Theme parks appeal to the entire family
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.
Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. sees close to 17 million visitors annually.