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Amusement parks, evolving destinations - Part 4

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?

Find here the first part of this analysis as well as the second part and the third part

The proliferation of parks around the world

Increasing turnover and attendance are the main reasons why amusement parks keep investing but staying attractive in a market that is growing every year is another important reason. The amusement park sector is a highly competitive market that is currently reaching a certain maturity due to the number of players but also due to the age of a majority of them. Nevertheless, many new parks are opening every year all over the world, making the market ever denser.

Asia is getting ready to welcome new theme parks, including the much-anticipated Parc Ghibli, a site themed around the animated films of famous director Hayao Miyazaki. The park is due to open on 1st November 2022 on a 200-hectare site in Nagakute, Aichi Prefecture. The park will not focus on thrill rides, but rather on numerous green areas and paths from the animated films. It will be made up of five worlds, the first three of which will be open to visitors from the moment the park opens and the other two will be inaugurated in 2023. Another park has already opened its doors in Japan, the Pokémon Wonders Park, which as its name suggests is themed on the Pokémon cartoon universe. It is located in the heart of a Japanese forest and covers an area of 4,500m². Visitors can catch Pokémon for real with the help of "investigation notes". In Korea, two theme parks were opened this year: Lotte World Magic Forest in Busan and Legoland Korea Resort in Chuncheon. Thrills are to be found aplenty, with many attractions in these two new destinations.

The EMEA region is not to be outdone with the opening of Majaland Praha, the largest indoor amusement park in the Czech Republic, at the end of 2021. The park, based on the themes of Maya the Bee and Vicky the Viking, was initiated by the KAPRAIN Group in cooperation with the TNI Group and Plopsa, a renowned Belgian operator of family theme parks. In the 10,000 m² park, visitors can enjoy 14 attractions as well as all-day entertainment and audiovisual experiences. At the end of 2021, Jerusalem also welcomed an indoor theme park called Magic Kass. Built with an investment of NIS 500 million and located on a 1.3 hectare plot of land, the park houses 12 rides as well as a large theatre with numerous shows. Saudi Arabia has unveiled a rather unusual project to transform former oil platforms into an amusement park. Called The Rig, the project is financed by the country's sovereign wealth fund and is part of the country's development strategy Saudi Vision 2030. The park will have a huge hotel complex with several restaurants, extreme land and water sports activities. No opening date has yet been announced.

The United States is the undisputed world leader in the market, with more than 400 amusement parks including 8 Disney parks. Each year brings with it its share of new attractions and 2022 promises to be a busy year with various park openings. River Falls Water Park opened last March at the Orlando World Center Marriott. Access to this park is included in the price of overnight stays at the resort. Sesame Place San Diego also opened to the public in March 2022, this new theme park is combined with a water park. The park is the first of its kind on the West Coast and only the second in the country. It features 18 Sesame Street-themed rides, interactive experiences, shows and water attractions. The majority of the rides, shows and attractions are aimed at young children, who have always been Sesame Street's primary audience. Peppa Pig Theme Park also recently made its debut. Created by Merlin Entertainments Group, it is adjacent to Legoland Florida. Later this year, Lost Island Themepark will welcome its first visitors. Located in Waterloo, Iowa, this theme park is the work of Lost Island Waterpark. With a budget of 100 million dollars, the new park is partly financed by the state and the city. Spread over 200 acres, 30 of which are lake, it will be divided into 5 themed areas offering an immersion in the stories of the magical lands.

The year 2023 promises to be just as rich on the other side of the Atlantic with the arrival of a new park on the West Coast, more precisely at Universal Studios Hollywood where the second SuperNintendoWorld will be built. The Mario universe will be the main theme of this new park. On a more unusual note, the F1 circuit in Austin will be the site of a amusement park by next year. It will be adapted to a family audience with around thirty rides, including two roller coasters. The project owner has made no secret of his ambition to compete with other parks in the state and even become a world-class destination for sports and entertainment. Another theme park is currently under development and should be inaugurated in 2023 and completed in 2025. Called Spirit of Adventure Park, it will be one of the most accessible theme parks in the world. It will cater for people with Down's syndrome as well as people with special needs or chronic illnesses. When the project is completed, the park plans to offer free entry to all visitors with special needs and to charge a nominal fee for accompanying persons.

France is equally dynamic in terms of the development of its leisure offer, as shown by its numerous projects. The rich history of France continues to inspire project developers, such as the future Napoleon theme park that should be built in Seine-et-Marne. Due to a lack of funding, its inauguration has been delayed, but the project's sponsors are not giving up and aim to attract 750,000 visitors a year. To immerse visitors in this era, an immersive system based on virtual reality headsets and 3-D modelling is to be deployed. In the Gers, stuntman and master falconer Guillaume Roche has just bought a plot of land to develop a park dedicated to d'Artagnan. An ambitious project that will evolve in stages and that should begin in the summer of 2023. Shows will be held there every day and the owner is already promising new events every year. Overall, the project could cost up to €8 million.

Other, more modern themes are at the heart of park projects such as the Domaine de Bayssan, which is expected to host a new complex with an amusement park on the theme of cinema and video games by 2025. The 140-hectare project, led by Bruno Granja and his company "Studios Occitanie Méditerranée" with the support of the Hérault department and the city of Béziers, will apparently be carried out in partnership with the American production company Paramount. The project, whose investment is estimated at €371 million, aims to welcome 2 million visitors each year. The park is expected to generate €300 million in economic benefits for the region each year. The video game part of the park will be supported by the French video game studio Ubisoft. The programme includes an "immersive centre" covering an area of 3,000m² to 5,000m² and equipped with Wander technology, created by Ubisoft in partnership with the interactive attractions specialist Alterface. Ubisoft's know-how combined with Alterface's expertise should give rise to a new kind of highly immersive, three-dimensional attraction, making the visitor the protagonist of their own attraction.

All these examples show that the sector is very dynamic, but also that investors are interested in it. If the construction and operation costs are high, the resulting turnover is even higher. However, one may wonder whether the market will not soon be saturated with such a concentration of players. Although they all have different themes and attractions, the ultimate goal remains the same: to entertain visitors. With the choice of destinations increasing over the years, on what elements will visitors base their choices? Will the parks have to rethink their plans if they want to remain profitable? These are questions that only the future can answer.

Amusement parks in the face of the health crisis

The health crisis has had a major impact on the sector, with numerous closures and the introduction of a relatively strict health protocol for the reopening period in 2021. This protocol also caused consternation among park operators who feared a sharp drop in attendance. A feeling shared by the National Union of Leisure, Attraction and Cultural Spaces (SNELAC), which predicted a 60% drop in attendance in the summer of 2021. The introduction of the health pass has had a strong impact on the performance of France’s 300 amusement parks. According to SNELAC's estimates, the parks have recorded an operating loss of 20% to 50%, and this can be as high as 70% for small sites.

While visitors can now freely enter amusement parks, it was a different story the day after the parks reopened in June 2021. Health passes, compulsory masks and restrictions within the parks were the order of the day. These measures put off many visitors, who decided to postpone or even cancel their trips. This was a major blow for the parks, which had not welcomed any visitors for more than seven consecutive months and whose turnover was therefore down. The pandemic has thus pushed some players to revise their development plans downwards, like Disneyland Paris. The future of the Star Wars themed zone is uncertain for the moment as it is considered too expensive and could be replaced by other licences considered more profitable in Europe, such as The Lion King.

Globally, theme park attendance declined by 50-90% in 2020 according to a study by the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) and AECOM. On average, attendance at the 25 most visited parks fell by 67.2% from 253.7 million in 2019 to 83.1 million the following year. The largest declines were in North America, particularly the United States. Overall, there was a 72.3% drop in attendance, or 44.1 million visitors. At the same time, the most popular parks in Asia saw a 57.9% drop in attendance, or 59.5 million visitors. European parks saw a 65.6% drop to 22.2 million visitors. Disney's theme park division recorded a loss of $1 billion in operating income in the second quarter of 2020. As a direct consequence of this drop in operations, nearly 30,000 employees have been laid off in its various parks worldwide. For its part, Europa Park announced a loss of €200 million in turnover due to the health crisis. The park has decided to increase the price of admission tickets to compensate for this loss of income.

Nevertheless, despite a shortened opening period, 2021 saw the return of visitors to parks around the world. A recovery in attendance enabled Compagnie des Alpes to achieve a turnover of €221.7 million for the period 2020/2021 compared to €232.1 million for the period 2019/2020. Futuroscope even posted record attendance figures. Indeed, the 31st October 2021 alone saw a peak attendance of 16,565 visitors, making this date one of the park's top five daily attendance figures since 2001. Despite the limited capacity of 28,000 visitors per day, Disneyland Paris attracted more than 20,000 visitors per day, demonstrating a favourable recovery in activity after several months without business. Attendance was notably supported by the return of European customers. Just like the Puy du Fou park, which is pleased with a satisfactory season, indicating that the attendance recorded in 2021 is only 30% lower than in 2019, whereas it was around 50% in 2020. These figures show that the sector is recovering after a dark year. The park's loyal visitors have also been the driving force behind this recovery. On the Iberian Peninsula, PortAventura World performed better than expected. The park thought it would not exceed 50% attendance compared to the same period in 2019, yet it reached 65%. This trend continued thereafter reaching 80% during the summer season against the expected 70%.

 

Although the health crisis has not spared the amusement park sector, investments have not decreased, quite the contrary. In such a competitive and dense market, novelty is the watchword and park operators have taken this on board. Each park competes in imagination as well as in financial means not only to delight its visitors but also to reach new targets. The objective of constantly investing is twofold, as it allows the park to build customer loyalty and to develop its market share. We are currently witnessing a real transformation of amusement parks into fully-fledged tourist complexes where overnight stays are taking precedence over simple day visits. It remains to be seen how this trend will evolve in the coming years, considering the possible evolution of visitor behaviour.

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