department dedicated to MICE, Disney Business Solutions, since it opened in 1992. The site has two convention centres, a 7,200 m² Arena and a 2,300 m² Dome. The Disney Events Arena was also renovated in 2017 to be more modular and modern. Puy du Fou with its Puy du Fou Congrès entity, created in 2008, has around ten rooms spread throughout the park and in its hotels. It is also possible to privatise shows and take advantage of customised activities, such as backstage visits, fireworks or participation in the daily life of the animal handlers. Smaller parks such as Walibi, Nigloland and Vulcania also have areas that can be used for various events.
Disneyland Paris is already one step ahead of its competitors with Disney Village, a complex made up of shops, restaurants and entertainment venues. The space is set to expand with work due to start at the end of this year. The reinvented Disney Village will feature a Disney World setting with more green space, including a lakeside promenade, as well as new dining, shopping and entertainment experiences. The first stage of the transformation project will be to replace the existing Café Mickey with a contemporary French brasserie to be managed by Groupe Bertrand. Once completed, the complex is expected to cover nearly 40,000m².
On the other side of the Atlantic, The Walt Disney Company intends to take the destination concept even further with the Storyliving by Disney project. This new project, called Cotino, consists of a residential area that should accommodate 1,900 homes. Located in the heart of the Coachella Valley, more precisely in Rancho Mirage, residential areas will be surrounded by large green spaces, an artificial lagoon, an entertainment centre, hotels, restaurants and shops. The area will also be accessible to non-residents with the purchase of a day ticket. The group promises to immerse residents in the Disney world on a daily basis without necessarily using the characters or techniques used in the theme parks. With "Storyliving by Disney", the group is reviving the original project imagined by Walt Disney. This urban planning project will undoubtedly have a very high cost, but this has not yet been specified by the group, nor has the inauguration date. This project illustrates the parks' desire to blur the distinction between amusement park and city. We are thus entitled to ask ourselves whether the park becomes a city, or on the contrary whether the city becomes a park over time.
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