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Guest Column - January 2005

Innovative Trends in the Global Amusement Industry

International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions

By J. Clark Robinson


As the interests and demands of guests change, the worldwide amusement industry is working overtime to develop new experiences, implement new technologies and generate unique thrills. It seems the hard work is paying off in terms of more visitors and higher profits.

Every year, more than 300 million people visit amusement parks and traditional attractions in the United States. Around the world, amusement parks and attractions generate $20 billion in revenues. And by all accounts, the popularity of amusement facilities is on the rise.

In December 2004, Amusement Business magazine and Economics Research Associates estimated that the world's largest amusement and theme parks attracted 252.4 million visitors in 2004, an increase of 2.2 percent over 2003. Recently, PricewaterhouseCoopers reported that by 2008, worldwide amusement industry revenues will increase 25 percent over 2003 levels, and attendance will grow at a rate of 5 percent per year.

Clearly, the worldwide and U.S. amusement sectors are achieving continued success.

One of the primary reasons for this ongoing expansion, both today and in the future, is creativity. The industry has always prided itself on offering the newest rides, experiences and services to its guests, as it has long known that you must continually invest to keep crowds coming back year after year.

Today's ride and attraction designers are building upon the solid foundation laid by prior generations. More recent technological advances have allowed the industry to use this time-tested knowledge as a springboard for creating such new experiences as pneumatic tower rides, interactive dark and 4-D rides, LIM and hydraulic launch coasters, and "giant" rides, which are traditional spinning and swing rides built on a large scale.

This innovative spirit also is applied to technology aimed at providing an enhanced visit to park guests. One such item is the specialized personal assistant device, which helps guests minimize their time in line, keep in touch with people in their group, and advance order food and beverage items. Other innovations include online ticketing and lockers that employ fingerprint recognition.

For example, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts has developed Fast-Pass, a device that assigns people a voucher with set boarding times for attractions. Because the times are strategically assigned, visitors spend less time in lines and more time having fun on rides. Waiting times can be cut by almost 40 minutes for some rides.

Of course, the ability of amusement parks and attractions to initiate and incorporate change extends beyond just strictly technological enhancements.

Parks have targeted an ever-widening demographic by increasing the number of options for guests of all ages, such as more live entertainment, animal shows, more family rides, interactive experiences and nightlife offerings.

Another trend is toward including full-scale waterparks side-by-side with hard ride parks. This idea has met with great success, such as Paramount's Kings Island in Ohio, whose attendance rose 26 percent with the opening of "Boomerang Bay." A number of these waterpark additions are located indoors, an increasingly popular and profitable strategy, as they remove weather from the equation so guests can enjoy themselves any day of the year. In late 2004,

Cedar Point amusement park in Ohio opened its "Castaway Bay" facility to provide year-round appeal.