Theme parks ap­peal to the en­tire fam­ily

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - DESTINATIONS - RON PRADINUK

WHEN peo­ple hear the words theme park, the names that will most of­ten likely to come to mind are Dis­ney or Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios, en­ti­ties well known to North Amer­i­can fam­i­lies. There is good rea­son for that since th­ese two brands saw 135.3 and 40.1 mil­lion vis­i­tors re­spec­tively pour through their gates in 2014. The top three in­di­vid­ual parks vis­ited were all part of the Dis­ney cor­po­ra­tion: Walt Dis­ney World’s Magic King­dom in Or­lando, Fla., topped the list with 19.3 mil­lion vis­i­tors, fol­lowed closely by Tokyo Dis­ney­land and Dis­ney­land in Ana­heim, Calif. at close to 17 mil­lion each. The only non-Dis­ney prop­erty to make the Top 10 in visi­ta­tions was Uni­ver­sal Stu­dio’s park in Osaka, Ja­pan. There are a num­ber of other brands that also draw sig­nif­i­cant num­bers. While cat­e­go­rized as theme parks, brands like Six Flags, Bri­tain’s Mer­lin Group (which owns Legoland and Madame Tus­saud’s) and Florida-based Cy­press Gar­dens, are, for the most part, en­ter­tain­ment cen­tres. How­ever, there is a ri­val on the hori­zon that fully in­tends to give the es­tab­lished play­ers a run for their money. In­ter­na­tional Dubai Cap­i­tal al­ready owns 20 per cent of the Mer­lin Group, and will see some of their icon brands used as a foun­da­tion to build a new mega 24.6 square kilo­me­tre theme park on desert land be­side the pop­u­lar high­way that con­nects the United Arab Emi­rates cap­i­tal of Abu Dhabi, and Dubai. This pro­ject has al­most US$3 bil­lion com­mit­ted to its de­vel­op­ment. This puts it in line with some of the big­gest in­vest­ment projects in the world. The im­pe­tus to build is mo­ti­vated by the fact that the 2020 World Expo will be held on grounds nearby this fu­ture Dubai Parks & Re­sort com­plex. The lo­ca­tion of both is also not far from the Al Mak­toum Air­port, which will soon be one of the busiest on the globe. Legoland con­cepts will be one of the foun­da­tions for at­tract­ing fam­i­lies, in ad­di­tion to a Bol­ly­wood Park at­trac­tion which should at­tract cit­i­zens of other na­tions. There will usual water­park, plus a gen­er­ous sprin­kling of Smurfs, as well as other Mer­lin at­trac­tions to help round out its iden­tity. The roller coaster will be con­structed from nearly 250,000 Lego bricks de­signed in the shape of an ex­tremely large and im­pos­ing red dragon. World Expo’s usu­ally have a dra­matic growth im­pact on the na­tions that host them. Dubai has al­ready seen un­prece­dented growth over the past cou­ple of decades. And there is lit­tle doubt that vis­i­tors, with the at­ten­dant pub­lic­ity that comes with such an in­ter­na­tional world event, will help drive it for­ward even more. The de­vel­op­ers have lofty ob­jec­tives of this new theme park com­pet­ing suc­cess­fully against the big­gest and the best. Th­ese dreams may not be out of the realm of re­al­ity. While Dubai may be con­cerned about the im­pact on on­go­ing low oil prices for rev­enues, from a tourism per­spec­tive, it could lead to lower air fares that should build traf­fic to this unique desti­na­tion, and pre­sum­ably to the theme park as well. That traf­fic may not come from North Amer­ica. The na­tions in its own sphere have be­come wealth­ier, and as pointed out in last week’s col­umn, the op­por­tu­ni­ties af­forded from the new Chi­nese wealth class may travel there as much as to the United States. In the mean­time, Dis­ney and other smaller en­ti­ties are likely to con­tinue to see growth as long as the econ­omy does not col­lapse over un­fore­seen events. This big­gest trend in travel over the past few years has been multi-gen­er­a­tional va­ca­tions. As a study by Blue Cross pointed out, as baby boomers re­tire with greater wealth and sig­nif­i­cantly bet­ter health, they want to travel more with their chil­dren and grand­chil­dren. With greater en­ergy and vi­brancy than gen­er­a­tions be­fore, they want to spend more time filled with the joy of watch­ing their grand­chil­dren grow. And par­ents cer­tainly like the op­por­tu­nity to have will­ing and ca­pa­ble babysit­ters to fa­cil­i­tate their own short es­capes dur­ing th­ese hol­i­days to­gether. The Con­fer­ence Board of Canada pre­dicts this trend will con­tinue to grow even at a faster rate over the com­ing years. A sur­vey re­leased by the Pre­ferred Ho­tel Group painted a pic­ture of multi­gen­er­a­tional trav­ellers. They travel in­ter­na­tion­ally more than non-multi-gen­er­a­tional trav­el­ers. With this de­sire for multi-gen­er­a­tion travel to long dis­tances, other theme parks around the world should also ben­e­fit. Many coun­tries have ma­jor theme parks that most of us in Canada have likely never heard of. Ocean Park in Hong Kong wel­comes al­most 7.8 mil­lion vis­i­tors an­nu­ally. A park called Lotte World in South Korea hosts 7.6 mil­lion, while an­other in the coun­try, Ever­land, sees 7.4 mil­lion vis­i­tors pass through its gates. There are a num­ber of theme parks and amuse­ment cen­tres in China that have more than five mil­lion vis­i­tors a year. In Europe you can find a ma­jor theme park in most of the coun­tries of the union. I had the good for­tune of vis­it­ing Tivoli Gar­dens in Den­mark a num­ber of years ago, which like Europa Park in Ger­many, is also a suc­cess, with al­most five mil­lion vis­i­tors each year. So while Man­i­to­bans and Cana­di­ans may con­tinue to ex­er­cise our ver­sions of grand­par­ent­par­ent-grand­child travel at some of North Amer­ica’s more pop­u­lar theme parks, fu­ture de­sires may shift to some of the more unique ones, such as the new mega-de­vel­op­ment in Dubai, or in es­tab­lished and ex­pand­ing venues in other coun­tries around the world.

TODD MARTENS / LOS AN­GE­LES TIMES

Dis­ney­land in Ana­heim, Calif. sees close to 17 mil­lion vis­i­tors an­nu­ally.

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