Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Amusement Parks vs. 'Theme Parks'

Before we talk too much about creating a new Whalom Park in North Central Massachusetts, we must first ask ourselves   "What type of park are we going to build?".


The distinctions between the various types of parks may not be very obvious. Some people will automatically conjure up visions of California and Florida style parks that they have been to (Busch Gardens, Disneyworld, etc).

Let's look briefly at the background of the U.S. Theme Park industry and the current state of affairs.


The U.S. theme park industry is by far the largest in the world, and it dominates the world in respects to scale, product innovation, marketing savvy, and operating knowledge. The Theme park industry in the U.S. is mature. Growth has been steady for the past 15 years, with about half of it coming from the addition of new parks and not from attendance increases in existing parks.

The majority of U.S. markets capable of supporting large-scale, outdoor theme parks already have them. It is unlikely that a significant number of major regional theme parks will be developed in the future. Growth in this industry has stabilized, and there should not be any huge fluctuations in attendance or development activity.

However, there are opportunities for adjusting product to suit changing markets and to effectively compete with other entertainment for consumers' leisure time and expenditures.

Typical for a maturing industry, there have been numerous changes in theme park
ownership over the last several years. This indicates a strong consolidation trend. Now, major corporate owners in the industry consolidating control are found: Disney, Time Warner (Six Flags), Universal Studios, Anheuser-Busch (Sea World), Paramount (Kings Entertainment).

These major corporations control the dominant share of attendance and revenues in the industry. Re-investment is, of course, a key factor in the operation of a park.

Several current trends can be seen:

• The "Arms Race" continues whereby parks must build the biggest, highest, fastest,
steepest, most complicated roller coasters.

• Another factor is the aging of the population, which suggests the need for a more balanced entertainment offering, with emphasis on shows and lighter entertainment compared to hard rides.

• New technology will be a powerful force in the theme park industry. New products
will include high-definition film, ride simulators, and virtual reality. Not all these techniques are fully developed yet, but we can expect them to be important in the near future (ERA 1998a, p7).


1. A Theme Park is a specialised type of amusement park. In fact, some theme parks are actually multiple parks; each having it's own theme (Adventureland, Fantasyland, etc). Theme Parks are an attraction unto themselves, with visitors coming worldwide to spend several days or a week on-site. Therefore, these parks usually try to be 'self-contained'; offering on-site shopping, accomodation, food, movie theatres, etc.

2. An Amusement Park is a park containing 'rides'; hard rides - like a rollercoaster, ferris wheel, carousel, etc. and 'soft rides', which are computer simulated, holographic, or multimedia enhanced. Also offers games, concessions, and entertainment. People usually visit on day trips and therefore no on-site lodging is offered, but there will certainly be nearby hotels and restaurants that cater to the park-goers.

3. A Resort is a special place in a natural setting, offering outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, skiing, scenic views, or water-sports. Resorts are usually in remote locations and therefore offer specially built 'on-site' accomodations (lodges or hotels). Special effort is required to balance the impact of visitors on the preservation of the environment.

4. The Zoological / Botanic Park features animals and plants in simulated natural habitats as the attraction.


Other specialty parks can be created by merging different types of parks:

• Resort Park with Amusements

• Zoological Park with Amusements (like the former Benson's Animal Farm)


The residents of North Central Massachusetts have the unique opportunity to create the best type of park that will:

• enhance the quality of life in our area for people of all ages and backgrounds

• provide us with a prestigious identity to attract more tourist dollars

• enrich the region economically; creating jobs and strengthening the local infrastructure without being a burden

I would like to acknowledge Michael Braun's outstandingly relevant report as inspiration for this article:

[1] The economic impact of theme parks on regions, 1999/2000, Michael Braun, Available [Online]

Ted Ollikkala


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